letter from the publisher: one long listening
Categories: New Release Letter from the Publisher
It’s amazing the pearls that writers have tucked in their oysters. As a book publisher, it sometimes feels like I am a deep-sea diver looking for jewels that are still in formation.
Such was the case with Chenxing Han and her book one long listening: a memoir of grief, friendship, and spiritual care, which hits bookshelves this week.
I first stumbled upon this pearl during a July 2021 event with Chenxing following the release of her first book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists. It was a virtual event, organized by J. K. Fowler of Nomadic Press and hosted by the indomitable Sharline Chiang, who had been moved by the way Chenxing shed light on Asian Americans’ experiences in American Buddhist circles. I attended the talk alongside NAB board member S. Rae Peoples, whom I was visiting in Boston.
There were about twenty of us in attendance, and the conversation, although virtual, felt very intimate, almost as if we were all sitting around a dinner table discussing spiritual lineages, immigrant experiences, cultural appropriation, grief, and love. At various points during the conversation, Chenxing was inspired to read from some personal narratives she had penned but that had not found their way into Be the Refuge.
The passages she read were deeply moving, and I wondered where they came from: Were they random snippets she had recorded in various tattered journals? Were they part of a document she had compiled? I could tell that she was reading from something, and I felt what I can only describe as an acquisitions editor’s frisson—when one feels adrenaline and goosebumps from stumbling upon the seed of a book that may just change the world.
The day after the event, I followed up with Chenxing, thanking her for participating and asking if what she read was part of something she might send our way to consider publishing. One week later, an email from Chenxing arrived in my inbox containing a book proposal, a cover letter, and the full manuscript of a book tentatively entitled one long listening. Clearly she had been gestating this pearl for years and was ready to reveal it. I shared her material with our senior acquisitions editor Gillian Hamel, and six weeks later our staff reached consensus on publishing Chenxing’s memoir in Spring 2023.
Working with Chenxing is nothing short of a blessing. She is kind, curious, forthright, and generous. In fact, when I emailed her to arrange payment for participating in the event with Sharline, she asked that instead we donate the sum directly to the nonprofit Nomadic Books. “As we say in Buddhist circles,” she wrote, “may the merit of our collective work be of benefit to all.”
I know that one long listening will be deep medicine for many people. Through letters to a dying friend, conversations with patients at the hospital where she worked as a chaplain, glimmering details from her time at a monastery in Taiwan, and memories of her immigrant childhood, Chenxing weaves together a story that is utterly immersive and poetic. She also plays masterfully with language, not only with English prose but also by interspersing words and phrases in Mandarin, Shanghainese, Japanese, Khmer, and Thai throughout the text, never directly transmitting them in English but giving their sense through the context of their stories. There is truly no other book out there like it. See it shine brightly atop a lighthouse beside the ocean where it was born.