The Way Back by Edward Gunawan


Told through direct and deceptively simple language, Edward Gunawan’s hybrid collection The Way Back confronts the legacy of inherited and inflicted traumas as a queer Asian immigrant. Blending memoiristic prose and spoken-word poetics to navigate himself through the choppy post-colonial cross-currents of diasporic identity, sexuality, and transnationality, he invites all of us to chart our own true course back to self, to love, to home.

Edward Gunawan is the second winner of 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 PressRADAR 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 Sister Spit tour.

Edward Gunawan is a writer and filmmaker.

The creator of The Life Cycle of Water — a collection of non-fiction video essays and cine-poems (a recipient of the East Bay Fund for Artists and City of Oakland’s Neigh-borhood Voices Artist grants), he is also the writer of Press Play — an award-winning non-fiction webcomic that has been translated into six languages and published as a chapbook by Sweet Lit. His work has also been published in TriQuarterly, Aquifer: Flor-ida Review Online, and The Gay & Lesbian Review.

As writer, producer, actor, and/or director, he has completed over 25 feature films and shorts that were screened at Berlin, Locarno, and Cadence film festivals. With support from the Marcus Recruitment Award and Edward B. Kaufmann’s Scholarship, he is
completing his MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.

A queer Indonesian-born Chinese immigrant, Edward now lives with his husband and their dog on unceded Ohlone land in Oakland, CA.


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.

"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

Foglifter—created by and for LGBTQ+ writers and readers—aims to continue the San Francisco Bay Area’s tradition of groundbreaking queer and trans writing, with an emphasis on publishing those multi-marginalized (BIPOC, youth, elders, and people with disabilities). Our biannual journal features the widest possible range of forms, with an emphasis on transgressive, risky, challenging subject matter, innovative formal choices, and work that pushes the boundaries of what writing can do. By putting extraordinary queer and trans writers into conversation, we uplift a growing community of LGBTQ+ readers and writers and carve out space in the larger literary community for voices that have historically been silenced.

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