Category Archives: Pan-Asian

Publisher Interview: Sunyoung Lee and Kaya Press

Early this year, at almost 18 years old, Kaya Press flew the nest. Leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of New York’s publishing world, the non-profit indie specializing in “books from the Asian diaspora,” moved offices across the country to Los Angeles. Now comfortably ensconced in the Department of American Studies & Ethnicity on the University of Southern California campus, Kaya has a new address, new community, new books, new staff, and is definitely basking in new energy.

With all the latest changes, the one Kaya constant is Sunyoung Lee… although she does have the fairly new title of “Publisher and Editor.” Founded in 1994 by Soo Kyung Kim, a postmodern Korean writer, Kaya was originally intended to house a journal of Korean literature-in-translation, which eventually morphed into Muae, a spirited anthology highlighting the newest in Asian Pacific American writing that Library Journal named one of “The Best Magazines of 1995.” Muae fell victim to the Korean economic collapse of 1997, but under the bolstering management of Juliana Koo and Lee, who took over that year as managing editor and editor, respectively, Kaya managed to survive – and thrive – living up to its namesake: “Kaya was the name of a tribal confederation of six Korean city-states that existed from the middle of the first until the sixth century CE,” their website officially explains. “Although the Kaya kingdom was an iron-age culture, it is remembered as a utopia of learning, music, and the arts due to its trade and communication with China, Japan, and India.”

Kaya Press channels that international history, feeding its artistic vision by regularly pushing the boundaries of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) diaspora through the titles the tenacious press has published thus far. A small sampling might include an enhanced reprint of the groundbreaking 1937 classic East Goes West by the first Korean American novelist Younghill Kang; American Book Award-winning The Unbearable Heart by Japanese German American poet Kimiko Hahn; Chinese Australian Brian Castro’s already-major-award-winning-in-Australia novel, Shanghai Dancing; the lauded Commonwealth Prize-winning Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, which was the first novel by a Samoan woman to be published in the United States; and Migritude by Kenyan-born, South Asian-descended, citizen-of-the-world performance artist Shailja Patel.

The word “kaya” echoes the diversity of its authors: in addition to its ancient Korean representation, in Japanese, Kaya is also “summer night” or a type of yew tree that withstands harsh environmental conditions; in Malay, kaya means “rich”; in Indonesian, “prosperous”; in Tagalog, “to be able”; in Sanskrit, “body”; in Turkish “rock”; in Zulu, “home.”

For Lee, home is where the press is. In order to sustain it, she’s worked endless day jobs and freelance gigs – from Billboard magazine to Publishers Weekly – in addition to teaching the requisite composition classes, to pay the bills so she could nurture Kaya well into its teenage years. Now that she’s settled into rooms of her own at USC, Lee’s ushering out the next set of Kaya titles: Lament in the Night, which includes two 1920s Japanese American novellas by Shōson Nagahara, translated by Andrew Leong; The Hanging on Union Square, an experimental novel originally published in 1935 by H. T. Tsiang; Water Chasing Water by Seattle-based poet Koon Woon; and Korean American adoptee Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut’s debut poetry in Magnetic Refrain.

It’s been a full decade since we officially talked about Kaya. So, what’s your latest, greatest news?
The biggest news, as you know, is that we moved to LA this year. We’re publishing a bunch of new books, and a lot of wonderful new people are working with us. This is the largest group of people we’ve had involved with Kaya. USC gives us funding to pay for two part-time grad students – they’re 25% part-time – and we also get a lot of volunteers. Their involvement – both undergraduate and graduate students – means while they learn hands-on about the publishing process, I’ve been able to do more strategic work, to put more energy into Kaya, and that’s been really gratifying. [… click here for more]

Publisher interview: “Feature: Sunyoung Lee and Kaya Press,”, December 2012

Readers: Adult

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Poetry, .Translation, Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American, Pan-Asian, Pan-Asian Pacific American

Simple Asian Meals: Irresistibly Satisfying and Healthy Dishes for the Busy Cook by Nina Simonds

At 19, Nina Simonds more or less became Asian. The New Englander dropped out of college in the 1970s and headed far east to Taiwan “to study food, language, and culture.” She was taken in by a surrogate Chinese family, in which the mother happened to be a famous cook with a cooking school staffed by some of China’s best chefs. Such serendipitous experiences would inspire Simonds to write 10 cookbooks through the decades, and make her one of the leading authorities on Asian cooking.

Her latest how-to is as much a feast for the eyes as the palate: the photography alone is mouth-watering. And yet Simonds promises to “dispel the myth that Asian cooking is too time-consuming and difficult to prepare on a daily basis.” Her pan-Asian recipes here have been updated and adapted to fit the 21st-century lifestyle, taking advantage of short-cuts (my term, not Simonds!) like organic chicken broth and ready-made sauces in order to create fast, healthy, delicious meals. With most supermarkets going global, Simonds makes stocking your pantry with Asian essentials efficient and easy.

Simonds enhances many of her recipes with the ‘food as medicine’-philosophy by adding yin-yang boxes which highlight specific ingredients for “their health-giving properties according to Chinese medicine and scientific research.” The shrimp in her “Fiery Vietnamese Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup” warms the body which increases qi. The spinach in “Wilted Spinach and Scallop Salad with Toasted Sesame Seeds” helps hydrate the body and quenches thirst. The miso that flavors “Grilled Miso Tuna” lowers the risk of heart disease, reduces menopausal symptoms, prevents cancer, and aids digestion. Even dessert can be good for you: the peaches in “Roasted Peaches with Cardamom Whipped Cream” will help replenish body fluids and help dry coughs.

Whatever ails you (or someone in your family), you just might find an antidote between these pages. Although even without miraculous cures, everyone at your dining table is sure to benefit from some delectable fare indeed.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens by Patricia Tanumihardja

Asian Grandmothers CookbookThe holiday season is fast approaching (already!) so take note now … order this book for everyone on your list who likes to eat! Part cultural history, part talk-story, and all thoroughly delicious, author Patricia Tanumihardja “interviewed, cooked with, and connected with grandmothers, mothers, aunties” who shared recipes with origins in China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. “Regardless of where in Asia they come from,” writes Tanumihardja in the book’s introduction, herself of Chinese/Indonesian descent by way of Singapore then Seattle, “these recipes represent a universal theme – they tell the story of our immigrant past.”

For all immigrants, food is a defining part of both their identity and heritage. I think that’s infinitely more true for Asian immigrants. Thank goodness for the invention of vacuum-packed kimchi that travels without leaking, because some of our longer trips to remote areas just wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without our comfort foods! And yes, I’m not above also carrying a small rice-cooker (and the right rice!) in our carry-on luggage, as well. We’re serious eaters! Thank goodness, too, that our kids’ Korean grandparents are only five minutes away, and we’re invited for dinner every week (with leftovers to go). My mother, of course, is convinced that my children would starve if she didn’t feed them!

“Just when did the restaurant become the keeper of our Asian food heritage?” Tanumihardja questions. I will confess that we go out for Vietnamese pho, Thai (or Vietnamese) green papaya salad, Chinese beef chow fun, South Indian dosa, and Burmese green tea salad with regularity. “Whatever the reason, modern times are making Asian home cooking a lost art … and many of the new generation of Asian Americans are now ignorant of these skills.” Is she talking about me?

So think of this gorgeous, toothsome volume as a cultural investment. If nothing else, you will eat very, very well. You’ve got a whole section on cooking how-tos, ingredients with pictures, prep times, and clear, easy-to-read instructions. Even I’m convinced I can do it … my children are so thrilled at the prospect of getting wok-fried dou miao (pea shoots) regularly!

One teeny tiny little quibble … in the next edition (and hopefully many will follow), I would so appreciate seeing more pictures, ideally a little salivating inducement for each of the recipes. Just like in many of those (heritage-keeping) restaurants where I’m not familiar with all the dishes, I love using the point-and-“oh, could I please have one of those?”-method of ordering. For the uninitiated hungry like me, visuals are key. Of course, now I’ve got a 130-recipe excuse to stay in … and, uh, get the hubby cooking!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian, Pan-Asian Pacific American

Come Look with Me: Asian Art by Kimberly Lane

come-look-with-me-asian-artHere’s the 12th title of Charlesbridge Publishing‘s wonderfully inclusive Come Look with Me art series for the youngest children. It’s a fun, interactive kids’-level guide with suggestions for interpreting 12 diverse pieces of Asian art, from a Korean celadon vase to a Chinese scroll painting to an Indian sculpture of the Buddha to a most unexpected 21st-century “Superflat” sculpture/painting by lauded Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami.

Review: “TBR’s Editors’ Favorites of 2008,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2008

Readers: Children

Published: 2008

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian

Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre (two volumes) edited by Samuel Leiter

encyclopedia-of-asian-theatreYou could build major muscles benching both volumes, but think of it as beefing up your theater knowledge way beyond New York’s Broadway (it ain’t called ‘The Great White Way’ for nothin’!). For both the theater novice as well as the already international expert, Leiter and his extensive posse of highly qualified theater professionals provide quickly digestible capsules arranged in easy-to-find alphabetical entries.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Drama/Theater, Pan-Asian

The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient by Sheridan Prasso

Asian MystiqueHere’s the everyperson – or should that be every non-Asian person’s? – guide to debunking the Asian mystique, written by a non-APA with 15-plus years experience of writing about Asia. While the aware APA won’t learn anything earth-shattering, the book’s examination of absurd
stereotypes is entertaining. The picture of the geisha with Starbucks bag says it all …

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, September 8, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific, Pan-Asian

Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia edited by Chris Berry, Fran Martin, and Audrey Yue

Mobile CulturesAn anthology that takes a combined look at two rapidly growing fields of study – globalization of sexual cultures together with the study of “new media.” At its core is the internet, which has had a profound influence on enabling the establishment and rapid growth of Asia’s gay and lesbian communities.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, August 1, 2003

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian

Essentials of Asian Cuisine: Fundamentals and Favorite Recipes by Corinne Trang

Essentials of Asian CuisineA toothsome feast of recipes from China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia that leaves you hungering for more.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, March 28, 2003

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian

Publisher Profile: Kaya Press

Kaya PressLove’s Labor’s Not Lost: Kaya Press

Sunyoung Lee and Juliana Koo make up the two-person office that is Kaya Press, a tiny, independent Asian/Asian Pacific American-focused, not-for-profit book publisher based in New York City. For Lee, who is the editor, and Koo, who is managing editor, Kaya is about love – love for APA literature, love for bringing words to life, love for working at something in which they believe wholeheartedly. And true love it is, because for the last three-and-a-half years, both have been working endless hours to keep Kaya Press alive – without pay.

“I bring this up not to evoke pity or to solicit funds,” says Lee, although they would never turn away a donation, “but because this state of affairs is in many ways a reflection of – and arguably a direct result of – the position that independent literary publishers occupy in the global economy today. Underfunded and understaffed, they are often, like Kaya, perched precariously on a narrow ledge of financial viability.”

Perched yet determined. Out of sheer will, Kaya plans to bring forth another six titles before the year is over: Beat Takeshi vs. Takeshi Kitano by Casio Abe, an overdue title coming in August; Aztex, a first novel by poet Sesshu Foster; Tomie’s Chair, a poetry collection by Josey Foo, inspired by an installation of the artist Tomie Arai; The Temperature of This Water by a young Korean American spoken word poet Ishle Yi Park; they who do not grieve, a follow-up to where we once belonged by Sia Figiel, the first published woman novelist from Samoa; and Maps of City and Body by Denise Uyehara, the first in a ground breaking series devoted to performance art.

“Kaya fills a void in the publishing world,” says Koo. “Kaya publishes books from an Asian American perspective – meaning not only do we publish books by Asian American writers, we publish books that Asian American readers will find engaging. We are not limited to publishing things that we think will serve a ‘general’ (read: white) audience, by profit margins or by editors whose ideal in an Asian American novel is the classic immigrant tragedy. We don’t find it necessary to market Asian American books with faux Chinese character typefaces and bamboo imagery. Our list provides a context for books that no general house can give.” [… click here for more]

Profile: “Love’s Labors Not Lost: Kaya Press,” AsianWeek, July 18, 2002


Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, Pan-Asian, Pan-Asian Pacific American