Kundiman is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing generations of writers and readers of Asian American literature.
Kundiman creates a space where Asian Americans can explore, through art, the unique challenges that face the new and ever changing diaspora. We see the arts as a tool of empowerment, of education and liberation, of addressing proactively the legacy we will leave for our future.
In the early 2000s, poets Sarah Gambito and Joseph O. Legaspi bonded over challenges they encountered as students and writers, and sought to create a nurturing yet rigorous environment for Asian American literature. They envisioned a space that would facilitate the creation of new work, foster mentoring relationships, and address the particular challenges facing Asian American writers. Out of those discussions, Kundiman presented its inaugural Workshop Retreat for poets at The University of Virginia in 2004.
The Retreat has taken place annually since then, welcoming over 200 fellows and dozens of acclaimed faculty members, and is now hosted by Fordham College at Rose Hill. Kundiman has also grown to encompass an annual Poetry Prize, Fiction fellows, a Creative Nonfiction Intensive, unique storytelling projects (Kavad), scores of readings and workshops, and eight regional chapters across the United States.
Kundiman’s Retreat was modeled after Cave Canem: A Home for Black Poetry, and guided in its early days by Cave Canem’s founders. Founded several years after the VONA workshops for writers of color, and a couple years before the CantoMundo’s annual workshop for Latinx poets and Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, Kundiman arrives at a watershed moment in American letters. We hope to foster support and solidarity across these groups, as well as others, including writers from indigenous communities at IAIA and RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers), so that together, we can bring forward the many identities and experiences seeking a voice in literature.
What does Kundiman mean?
Kundiman is the classic form of Filipino love song—or so it seemed to colonialist forces in the Philippines. In fact, in Kundiman, the singer who expresses undying love for his beloved is actually singing for love of country. As an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian American writers, we find in this name inspiration to create and support artistic expression.
Kundiman’s programs build community, nurture writers and readers, and ensure Asian American stories reach broad audiences throughout the country:
Retreat: Kundiman’s signature retreat is held annually in the Bronx to support emerging Asian American writers as they hone their craft, develop as professionals, and participate in a close-knit artistic community.
Readings & Workshops: Each year, we host 30–40 readings and workshops across the country, connecting audiences to Asian American literature, uplifting emerging writers and connecting diverse audiences to Asian American stories that translate contemporary social, political, and cultural issues into intimate exchanges.
Poetry Prize: The only poetry prize recognizing Asian American talent, Kundiman selects and collaborates with a distinguished press to publish a poetry collection by an Asian American author each year and presents the winner at several public readings.
Kavad: Named for a 3-dimensional form of traditional Indian storytelling, Kavad is an intergenerational community-based storytelling program, comprised of interviews, workshops, and public readings, and facilitated writing with and among marginalized communities, done in collaboration with local social justice organizations, such as Adhikaar and City Lore.
Youth Intensive: Kundiman’s program for high school age students based in the Bronx offers space for young writers to ground in a rich legacy of Asian American literature, history, and community-building.
More than 200 writers have attended the Kundiman Retreat now held at Fordham University. Fellows report first-time publication in national literary journals, finalist distinction in literary awards and a greater sense of confidence in their pursuit of literary excellence. Kundiman fellows have published work in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Salon, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour,The Best American Poetry, Best New Poets, Poetry, and NPR. They are attending MFA and doctoral programs at The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, New York University, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley, and have been long listed for the National Book Award.
Fellow Publications since 2004:
228 Books & Chapbooks
Selection of Presses: Alice James Books, BOA Editions, Copper Canyon, Graywolf Press, Henry Holt, Kaya Press, MacMillian, One World, Penguin Press, Tupelo Press, Saturnalia Books.
The challenges facing Asian American writers include access to resources, geographical and cultural isolation, lack of visibility, and language barriers. By fostering the mentorship and community that many emerging Asian American writers lack, Kundiman hopes to shift the literary landscape towards equity and inclusion. We also work to provide advice, support, and training to writers seeking careers in the literary arts, from teaching to publishing to non-profits. We strive to make our programming financially accessible for all writers.
In addition, because many Asian American writers come from lineages that include violence and trauma, the barriers to writing may be internal. Kundiman aims to create a space where those histories, personal and collective, are respected and discussed. History and experience are not separate from writing, but inform the writer’s unique voice. Kundiman believes that out of those difficult stories can come healing, beauty, humor, and transcendence.
Generosity. We cultivate a familial spirit within our organization and act as coalition builders with others who share our commitment to literary excellence and diversity. We encourage abundance by honoring the immense resources—emotional and creative—that we collectively can offer each other. Our work is to nurture the next generation of Asian American creative writers and, at the same time, foster the desire within these writers to give back to their communities.
Inclusion. We implement artistic programs that act as a portal to intellectual and accessible discourse for underserved communities. We recognize the multiplicity of identities, genres, and lineages that fall under Asian American literature. Our programs welcome readers and writers of many ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, countries of origin, and abilities.
Courage. We foster the role of the artist as a vital voice on the prevailing issues of our global society. We believe in the artist as critic and illuminator and strive to be on the forefront of how writing and writers are changing in the 21st century. In all ways, we look to a sense of the extraordinary.