“MY GOOD FRIEND Leland Cheuk named his Brooklyn-based indie publishing company, 7.13 Books, after an auspicious day in 2014. That year he’d been struggling against a potentially lethal form of pre-leukemia that had landed him in an isolation ward in New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I’d met him in a writing class in 2001 and liked him instantly. I visited him on July 4, 2014, sterilizing my hands, making small talk through a mask with him and his wife, Jessi, and feeling all our actions and words had a physical and mental scrim in this disease land that shouldn’t be his land. We knew without stating it that my brief visit could be the last. But he still made jokes—always. In an essay about his illness in Salon he writes: “My wife tried to shave my head, and we laughed at her tentativeness with the clippers. She had never shorn anyone before. She left the back of my head mostly untouched, which made me look like I was trying to grow a chemo mullet.” Fortunately, on July 13, after a bone marrow transplant, his red blood cell counts moved up. The transplant saved his life. And later that day he got an email announcing a book deal for his first novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong.
Leland has been to many prestigious residencies, including MacDowell, taught at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and elsewhere, has two novels and a short story collection published, is working on another novel and collection, and has written numerous reviews, essays, and short fiction. Leland is generous, not only with the authors he’s published, but also with close friends. (At his wedding dinner party in 2009, piles of books formed centerpieces down the tables as party gifts; I snagged Out Stealing Horses.) His take on life can be dry and cutting; it’s informed and perceptive, but not pretentious. He’s clear about what he can—and can’t—do for his authors. (In 2018, he published my debut collection of short stories.) I’ve fewer friends as honest as he.
As the white adoptive mother of a child born in China, I can tell Leland things I would tell few others. At a bar, in texts, or on the phone, he’s always willing to listen when I talk to him about my son’s experiences with racism, both as recipient and—sometimes—as perpetrator. Despite our efforts, my son has internalized some negative stereotypes, much like the anti-hero protagonist in Leland’s second novel, No Good Very Bad Asian (C&R Press). The book is in the form of a confessional letter by Sirius Lee—a Chinese American comic and film star—to his young daughter. NGVBA dives into stereotypes and codes we ascribe to people unlike us, and culturally determined roles we inhabit to our detriment. Sirius Lee copes with bullying and the vicissitudes of fame, addiction, abandonment, infidelity, chronic illness, glass ceilings based on bigotry, Hollywood’s fickleness, and parental grief. So go out and buy it already. —Alex Behr”
Read the interview over at Propeller Magazine