No one quite gets otherness like Rowan Hisayo Buchanan — she wrote an entire novel about it. In 2016, the fictionist emptied her soul and insight into her attention-grabbing debut Harmless Like You. The book offers a voice to Japanese-American Yuki and her orphaned child, Jay — each stranded along the fringes of civilization, identityless — whose histories push them both to writhe in indefinable grief.
After my first filling, I went months aching for more stories by Buchanan if not from other writers of Asian ancestry. I swept through Celeste Ng‘s beautiful canon and then The Vegetarian made me a fan of Han Kang. Then one December day signaled the arrival I’d been waiting for: a chance scrolling on Twitter arrived me on the expression “GO HOME!” with Buchanan attached to edit a collection of stories ignited by the Asian diaspora. I clicked with finger-crippling fervor.
Alexander Chee, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Chang-Rae Lee — all writers I’d longed to read — had been listed to contribute along with a list of other unacquainted stars I’d soon come to treasure. So when I presented my request to Feminist Press to receive an advance reading copy of Go Home! a few months ago, I was nervous.
What you are about to read next — a conversation about Go Home! and the souls that breathed life into it — is the fruit of that courage in tandem with Buchanan’s indelible kindness.
Read our full conversation with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan below.
Paris Close: The title of the book originates from an epithet often used against people considered aliens by their community. Was entitling the collection “Go Home!” a conscious effort to subvert its connotative authority?
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: My novel went through title after title, until we found Harmless Like You. Go Home! has always been titled Go Home! It started out as a provisional title, but all the writers we spoke to understood immediately where it was coming from. And it is this more than anything that made the title stick. We were working with different writers of different ages and backgrounds. They were living in different places. Yet they all understood what it felt like to have someone else tell you to Go Home!
Creating a home while others try to define you as alien is an experience that no one should have to deal with. But the beauty of the writing, art and lives that people make despite it is something to celebrate.
PC: What was it like having Go Home! be foreworded by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen?
RB: It was magic. Jisu Kim, the editor at the Feminist Press, told me how every time she reads his forward, she cries. We reached out to him just after the whole collection was put together. So to me, his forward felt like the first reader response and it would be hard to wish for a better first reader.
PC: Diversity and representation in all capacities remain at the forefront of so many social conversations today, and I’m of the belief that visibility in literature is more imperative now than I can ever recall in my youth. With that, where do you see Go Home! in the discourse of preserving Asian and Asian American narratives?
RB: I find the use of the word preserving interesting. It makes me think of jam, and an overflow of summer fruit that must be sugared to last through the winter. I’m not sure I primarily see the work of the anthology as preserving, though I hope it is nourishing.
I hope it finds those hungry for stories of home or searching for home, and for stories by Asian and Asian American writers. I’ve spoken to writers and readers who have spent years longing for a literary landscape in which they can see anyone remotely like themselves. I hope that Go Home! can help inspire writers to create works that celebrate and explore their unique narratives.
PC: I’m always fascinated by writers working in unison, especially in the modus operandi of a literary collection. So I must ask, what prompted your decision to frame the book as a collaboration instead of a solo endeavor of your own?
RB: I haven’t given up solo work—I am working on a second novel! Writing a novel and editing an anthology are very different processes. Doing solo work has always been a deeply introspective process for me. Being the editor of a collection, I was constantly looking outwards towards my contributors and towards future readers. It has been deeply refreshing and left me feeling closer to my community.
PC: Could you describe the undertaking that went into pulling the contributions together — it is to my recollection that the concept for began as an open call some few years ago?
RB: This has been a highly collaborative process. Throughout, I worked closely with Jyothi Natarajan at AAWW and Jisu Kim at the Feminist Press. And the vision of what the anthology would look like came from our conversations. We always envisioned the anthology as including writers at all stages of their careers. First, we reached out to established writers and to emerging writers we wanted to celebrate. Then the open call cast our net outwards to those whose work we didn’t know.
PC: This collection is an interesting change of course from your debut novel Harmless Like You. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of this new foray into anthology terrain?
RB: I wanted Go Home! to be the sort of book you could comfortably fit in a tote or a backpack, not a tome destined to be left on the shelf. Every time, I read someone who inspired me, I wanted to slip them into the anthology. Of course, this was not possible.
The exciting part is that Go Home! enters the conversation amongst other writers who are creating inspiring work dealing with place and belonging. Some of these authors – including Beth Nguyen, Rachel Khong, Guy Gunaratne, and R. O. Kwon – will be joining us on Go Home!’s tour.
PC: One might assume there’s a degree of intimacy that goes into being entrusted with stories as personal as those in Go Home!, many of which speak to subjects concerning familial absence, mental health, war-torn households, culture shock, and resistance. Did you find yourself forging relationships with your contributors during the editing process? Any profound memories come to mind?
RB: Most of the time, I was editing this from another continent. Our conversations took place over email and Skype. So on the physical level, it was quite distant. There were no late nights spent side-by-side thrashing out paragraphs with hot coffee. On the emotional level, the power of the stories and writing fostered a sense of closeness and attachment to these writers who were allowing me to share their work. I’m about to head off on tour to share this book and host events with our contributors—some of whom I’ll be meeting for the first time. And it’s a strange feeling, because on some level I’ve spent so much time with their words, but I’ve never seen them smile. I can’t wait.
PC: The writers, and the characters breathing life between the pages, all embark on what felt like a perpetual quest — in search of refuge, purpose, answers, escape. Did you, at any point in editing or composing Go Home!, feel like you were questing for something?
RB: The idea of home has bothered me for a long time. People often ask, Where are you from? Sometimes I think they’re asking about my accent, which is a bit British and a bit American. I’ll explain I’ve lived in both countries. Often there is an awkward pause. I realize they are waiting for more. They mean, Why does your face look foreign? I’ll explain that I’m part Japanese, part Chinese, and part British. I imagined home as being a place you didn’t have to explain yourself.
I’ve found that as this anthology emerges into the world, I’m having to explain myself more, not less. Why did I put this together? What do I mean by home? But now, rather than being awkward, I can lift up this book and say—home can mean many things, it can mean language, food, family. Home can be a poem and home can be myth and home can, every now and then, be a geographical place.
PC: This book institutes a variety of Asian writers of different regions, identities, and genders — I was especially taken by how the stories meshed so seamlessly, in that there didn’t seem to be any forced juxtaposition of each individual’s experience over another’s. What importance do identity and regional representation occupy in the collection?
RB: We made a huge effort to try to include different types of voices. East Asian voices, South Asian voices, Queer voices, Muslim voices, young voices, and experienced voices. We knew we couldn’t even represent every sub-group of Asian and Asian American. But we hoped that Go Home! could hint at the rich variety of writers who identify as Asian and Asian American. We hoped that it could help readers see the many different ways to be at home or not at home, and that this might help them feel there is space in the world for their stories.
PC: For inquiring minds wanting to broaden their reach and understanding of Asian and Asian American literature, what — or who — would you recommend readers pick up next after Go Home!?
RB: Well they could start by checking out the Go Home! reading list curated for The Rumpus. It includes other work by the contributors and anthologies that I found grounding and inspiring.
PC: What’s next for you, Rowan? Do you have any exciting plans or endeavors in store for the future?
RB: I’m tapping away at novel number two.
PC: Thank you for chatting with us! Any final remarks for our readers at Paperback Paris?
RB: Thank you so much for reading Go Home! and for your work supporting books and reading culture.
To support the release of Go Home!, Feminist Press and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop have teamed to have Rowan embark on a promotional tour for the book, with special guests Alexander Chee, Alice Sola Kim, R. O. Kwon, Rachel Khong and others to make appearances.
Check out the list of tour stops and dates, below.
Saturday, March 10 — Inkwood Books in Tampa, FL @ 4:00 PM
Monday, March 12 — Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York, NY @ 7:00 PM
Tuesday, March 13 — Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY @ 7:30 PM
Wednesday, March 14 — Brookline Booksmith in Boston, MA @ 7:00 PM
Sunday, March 18 — City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, CA @ 5:00 PM
Tuesday, March 20 — The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA @ 7:30 PM
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s first novel, Harmless Like You (Sceptre, 2016), was the winner of The Authors’ Club First Novel Award, a Betty Trask Award, and a New York Times editors’ choice. Buchanan’s forthcoming anthology, Go Home! (Feminist Press), arrives on March 13, and is available for pre-order.
For more details on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW), visit their website here.
For additional Feminist Press news inquiries, please contact Jisu Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to stay tuned for our next episode of Paperback Chats!