A while ago we approached Grace Loh Prasad, part of Asian Pacific American writers collective Seventeen Syllables, and asked her to special guest edit for us. We had already published Mooncake by her (almost exactly a year ago!) and we knew she would be a wonderful person to work with. She was! She curated eight pieces, some of them fiction, some of them nonfiction, all of them excellent. The first story went live on Monday, September 16th, 2019. Here, Grace introduces the work.
SIGN: A collection of stories by the members of Seventeen Syllables
A hand or patch over one eye. A rainbow flag. A kneeling athlete. An eggplant emoji. A thumb pointing down.
What do these have in common? They are all symbols, representing something more than what is literally pictured. A symbol is a kind of sign — at its simplest, a unit of meaning. Whether they’re labels for places or ideas, indicators of prestige or health, or warnings of what’s ahead, signs operate at a level deeper than language. A sign is like a boat, but instead of water it navigates through meaning, through a shared set of references within a community.
When Chris approached me to curate a collection of Seventeen Syllables flash stories for Jellyfish Review, I thought it would be ideal to have a loose theme. I chose the word “sign” as the writing prompt since it offered so many potential meanings.
Seventeen Syllables is the name of an Asian Pacific American writers collective based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The name embodies the notion of collective strength, refers to the number of syllables in a traditional haiku (5/7/5), and pays homage to a famous short story by the Japanese American writer Hisaye Yamamoto.
Our collective first formed in 2000 out of a group of writers who had studied in intensive workshops with renowned poet, nonfiction writer and professor Garrett Hongo. Membership has shifted over the years with some writers leaving the Bay Area and others joining more recently, but the core members have been meeting regularly to give feedback and support on each other’s work for more than 15 years.
I’m thrilled to share the Seventeen Syllables Folio with you — eight unique and compelling stories to be published between September 16 and October 2, 2019: A painter reminisces about the source of her inspiration. A father interprets the wishes of his non-verbal son. A man ponders the rewards and costs of colonialism at a fish market. A young piano prodigy crosses the ocean to a dizzying new life. A bereaved son reflects on the hands that cared for his mother. An immigrant teen confronts darkness in stories, dreams and real life. A woman reaches out to a childhood friend and recalls the historical events that separated them. A mother reacts to a tragic loss with unexpected grace.
These eight flash fiction and nonfiction pieces invite us to witness the small moments and grand arcs of Asian and Pacific Islander lives. What ties these stories together are the various acts of passage, the subtle messages we detect, and the signs that convey what’s left unsaid.
Grace Loh Prasad
The Ancient Art of Brush Painting by Lillian Howan
Walks | Blessing by Brian Komei Dempster
Cold Storage Facility by Jay Ruben Dayrit
A Prayer Answered by Marianne Villanueva
Grey Matter by Roy Kamada
Premonition by Caroline Kim
Double Life by Grace Loh Prasad
Signs of Life by Grace Talusan
Grace Loh Prasad was born in Taiwan and raised in New Jersey and Hong Kong before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Grace received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, and she is an alumna of the VONA workshop for writers of color. Her essays have appeared in Longreads, Catapult, Jellyfish Review, Ninth Letter, Blood Orange Review, Memoir Mixtapes, The Manifest-Station, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Grace is a member of The Writers Grotto and Seventeen Syllables, an Asian Pacific American writers collective. She is currently finishing her memoir entitled The Translator’s Daughter (www.translatorsdaughter.com).
Art (modified) Ruth Asawa CC4.0