The Way Back : A Hybrid Chapbook by Edward Gunawan
Edward Gunawan is the second winner of the Start A Riot! Chapbook Prize: In response to rapid gentrification and displacement of QTBIPOC+ literary artists in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in celebration of these communities’ revolutionary history, Foglifter Press, RADAR Productions, and Still Here San Francisco joined forces to create a chapbook prize for local emerging queer and trans Black writers, indigenous writers, and writers of color. Each year, one chapbook author is awarded publication, a $1,000 prize, and promotion, as well as a spot on RADAR’s literary tour, formerly Sister Spit.
Gunawan is an interdisciplinary writer and filmmaker whose work has been published in TriQuarterly, Aquifer, and Gay & Lesbian Review, and screened in Berlin, Locarno, and Cadence. A queer immigrant from Indonesia and of Chinese heritage, he now resides in Oakland on unceded Ohlone land. Gunawan grew up speaking three languages in a Chinese Buddhist household while attending Christian missionary schools in the most populous Muslim country in the world. Being gay only necessitated the departure from his family and community’s expectations to redefine for himself notions of love, belonging, and kinship.
Blending intimately memoiristic prose with confrontational spoken-word poetics, Gunawan situates the intersectional specificity of an individual within a larger historical context to weave experiences of migration and mental wellness from a diasporic queer perspective. Foregrounding the power of solidarity and resilience in community, The Way Back converses with queer writers both living and dead, from Audre Lorde and James Baldwin to Yan Yi and Natalie Diaz.
Confronting the legacy of inherited and inflicted traumas through direct and deceptively simple language, Gunawan’s hybrid collection navigates the choppy post-colonial cross-currents of identity, sexuality, and transnationality—as he invites all of us to chart our own true course back to self, to home, to love.
About the cover artist:
Elbert Lim is an Indonesian visual storyteller. In 2019, he founded Khayalan Arts — a creative studio that works on socially-impactful art projects, video games, installations, exhibitions, webcomics, workshops, and beach cleanup activities. For more, visit khayalanarts.com.
“This moving collection asks us to listen deeply to the rhythms of memory, desire, love, migration, and family. Throughout, the prose and lyric poems dance across multiple geographies of home to cinematically capture all that is ‘brutally broken and still beautiful.'”
—Craig Santos Perez, author most recently of Habitat Threshold
“Edward Gunawan’s powerful collection The Way Back heralds the arrival of a thrilling new voice in American poetry and transnational English literature. Gunawan’s poems speak on behalf of ‘love refugees,’ queer and Asian transplants seeking safety and acceptance, ‘panhandlers… Begging for the loose change of democracy.’ These evocative works express longing, desire, disappointment, joy, humor, and above all hope. An intelligent and empowering book well suited for this historical moment.”
—May-lee Chai, author of Tomorrow in Shanghai & Other Stories and Useful Phrases for Immigrants, winner of the American Book Award
“Edward Gunawan’s works weave in the complexities of being Chinese Indonesian and queer in diaspora, and they resonate strongly with me as a queer Chinese Indonesian activist. They are extremely rare contributions to narratives by and about Chinese Indonesians because of their queer sensibilities, and deserving to be read by those who wish to reflect on their multiple minority positions.”
—Dédé Oetomo, founder of Indonesian queer rights organization GAYa NUSANTARA
“In The Way Back, Edward Gunawan captures a kind of freedom that forgives, but does not forget, the pain that comes from personal, historical, and intergenerational traumas, and from unfulfilled longings.
A queer Indonesian Chinese author who grew up in a period of anti-Chineseness in Indonesia and is now based in the United States, Gunawan weaves a rich tapestry of dreams, sensibilities, and stories in his vital first chapbook. He asks what it means to write one’s wishes, and even if, as the speaker says in “Insufferable Joy,” it may be “a lifetime’s accumulation of Waiting. And Yearning. And Longing. For something that would never come,” The Way Back transforms such deferrals into a space filled with doors stepping into past, present, and future possibilities.
As the book title suggests, this is a collection of work that recuperates. There are, in fact, many ways back: these returns, written by Gunawan with tenderness, humor, and vulnerability, contain the weight of sadness, but ultimately, the fullness of love.”
—Viola Lasmana, transpacific media scholar
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