“Independent presses are a lifeline in the publishing world. At a time when large publishing houses are merging into even larger conglomerates, writers may feel like finding a home for their work requires a very specific, and at times corporate, mindset. But indies show that there’s another way. Via contests, open calls for submissions (for agented and unagented writers), and targeted requests, independent presses provide an alternate arena, making publishing more of a reality for marginalized artists and those with unique voices and writing styles. Plus, they’re getting more and more recognition. This year Graywolf Press had several titles as finalists or longlisted for the National Book Award. Paul Harding’s Pulitzer winning book Tinkers was published by a university aligned press (Bellevue Literary).
Rosalie Morales Kearns, Leland Cheuk, and Laura Stanfill are indie publishers seeking to add to the publishing landscape in unique ways that speak to their own experiences and beliefs. I spoke with them about the missions of their presses, the challenges they face, and what authors and publishers should take into account about the business.
Jennifer Baker: In a world full of presses, why did you decide to create yours and what stands out about it that you saw lacking in the marketplace?”
“I was introduced to Leland Cheuk’s writing when I heard him read from his essay, “A Grandfather’s Guide to the Resistance” at Sarah Lawrence College’s Wrexham Road Reading Series. The piece, which had appeared in SalonZine, offered some telling parallels between Cheuk’s grandfather’s experiences in Mao’s China and contemporary American politics. Here was writing that was straddling the personal and the political; raising questions and suggesting potential paths forward. The rest of Cheuk’s work lived up to this promise. His first novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, (2015, CCLaP Publishing) is about a dysfunctional and morally dubious family that truly stretches the immigrant-novel box. The short stories in Letters from Dinosaurs (2016, Thought Catalog Books) offer insights into imperfect human beings in complicated relationships. In his fictional work and his essays, here’s a writer zeroed in on keeping it real.
Cheuk is also founding publisher and editor of a micropress, 7.13 Books, which focuses exclusively on debut literary fiction.
It seemed fitting that when I approached Leland Cheuk about interviewing him for Bloom, he said, “I’ll pretty much answer any question as honestly as possible.” His literary philosophy reflects this openness to all questions and a willingness to tackle the difficult answers.
Leland Cheuk’s responses in this email Q&A offer us valuable insights into the reality of being a writer, a published contemporary writer. In covering topics from the personal to the political, we get a glimpse into the thoughtful and fully engaged artist methodically pushing boundaries.
Shoba Viswanathan: I heard you first when you read at the Democracy and Education panel at Sarah Lawrence. Given that context, I’d like to start off with asking what you see as the role of the artist and writer in the times we live. There is so much to care about, rage against, that sometimes preoccupation with a turn of phrase or character motivation can seem trivial.”
“Much like a floating signifier in semiotics, the true soul of Leland Cheuk’s The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong is always shifting and impossible to pin down. The narrative is an emotionally gritty look at familial relationships that are anchored in chaos and deceit as well as an exploration of Otherness in the context of a Chinese/Chinese-American family that has already spent several generations in the United States. However, the novel is also a hilarious tale about a man whose cowardice and overpowering father force him into something that will change his life forever. Last but not least, the novel deals with a plethora of themes like loyalty, prostitution, loneliness, friendship, and politics. The result is a deep, entertaining tragicomedy that touches on various generations and proves that, regardless of what migration can do for a family, the worst thing that can happen to it is a lack of love, support, honesty, and understanding.”
“Let me pass away, nobody bother you, my mother texted after yet another of our phone arguments.
She blamed me for my cancer.
She also blamed the ghosts of the victims of 9/11. She blamed the fact that I’d worked in Lower Manhattan for two years, inhaling all those thirteen-year-old fumes from the fallen Twin Towers. She blamed my urban “lifestyle” of eating out at restaurants. She blamed my daring to leave the Bay Area suburbs where I grew up. She blamed my wife’s preference for turning up the heat in the winter. Buoyed by the infallible teachings of her favorite TV medical practitioner, Dr. Oz, she blamed my diet. She assumed I must have done something to bring a rare blood cancer, myelodysplastic syndrome, upon myself.”