APA Spotlight: Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis & Gerald Maa of The Asian American Literary Review

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

The Asian American Literary Review is a space for writers who consider the designation “Asian American” a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community. In showcasing the work of established and emerging writers, the journal aims to incubate dialogues and, just as importantly, open those dialogues to regional, national, and international audiences of all constituencies. We select work that is, as Marianne Moore once put it, “an expression of our needs…[and] feeling, modified by the writer’s moral and technical insights.” Published biannually, AALR features fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, translations, comic art, interviews, and book reviews.

Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (left)  is a founding co-editor of The Asian American Literary Review. He is currently completing a PhD in English at the University of Maryland. Gerald Maa (right) is also the founding co-editor of The Asian American Literary Review. Having earned an MFA from the University of Maryland, he is currently pursuing a PhD in English at the University of California, Irvine.

What is the mission statement of your life?

Gerald: The only banner I can think to offer is one of my own, however enigmatic
it may be. It comes from Emily Dickinson: “Not ‘Revelation’—tis that waits, / But our unfurnished eyes—” I like how she says one shouldn’t passively wait for Revelation—whatever that means to the person—but rather look with generosity for things to furnish the mind.

Lawrence: A friend once gave me some marriage advice that doubles as a pocket mission statement: Say yes. That’s all, just say yes. I take it to mean a radical expansiveness, a Buddhist releasing of the self, an opening of concern for others. But that’s prescriptive, not descriptive. I’m actually a pretty selfish bastard.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

Gerald: You know how you wake up in the middle of the night needing to go to the
bathroom? How you feel your way in the dark to get to the bathroom. There’s thinking at arm’s length while steered by a larger purpose, dealing with the stubbed toes, being agile…

Lawrence: Haha. That’s a nice formulation. The combination of fumbling and impulse. Actually it reminds me of a passage from Mailer’s Armies of the Night, in which he describes stumbling around a bathroom and peeing on the floor, a metaphor for what America was doing in Vietnam at the time. A reasonable critique, but Vietnam makes out poorly in the metaphor—I like Gerald’s version better. At any rate, impulse: I saw a need for AALR, I asked my good friend to take a chance, and, somehow, we’re still fumbling.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

Gerald: I think Justin Chatwin did a great job in Dragonball Z. Maybe him.

Lawrence: My wife would vote for Robert Pattinson, but she’d probably like him to play me in real life, too.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

Gerald: On our Facebook page and our website.

Lawrence: We have a web feature we’re piloting called “Dear John Okada.” The idea is an open letter about the state of Asian American literature today, addressed to the shades of Asian American literature past; we’d like it to evolve into a wide-ranging, democratic space, a finger on the pulse of our far-flung literary arts community. So we hope folks write in! Of course we always welcome submissions for the print journal during our reading period, June 1 to September 1.
We also have a new issue out, so anyone interested can subscribe, pass along the word to friends, and ask local libraries to subscribe.

Gerald: One other plug, for anyone in the LA area this May 7. We’ll be hosting with Koji and our other friends at the Japanese American National Museum, a day-long literary festival, free to the public. For more information about the event at JANM, click here.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

Lawrence: There’s a long list of wonderful people doing vital work in the APIA community, some of whom we’re lucky to call friends and collaborators, and I have full faith they’ll redouble their efforts in the years to come. Without ignoring lasting problems or new challenges, I think we can look hopefully towards the future. Folks have been calling for an Asian American renaissance for some time; I think we’re on the opening cusp of one now.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals?

Gerald: Take the word professional seriously, making sure to emphasize the decorous notion above the monetary one.

Bonus Question: Would you give different advice for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

Lawrence: No, the same, perhaps underlined: we’re fortunate to inherit a giving community, and we owe it our service, the best versions of ourselves, civically and personally, in return.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

Gerald: I love offals: tripe, headcheese, you name it.

Lawrence: Ditto. Add cherries to that list. And summer corn—when I was a kid, my family had a cornfield.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

Gerald: What does guilt mean, again?

Lawrence: Gerald lives a pure existence! I have a three year old at home, so sleep.

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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