Upcoming Publications


Why Karen Carpenter Matters - OUT NOW!
university of texas press (SPRING 2019)

On February 4, 1983, the vocal superstar Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32 in her childhood bedroom in her parents’ suburban tract home in Downey, CA . Unlike many other young rock and pop icons lost to overdoses under dramatic circumstances, Karen faded out slowly, just like the music she and her brother Richard were known for making together as the Carpenters. In this wide-ranging book, Karen Tongson explores her namesake’s myriad afterlives, listening to the echoes of Karen’s voice and music in far-flung settings such as the author’s native Philippines, a locale at once a world away and yet intimately tied to the Southern California suburbs that shaped the singer’s style and sound. Part memoir and part musical biography, Why Karen Carpenter Matters documents Karen’s profound significance to people of color, immigrants, queers, gender outlaws, and everyone other than the white, Nixon-era suburbanites she and her brother are often thought to have represented. Karen Carpenter matters, Tongson argues, because in her life, work, and even death, she transformed the uneventful into the extraordinary in the most unexpected places, for the most unexpected people

Inoue's first karaoke machine

Inoue's first karaoke machine

Empty Orchestra: Karaoke, Queer PerformancE, Queer Theory

This book explores how the technological and cultural histories of karaoke prompt us to reconsider queer performance practices, and their relationship to originality, imitation, and citation in a post-digital age. Karaoke--a mainstream pastime and performance practice inherited from East and Southeast Asian technologies, and cultures of public singing--is built upon copying, or repeatedly rehearsing the same set of styles and musical repertoires.  Nevertheless, it is at once upheld as a liberatory performance practice for some subjects, while viewed as typically derivative for the queer, and Asian diasporic communities who have historically been associated with bad, or sinister modes of copying and replication. Karaoke’s resonance with queer theories of imitation, repetition, and world building, Tongson argues, becomes a means towards understanding queer modes of relating to scripts of love and desire, to self-fashioning, to critical and aesthetic methods and judgments, to coercion and propaganda, to worlds adjacent to, but ultimately beyond its absorption and comprehension. In short, Empty Orchestra is not simply a book about how karaoke is done, but about what it does—particularly what it does to our contemporary understandings of queerness, postcoloniality, originality and the relations among them.


Recent Publications

Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries
NYU Press

What queer lives, loves and possibilities teem within suburbia’s little boxes? Moving beyond the imbedded urban/rural binary, Relocations offers the first major queer cultural study of sexuality, race and representation in the suburbs. Focusing on the region humorists have referred to as “Lesser Los Angeles”—a global prototype for sprawl—Karen Tongson weaves through suburbia’s “nowhere”spaces to survey our spatial imaginaries: the aesthetic, creative and popular materials of the new suburbia.

Karen Tongson takes us on a wild ride to the hinterlands, the inner empires and the disturbing yet vital ‘burbs.’ She skillfully re-routes well-trodden tales of white flight and gay migration and deftly navigates the theoretical freeways to trace the emergence, lives and furtive affective and creative aspirations of queer of color cultures and communities in what have been long been considered the spatial edge of American social life. Relocations is fierce, eloquent and compelling.”
—Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

Reading Relocations is akin to listening to a soundtrack of a favored movie from your teenage years, one whose details are perhaps forgotten, but the sound memory of which can take you, affectively, to another time, another world—to a different mode of being. With considerable style and expansive insight, Karen Tongson makes palpable the proliferation of queerness in such putatively normative sites as suburban Los Angeles. Thoroughly multi-disciplinary, theoretically savvy, archivally and methodologically innovative, this book is a lesson in how to cruise critically through the aesthetic, historic, personal, and political routes that connect places to persons and performances to identities, and present times to as yet unrealized elsewheres.”
—Kandice Chuh, author of Imagine Otherwise: on Asian Americanist Critique

"Relocations is luminous, hilarious, rigorous, and profoundly moving. Tongson turns the tables on the critical commonplace that the U.S. suburbs have been and will always be spaces of stultifying sameness."
—Scott Herring, International Journal of Communication

Relocations makes powerful contributions across queer, Asian American, Latin, American, and suburban studies, cultural geography, and scholarship on affect and sound, and should be a must-read for scholars interested in Los Angeles, empire, suburbia, gentrification, music, sexuality and space, or queer of color critique. It is also a simply exhilarating read, at once rich in its theoretical considerations and refreshingly lucid."
— David Seitz, The Journal of Emotion, Space and Society

Migrant Musicians: Filipino Entertainers and the Work of Music Making

(co-authored with Theodore S. Gonzalvez, R Zamora Linmark and Sarita See). Center for Art and Thought with Horse and Buggy Press—LIMITED EDITION

Each copy of this limited run edition of Migrant Musicians: Filipino Entertainers and the Work of Music Making (150 total) is a beautiful art object: The covers were printed on a hand-fed, hand-cranked Vandercook letterpress at the Horse & Buggy Press studio in Durham, North Carolina, and the inner pages—digitally printed to provide high quality text and color images—are then hand bound using linen thread. All proceeds go towards sustaining CA+T's cultural and educational missions.

Migrant Musicians brings together Theodore S. Gonzalves, R. Zamora Linmark, and Karen Tongson in a conversation moderated by Sarita Echavez See. Informed by their creative and scholarly work and by their own histories and experiences, they reflect on how Filipino musicians have circulated as part of a global entertainment industry. Their discussion ranges from their family memories and mythologies about music’s transportative power to their encounters with the legal realities of Filipino musicians’ experiences as overseas contract workers. As See remarks, the processes of migration and survival transform “living song into living labor”—a process that can disguise and deny the work that undergirds the making and feeling of music. 

For college and university libraries or other institutional buyers, please click here to purchase the publication (the link will take you to our secure payment site).