Interview with Jee Leong Koh, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
How did Gaudy Boy start?
Started in 2017, Gaudy Boy is the publishing arm of the NYC-based literary non-profit Singapore Unbound, which advances freedom of expression and equal rights for all through cultural exchange and political activism. In addition to running a biennial literary festival and a monthly reading series in NYC, we wish to publish poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction by authors of Asian heritage residing anywhere around the world.
Tell us a bit about Gaudy Boy. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We arise from, and hope to contribute to, the transnational ‘turn’ in literature and literary studies. We are interested in the various ways that writers and writings move across national boundaries to develop a circulation of influences, exchanges, and alliances. Instead of seeing the world in such dualistic terms as East versus West, North versus South, we envision the gathering of the most progressive elements everywhere, and the publication of such a gathering in our list.
We are inspired by many local efforts with a broad and long-term view. In Singapore, the independent publisher Ethos Books has braved a censorious regime and climate to publish many works of critical politics and literary beauty. In the USA, Kaya Press continues to publish cutting-edge literature of the Asian Pacific diaspora. We aim to follow in the paths thus opened and to open a few ourselves.
Our name Gaudy Boy is taken from the poem “Gaudy Turnout” by Singaporean poet Arthur Yap writing about his time abroad in 1970’s Leeds, UK. Gaudium, in Latin, means joy, and we wish to publish books that delight readers with the various powers of art. As the name also suggests, we are very receptive to writings by all kinds of minorities.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
Our first title, released last year, was an American edition of Singaporean author Alfian Sa’at’s Malay Sketches. Named a top short-story collection by Electric Literature, the volume offers a kaleidoscopic view of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore.
This year, we are very proud to be publishing the co-winners of the 1st Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Award. Korean American Jenifer Sang Eun Park’s Autobiography of Horse rocks with the energy of an obsession through a landscape of prose poems, whimsical diagrams, and found writings. Filipino Lawrence Lacambra Ypil’s The Experiment of the Tropics is very different in style. Meticulous and musical, Ypil investigates archival photographs of the Philippines under American rule. It is a happy coincidence that the first winners of the poetry book award should be an Asian American and an Asian, for we are keen to bridge the two worlds.
In the fall of 2019, we will be publishing the wonderful debut of Filipino American author Ricco Siasoco. The Foley Artist and Other Stories is a work of great maturity and tact.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
I’ve found that Anglophone writings from India, or translated works by writers from China, Japan, and Korea are often the most widely read Asian works in the United States. Writers from Southeast Asia are not as well known. It is heartening to see the novels of Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng, both Malaysians, receiving great recognition, but their impact has not been as large on the USA as it has been on the UK. There are many Anglophone writers living in, say, Singapore and the Philippines, who really deserve a wide readership. We hope to make up for that gap.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Gaudy Boy?
We cope mainly by being extremely selective about what we publish. We are in no rush to expand our list. In our first year, we published one title only; this year, our second, we publish three. We anticipate publishing two titles every year. We’re a small team and this approach allows us to give full attention and maximum resources to the editing, design, and marketing of our titles. We use print-on-demand services with Amazon and IngramSpark, so we don’t incur warehouse and other charges, but our books are still available through the distributor Ingram to all US-based and international retailers and bookstores.
There is no reading fee for fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. We don’t charge authors for the privilege of reading their work. There is a small entry fee of USD10.00 for the annual Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Award, which is well below industry standard, mindful as we are not to hinder too many submissions from poorer parts of the world. The fee goes towards covering some of the editorial and logistical costs of running the contest, but its main purpose is to ensure that contest entrants take their submission seriously. The award winner receives USD1000.00 and publication. We have been fortunate in our contest judges. The first was transnational poet and artist Wong May, who was born in China, raised in Singapore, trained in the USA, and now based in Dublin, Ireland. Our second contest judge is Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri.