The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature

Edited by John Whalen-Bridge & Gary Storhoff

Subjects: Buddhism, Literary Criticism, Religion, American Literature, American Religion
Series: SUNY series in Buddhism and American Culture
Paperback : 9781438426549, 267 pages, January 2010
Hardcover : 9781438426532, 267 pages, June 2009

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Table of contents

Foreword by Maxine Hong Kingston
John Whalen-Bridge and Gary Storhoff
PART I. Literature as Vehicle: Transmission and Transformation
1. The Emptiness of Patterned Flux: Ernest Fenollosa’s Buddhist Essay “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry”
Jonathan Stalling
2. Gary Snyder’s Selective Way to Cold Mountain: Domesticating Han Shan
Yuemin He
3. John Giorno: Buddhism, Poetry, and Transgression
Marcus Boon
4. Buddhadharma and Poetry without Credentials
Michael Heller
PART II. Zen, Vajrayana, and the Avant-Garde: A Pluralistic Poetics
5. Finger Pointing at the Moon: Zen and the Poetry of Philip Whalen
Jane Falk
6. Keeping the Vision Alive: The Buddhist Stillpoint in the Work of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
Erik Mortenson
7. Illumination through the Cracks: The Melting Down of Conventional Socio-Religious Thought and Practice in the Work of Gary Snyder
Tom Lavazzi
8. The American Poetic Diamond Vehicle: Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman Re-Work Vajrayana Buddhism
Jane Augustine
PART III. Widening the Circle: Buddhism and American Writers of Color
9. Buddhism, the Chinese Religion, and the Ceremony of Writing: An Interview with Maxine Hong Kingston
John Whalen-Bridge
10. A Bridge between Two Worlds: Crossing to America in Monkey Bridge
Hanh Nguyen and R. C. Lutz
11 ‘Opening the Hand of Thought’: The Meditative Mind in Charles Johnson’s Dr. King’s Refrigerator
Gary Storhoff
Charles Johnson
List of Contributers

Looks at Buddhist influences in American literature and how literature has shaped the reception of Buddhism in North America.


The encounter between Buddhism and American literature has been a powerful one for both parties. While Buddhism fueled the Beat movement's resounding critique of the United States as a spiritually dead society, Beat writers and others have shaped how Buddhism has been presented to and perceived by a North American audience. Contributors to this volume explore how Asian influences have been adapted to American desires in literary works and Buddhist poetics, or how Buddhist practices emerge in literary works. Starting with early aesthetic theories of Ernest Fenollosa, made famous but also distorted by Ezra Pound, the book moves on to the countercultural voices associated with the Beat movement and its friends and heirs such as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, Giorno, Waldman, and Whalen. The volume also considers the work of contemporary American writers of color influenced by Buddhism, such as Maxine Hong Kingston, Charles Johnson, and Lan Cao. An interview with Kingston is included.

John Whalen-Bridge is Associate Professor of English at the National University of Singapore. He is the coeditor (with Sor-hoon Tan) of Democracy as Culture: Deweyan Pragmatism in a Globalizing World, also published by SUNY Press, and the author of Political Fiction and the American Self. Gary Storhoff is Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut at Stamford and the author of Understanding Charles Johnson.


"This collection offers an excellent and newly renovated place from which to continue the study of Buddhism in American literature. It will become an essential critical volume." — Religion and the Arts

"…signals a significant turn in critical understanding of Buddhism in U.S. literature—one whose methodology emphasizes the groundlessness shared by Buddhism and contemporary literature studies while also grounding itself, necessarily so, in the ways in which Buddhism is shaped by the particularities of history." — Beat Studies

"…a thought-provoking analysis of the myriad ways American literature has contributed to our Buddhist practice and vice versa." — Tricycle

"…a groundbreaking anthology of critical writings making vital new connections between buddhadharma and American literature…" — Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

"This book in your hands is a trove of the best we can do to put the Dharma into words." — from the Foreword by Maxine Hong Kingston