Tara Fickle Wins American Book Award

Tara Fickle

CSWS faculty affiliate Tara Fickle, associate professor of English, has been named a 2020 American Book Award winner for her first book, The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities (New York University Press).

The book publisher describes The Race Card as follows: “As Pokémon Go reshaped our neighborhood geographies and the human flows of our cities, mapping the virtual onto lived realities, so too has gaming and game theory played a role in our contemporary understanding of race and racial formation in the United States. From the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment to the model minority myth and the globalization of Asian labor, Tara Fickle shows how games and game theory shaped fictions of race upon which the nation relies. Drawing from a wide range of literary and critical texts, analog and digital games, journalistic accounts, marketing campaigns, and archival material, Fickle illuminates the ways Asian Americans have had to fit the roles, play the game, and follow the rules to be seen as valuable in the US.

“Exploring key moments in the formation of modern US race relations, The Race Card charts a new course in gaming scholarship by reorienting our focus away from games as vehicles for empowerment that allow people to inhabit new identities, and toward the ways that games are used as instruments of soft power to advance top-down political agendas. Bridging the intellectual divide between the embedded mechanics of video games and more theoretical approaches to gaming rhetoric, Tara Fickle reveals how this intersection allows us to overlook the predominance of game tropes in national culture. The Race Card reveals this relationship as one of deep ideological and historical intimacy: how the games we play have seeped into every aspect of our lives in both monotonous and malevolent ways.”

Fickle received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. She works at the intersections of Asian American literature, critical race studies, and game studies. Her work has appeared in journals such as Modern Fiction Studies and MELUS, as well as various public humanities portals. Fickle is currently working on a digital archive and analysis of the canonical Asian American anthology, Aiiieeeee! (recently re-published by the University of Washington Press, 2019, for which she wrote the foreword).

The American Book Award is presented by the Before Columbus Foundation, founded in 1976 as a nonprofit educational and service organization dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature. The goals of BCF are to provide recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing. According to BCF, “The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature. The Awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are a writers’ award given by other writers.”

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