Portland-based writer Dena Rash Guzman is the American side of Shanghai's indie publishing house HAL. With a new book coming out this weekend, HAL has flown Dena over to Shanghai to perform her newest work on stage at the launch. We caught up with her to find out what Portland and Shanghai have in common, and what's in store for HAL in the States.
SH: So you're the HAL ambassador in the United States. How did you get involved?
DRG: When I was visiting Shanghai a couple of years ago, I turned up at a Groupthink meeting. The topic of the session was sci-fi, so I read an unfinished love sonnet. I swore a lot, and HAL seemed to like it. I loved the atmosphere in the group: open-minded and welcoming. Eventually, the HAL editors asked me to write for them when I went back to the US, and I became a kind of satellite correspondent.
SH: What do your duties include?
DRG: There's a lot of late-night emailing with Bjorn Wahlstrom, HAL's founder and chief editor. We throw ideas around, I keep him up to date with the independent publishing scene in the US. I've met some key players since moving to Portland, like Kevin Sampsell from Powell's Books, who is currently stocking HAL's first book and has been instrumental in its success in America. I work a lot with his independent press Future Tense, and he coaches me through aspects of indie publishing.
SH: Do you have a story in HAL's upcoming book?
DRG: I have two. One is a collaboration with Bjorn. Because of the time difference, he would send me a draft at midnight Shanghai time, and I'd be in my pyjamas with my laptop, a coffee and cigarettes writing in the bathroom, which is the only room in the house where I smoke. It was a long, tough process!
SH: What does America think of HAL?
DRG: For people in the States, Shanghai is not tangible. There are a lot of misconceptions. People ask me questions like "Do you publish Ai Weiwei?" "Are your books all in Chinese?" "What about censorship? Are you watched while you write? Are there even white people in Shanghai?" A lot of people are shocked that there is actually a revolutionary underground publishing happening - that there are people brave enough to forge ahead. Friends of mine in the US who have read HAL's first book have been blown away. Even by American independent publishing standards, it is progressive, dynamic and new. It's not predictable.
SH: Do Portland and Shanghai have much in common?
DRG: They do. Portland is known as the city of "refugees and fugitives", and Shanghai has the same reputation. Portland has the Shanghai Tunnels, which were used to trap sailors and smuggle them onto ships to work as laborers on the route to Shanghai. That's where the word "shanghaied" comes from
SH: You live on a farm in rural Oregon. How does that work?
DRG: I farm geese. I write. It works.
SH: So what's in store for us at the HAL booklaunch?
DRG: We're launching the book with the third installment of SLAMHAI - the poetry slam that HAL has become famous for. I'll be leading a stage performance of my new work "A Brief History of Dan Orange" which is about a man viewed through the eyes of several women. I think you'll like it. It's a lot about panties.
SH: Interesting! And what do you have planned for 2012?
DRG: As well as launching Middle Kingdom Underground in the States as an ebook and in print through Powell's Books, I'm hoping to be in New York City in January to read at the Earshot series.