Carlos Bulosan

Gabrielle David

“Yes, I will be a writer and make all of you live again in my words.”
― Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart: A Personal History

Carlos Bulosan is perhaps one of the most influential Asian American writers of the twentieth century.

Born in Binalonan, Philippines, then a U.S. colony, Carlos Bulosan immigrated to the mainland in 1931 during the Great Depression.  He worked in an Alaskan fish cannery and as a fruit and vegetable picker in Washington and California, and eventually became an activist in the labor movement.  But life as an itinerant worker took its toll and by 1936 Carlos was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which led to an extensive hospital stay.  There, he began to read and write voraciously, which eventually led him to become a writer.  His work began to appear in prestigious magazines, and later, Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, inaugurated his inchoate reputation as an “American” writer.

By 1942, Carlos benefited from the subtle shift in the attitude toward Filipinos that occurred during World War II and published two volumes of poetry, Letter from America and Chorus from America. The following year, The Voice of Bataan, which was broadcast overseas by the Office of War Information, and his 1944 bestseller, The Laughter of My Father, cemented his reputation as a rising young writer.  In 1945, President Roosevelt commissioned Carlos to write “Four Freedoms,” an essay for the Federal Building in San Francisco.  And in 1946, America Is in the Heart was translated into more than a dozen languages, with Look magazine declaring his autobiographic novel as one of the fifty most important American books ever published.

An outspoken critic, Carlos was blacklisted by Senator McCarthy, ostracized by the publishing community and found himself living under constant threat of deportation.  Carlos, who had developed a strong drinking habit during his years as a migrant worker, became depressed and withdrawn.

However, by early 1956, the worst of the communist witch-hunts had passed and Carlos poured his energies into his work with renewed vigor.  He received a Carnegie Foundation fellowship and completed several manuscripts when he passed out on the street after drinking and was rushed to the hospital.  Diagnosed with pneumonia, he died that September in poverty and relative obscurity. He was 44 years old.

Carlos Bulosan had all been forgotten, but beginning in 1973 with the reissuance of America is in the Heart, his writings and poetry have become an inspiration for new generations of Americans, and in particular, that of Asian American writers.

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Source: Gabrielle David

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