Oral History of Wing Tek Lum Session #2

Oral History Project

Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project
Wing Tek Lum

Session #2


The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Wing Tek Lum (WTL) on August 19, 2022. The interview took place via Zoom, and was conducted by Ken Tokuno (KT) for the Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project. This interview is the second of two sessions.

Wing Tek Lum and Ken Tokuno have reviewed the transcript. Their corrections and emendations appear below in brackets with initials. This transcript has been lightly edited for readability by the Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project. The reader should bear in mind that they are reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

KT: We are here for a second interview with Wing Tek Lum, Business Manager for Bamboo Ridge Press. And my first question, Wing Tek, is that in, in another communication with me, you stated that the history of Bamboo Ridge passed through four phases. Can you please state when these phases occurred, and what distinguishes each of them?

WTL: I arbitrarily chose four stages. I arbitrarily chose four stages, basically, because of different personnel that were involved in Bamboo Ridge in each of these four stages. The first one really is from the beginning, when it was basically Eric and Darrell, and then at some point as I’ve mentioned in a previous interview Dennis Kawaharada who assumed the role of managing editor to join Eric and Darrell.

So the first phase is from Issue #1 through about Issue #30 or #31/32, which is The Best of Bamboo Ridge. The years would be 1978 to around 1986. I think I’ve already explained that Eric and Darrell did a wonderful job of founding the organization and doing essentially all of the work. But after a while, after about the first ten or eleven issues, I think they realized that they needed some help in doing a lot of the back-office work, and they asked Dennis Kawaharada to help out as managing editor. The managing editor is someone who’s like, in some periodicals, the publisher, and so handles most of the back office work. This lets the editors do the work of defining what the aesthetic is for the press. So that was the first phase around Issue #12 or #13 to about Issue #30, #31/32 in that timeframe through 1986 or so.

The second phase is from Issue #33 to Issue #67/68, which is Outcry from the Inferno. I look at this as a period between about 1987 and 1995, when Eric and Darrell were joined by other managing editors, but before Joy Kobayashi-Cintrón. And so there were a number of managing editors that really helped out. During this particular phase, I was also involved, taking over some of the financial work that had been performed by Dennis Kawaharada.

The third phase is starting in Issue #69 and going through about Issue #103. That’s 1996 to 2013, and that’s when Joy Kobayashi-Cintrón started as managing editor. She is still our managing editor. So she added a lot of stability. This phase ends around Issue #103 in 2013 because that’s when Eric and Darrell decided to retire. So starting around Issue #104 is the fourth phase around 2013. And there have been other editors involved in heading the press. Joy and I are still around as managing editor and business manager. So those are the four phases and they’re kind of arbitrary. Other people may have other ways of looking at the timing of all of the forty-five years of Bamboo Ridge.

KT: Thank you. If it’s alright with you I would like to ask you about each of these phases in turn, through the rest of this interview, touching on topics or anecdotes that you missed during our early interview. First, can I ask you how the press financially supported itself that first eight-year phase?

WTL: The basic short answer is through a lot of love and aloha, especially by Eric and Darrell, both in-kind contributions and also their own money. Hard cash, right? Other people did help, but it was principally them and they also had the charisma to have a lot of other people believe in what they were doing and so worked as volunteers. In my small way, for instance, I, as an example, helped out proofreading, so doing that as a volunteer for them. Other people did other tasks that helped move the press along. There are a lot of people who also volunteered, because they believed in what Eric and Darrell believed in. And so they followed in what those two were doing and leading by example. So that’s the short answer.

But I do want to say if you look at a copy of Issue #1, you will see that it was sold for a dollar and twenty-five cents, and it also said, with great hopes that, that if you took out a subscription for one year, it cost you five dollars. Also they had available for the back cover a place for anybody who wanted to buy an ad, a one-page ad. You could pay thirty-five dollars and get an ad in the back of the magazine. So they started off pretty small, but also, if you look in some of the older issues we did acknowledge grants that were provided by government agencies. Starting with Issue #2, there was a grant, a State Foundation on Culture and the Arts [SFCA] grant they received. And then also starting with Issue #7, there was National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] grant as well. So they were able to work on obtaining small grants to help them out. Later on, other public agencies got involved: Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, and then some private foundations as well. There were also smaller individual grants that they received, so they did have some support in grants. But they also were trying to sell the books. So they had a combination of earned and unearned income coming in.

If there was a shortfall because of expenses, I think Eric and Darrell fronted the money for that shortfall. Obviously, on the other side of the ledger, there were also financial challenges because you had to pay for typesetting. You had to pay the printers, et cetera. From the very beginning, also paid authors royalties, small amounts, token amounts, but these were ideas that Eric and Darrell, as writers themselves, felt were important for the press which resulted in expenditures that went on the other side of the ledger.

If there was a shortfall because of expenses, I think Eric and Darrell fronted the money for that shortfall. Obviously, on the other side of the ledger, there were also financial challenges because you had to pay for typesetting. You had to pay the printers, et cetera. From the very beginning, also paid authors royalties, small amounts, token amounts, but these were ideas that Eric and Darrell, as writers themselves, felt were important for the press which resulted in expenditures that went on the other side of the ledger.

KT: Excuse me, did you know anything about whether or not the sale price of the books covered the cost or no?

WTL: No, I don’t, you’d have to ask Eric and Darrell about that, but from what I understand, you know, they had to come out of pocket to cover the shortfall for each of the issues. So I think overall there was a lot of in-kind contributions, and also hard cash contributions by Eric and Darrell. And then other people as well helped out as volunteers, you know.

KT: I remember in the first interview you said that the books would never pencil out so it’s kind of operating at a loss. Are we done with that question? Please tell me about Dennis Kawaharada’s role, and how guest editors came to be used.

WTL: I mentioned this a little bit in the first interview, that Dennis joined at a critical moment to serve as managing editor. He helped to provide breathing space for Eric and Darrell, allowing them to continue to concentrate on their editorial work. But they were also doing other tasks, with respect to the organization. Production was still primarily Darrell’s responsibility. If you look at some of the first issues the production is attributed to “Sun, an Educational Communications Company.” Basically, that’s Darrell but he didn’t put his name there, but that’s his name for the organization that he set up as the production for doing the layouts, the graphic work, etc. And they also had a very good typesetter, Alice Matsumoto, Creative Impressions. So there was this team.

Dennis did work with the finances. I think he took over the checkbook and he did a lot of coordinating work with authors and he also got involved in making suggestions for some of the publications during the early days. So I think he just helped out as a third person of the team that moved the press along during the early years. During these first thirty issues. I think he had a hand in suggesting to Eric and Darrell some ideas for publications. Bamboo Shoots, which is Issue #14, is a good example, one which concentrated on stories for younger children. So that was Dennis’s idea.

Eric and Darrell were also open to suggestions for other issues as well. I’ll give you an example: Issue #23 was Chan is Missing by Wayne Wang, and it was a transcription. I’ve mentioned this before in the previous interview. The background to that was that Wayne’s film was shown at the Honolulu International Film Festival. When it came out, I was asked to give a review of it after one of the showings. I was able to talk to Wayne afterwards, and he found out about Bamboo Ridge and asked if we would like to print the screenplay. Because, frankly speaking, they didn’t have a screenplay when they filmed Chan is Missing. It was done with a lot of improvising—on the fly so to speak. And so I brought it to Eric and Darrell and I said, you’ve got an opportunity to do this transcription of this film, and they said, “Sure.” So that’s an example that I know of that I made a suggestion for another issue and Eric and Darrell said, yeah, it’s a good idea, and so we did it.

And there were other people that had other ideas that they presented to Eric and Darrell. They were very open to publishing other work that was not simply the regular issues or the things that they were initiating. And on some occasions, they had other people other than themselves take on the responsibility of regular issues. For instance, if you look at Issue #24, it’s a regular issue, but it was edited by Gail Harada and Chris Bouslog. So those two did all the work of editing that particular issue.

And there were other people that had other ideas that they presented to Eric and Darrell. They were very open to publishing other work that was not simply the regular issues or the things that they were initiating. And on some occasions, they had other people other than themselves take on the responsibility of regular issues.

Issue #29 Malama was guest edited by Dana Naone Hall, celebrating a lot of native Hawaiian writing at that time, so that was really neat. Joe Stanton and Jim Harstad helped out with #26: Ten Rules of Fishing, which was a collection of high school writing in Hawai‘i. So Eric and Darrell were able to take a break from the editorial work, but they also were able to utilize the expertise of other people to provide a different perspective on local literature. So that was pretty neat.

KT: So you’ve highlighted some of the issues in the first phase. Are there any others that were noteworthy that you want to talk about?

WTL: Yeah. Some funny moments. One was Issue #17. We were going to Darrell’s house for a meeting. This was his new house in Hawai‘i Kai, and he said, “Okay, I got all this stuff on the floor.” So we got on the floor, and he said, “Here, there are all these printed copies of the newest, regular issue. I got from Honolulu Broom Company the label for their brooms, which has a Hula girl sweeping, using a broom.” And so he got the labels and he said, “Okay, you guys, glue the labels onto the front cover.” There was a big puka on the front cover, and we had to eye where exactly we had to glue these labels, and so we got on the floor, got the glue out, got the labels, and all of us completed the work of putting the labels on the front cover before we started our meeting. So that’s a kind of a funny moment, but it’s one of the more memorable covers during the early years, because it was very colorful and very unique.

Another anecdote, which was not so neat, was the launch reading for Issue #28: Kauai Tales, which was written by Frederick B. Wichman, whom we called Bruce. It was held at the Bishop Museum and co-sponsored by MELUS [the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States]. And we worked on having Bruce and his wife come over from Kaua‘i to give a reading to launch this book. Unfortunately, there were only like five people who showed up, which was extremely disappointing. And so it was a, not a funny moment, but a sad moment. But this kind of gives an idea of some of the hard work that you put into something, and you got a disappointing result, and it’s kind of humbling that this is what happened. We tried to make it up to Bruce in other readings. It’s ironic that few people like only about five or six people showed up for that reading and yet Kauai Tales and his other three books that are a part of our Kauai Tales series are our best sellers collectively. The first book alone has sold over 24,000 copies. So it is still popular. It is still being sold today. But yet it had a very inauspicious launch.

And we did try to do a better job, I remember, for his fourth book, which is Issue #80: Pele Mā. Luckily, we knew that John Wat at Mid-Pacific was transforming that book into a play. And so we coordinated with John to have the play performed while we launched the book. Bruce and his wife flew in from Kaua‘i, and I think were really happy that people were reading his work, and even transforming it in new ways, like what Mid-Pacific did with a play done by their students. So those are some of the high points, and also low points, of publishing.

KT: Okay, is there anything else you want to say about that first phase?

WTL: No.

KT: It seems like the general nature of Bamboo Ridge really blossomed after 1986. Please tell me about other key personnel and innovations that were added during that time.

WTL: Nineteen eighty-six again was around the time The Best of Bamboo Ridge Issue #31/32 was published. The main thing that happened was that Dennis resigned. He went to the mainland and we had a series of other managing editors that took over and this was for a period of about eight years going from Issue #33 to Issue #69. The people who served as managing editor during this period were Tino Ramirez, Mavis Hara, Kelly Okada, and Andrea Gelber. And then Joy Kobayashi-Cintrón took over with Issue #69. And I think all of these managing editors worked very hard to coordinate, keep people on track, not only helping Eric and Darrell with the editorial work but also taking on responsibilities with respect to production, subscriptions, mail orders, and contributions, etc. So there’s a lot of office work, back office work, that these people got involved with.

During that period we also had a good team of typesetters—Wayne Kawamoto and Gail Harada. My notes say that from Issue #41 to Issue #57, Gail did the typesetting, and then from Issue #57 on for about the next forty or fifty issues Wayne Kawamoto did most of it. This was the work that is done after the editors made their selections. They got the manuscripts and they said okay, type these out so that it can get over to the printer. And so it involves copy editing, typesetting, layouts, graphic design. The design work was also taken over around that time by Suzanne Yuu, who worked for decades as our designer until about Issue #82. Suzanne was involved for decades with Bamboo Ridge as part of the team, and she did the design work with layouts, creating the look of the magazine. That work was primarily under direction of Darrell. So Darrell was involved in production, but the actual implementation was by Suzanne. There were also copy editors involved. Gail Harada and Milton Kimura especially were involved as copy editors. So there was a whole team of people who worked around Eric and Darrell to help them realize their goals. Their aesthetic goals.

KT: You mentioned before that in the early days you were a volunteer doing proofreading? And had your role changed much by this time or were you still doing that proofreading?

WTL: So we got to the point where people were getting paid now. We were successful in getting grants to help pay people. And we were also successful in getting some individual contributions. Also book sales and subscriptions were coming in as well. I think this is a time when we were able to get enough revenue to be able to then pay for the rest of our team. And this was also the time when if a book was popular, we would be able to reprint the book. And with each reprint that meant that we got a little bit more profit. And so profits from those reprints enabled us to subsidize the newer publications.

KT: What was your role at this time? Were you handling some of that?

WTL: Oh, after Dennis left, I took over the finances. Actually, I took over handling two things. One is the finances, so I had the checkbook and did the books for Bamboo Ridge, taking over from Dennis Kawaharada, and I eventually also, in that period of time, took over the inventory. So I got all the old issues and helped coordinate with mail orders and delivery. Those are the two things I helped as far as being part of the team.

KT: You remember about when that happened?

WTL: Yes, in the mid-1980s. Since Dennis left in 1986 or so, that’s when I took over.

KT: And you mentioned also that Darrell and Eric in the early days we’re actually soliciting advertisements for the journal, but I don’t recall seeing many in more recent issues. So did this stop or?

WTL: Good observation, Ken, if you look at the back issues there weren’t very many advertisements. Although we did try to have ads, there was really only Cane Haul Road. That’s about it. There were no other faithful, loyal supporters that wanted to purchase ads from us. So that was too bad. So it was never a winner as far as making any money. But I would want to say it, this, at this juncture, that we did have more grants that came in from the NEA and SFCA in particular. And also some private grants as well and that again was the responsibility of Eric for the public grants and Darrell for the private grants. We were able to receive substantial funds from these granting agencies which really helped us survive during this period of time, and also during what I call the third phase.

KT: I know a little bit about that.

WTL: Then the granting agencies actually had more money than they have now, and so we were getting more than what we are getting at present time from these granting agencies. And it’s no reflection on your work. It was basically Eric was able to get more money because there was more money available. The SFCA, in particular, had more money that they were giving out then, compared to today.

One more thing to mention concerning our finances in phase two is the support from individual financial angels. Starting with Issue #36, if you notice in the front part of the issue, we started acknowledging in print the monetary contributions from individuals. We thought that that was really, really important. There weren’t that many people who gave money to us but they were special. Sure, we had grants from NEA and SFCA, but it was really important that we got individual contributions, and if you look at the list for 1986 that was printed in Issue #36 there’s only maybe about ten or so people. But we wanted to acknowledge them and thank them for this extra effort that they made for us. And what happened is that we have consistently, from that year on, in each regular issue, we try to acknowledge all of the people who have made cash contributions to us. So, if you look at the regular issues in the first pages, there are now several pages of people named who gave donations and that’s really important to us. It’s important, because if you take those contributions in the aggregate that’s equal to an SFCA grant. So that’s important that we have this particular component of unearned income coming in. So, we’re very grateful. Everyone is listed alphabetically. This is because we decided that whether the contribution was large or small, it was still some aloha that this particular individual had for us. So, we didn’t have “manini” [“little fish” -Ed.] versus “ulua” [“big fish” -Ed.] categories. We decided no need to have that kind of stuff. Everybody was treated the same.

KT: It was also in the second phase, I think, that Bamboo Ridge began to get some national attention. Okay, can you tell me how and why that happened?

WTL: Part of this is, I think, Eric’s involvement in trying to push for national attention because he thought we were doing a good job. He was interested in the Asian American movement on the mainland, and he thought that Bamboo Ridge books should be included in the curriculum of Asian American studies courses around the country. And so we tried to push for that. We participated in a number of conferences especially with the Association for Asian American Studies. And I remember the first conference we participated in was in 1988, in Spokane: with Eric, Darrell, me, and Cathy Song. So “Cathy and the 3 Pips” we called it. We went to Spokane to give readings and promote our books.

There was another time I remember Eric, Darrell, and I went to another conference at San Jose State. And why I remember it was because we had shipped our books. We didn’t want to carry them on the airplane but we shipped our books and the books unfortunately arrived the day after the conference ended. So that’s another lesson to be learned. But again too bad. This was how we did try to outreach to the mainland.

This was also the time that people like Cathy were becoming well-known because of her own work, her own efforts to get published by national mainstream presses. At the tail end of this particular period, also, Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Nora Keller were published nationally in mainstream presses. Their works had been written and published here in Hawai‘i, primarily by Bamboo Ridge first, and then they got picked up by mainland publishers.

So there was this outreach going on. Also we did try, as I mentioned in the first interview, to work with Asian American authors from the mainland coming to Hawai‘i to give readings and meet with us, so that we could get a better understanding of what they were doing over there and how it might impact or influence us.

So there was this interchange. One or two funny moments that I would want to share is Eric was responsible for the phone. The phone was located at his home. And so he got the phone calls and then disseminated or then coordinated and decided who should do what as a result of a phone call. That meant also that he took all the phone orders, including phone calls from the mainland from college bookstores who wanted to order books from us. Unfortunately, those guys on the mainland couldn’t figure out the time difference, and so Eric got telephone calls at 3 a.m. in the morning, because the guys in the mainland didn’t calculate correctly what time it was in Hawai‘i. And so that was part of the complaints that Eric was raising because of these early morning phone calls, except that we also pointed out to Eric that he was the one that was pushing for all of these textbook orders from the mainland, so he shouldn’t complain. So that was another funny moment.

That meant also that he took all the phone orders, including phone calls from the mainland from college bookstores who wanted to order books from us. Unfortunately, those guys on the mainland couldn’t figure out the time difference, and so Eric got telephone calls at 3 a.m. in the morning, because the guys in the mainland didn’t calculate correctly what time it was in Hawai‘i.

Another interesting piece of information is that some of the mainland Asian American teachers were saying to us, you know we would really like to include Pidgin in our curriculum because you have a unique literature here in Hawai‘i. And so that got us thinking about recording some of our work by tapes. And so around this time, I think in 1990, we started taping some of our authors. Our first efforts were using the material from “The Best of Bamboo Ridge” that was published in 1986. We gathered some of the writers, and Rodney Morales was the one who handled the tape recorder and taped us so that it could be converted into cassettes that could then be sold, both here locally and also on the mainland. I know that there were professors on the mainland who used these tapes as part of their classes in teaching Hawai‘i literature. So those are some of the efforts that we tried here and there that were efforts to outreach to the mainland.

KT: I do remember seeing Cathy Song’s poems actually in the Anthology of Modern English Poetry, at least one edition. And then I know the Pushcart Prizes had several of our authors, maybe not recently, but I’ve seen it so—

WTL: I think Cathy of course did this on her own. We didn’t help her. She wrote her poems by herself and got published on the mainland by herself, but she was loyal to us in allowing us to publish some of the pieces here as she was working on her manuscripts and so it was really good for us to be able to have this particular privilege of publishing her work. Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Gail Harada were, I think, some of the writers who were honored by Pushcart Prizes.

KT: Okay, I think the next question we’ve already touched on, so unless you have something else about Bamboo Ridge’s struggles with raising funds—I already asked you about your role there, so is there anything else from this stage you’d like to mention, phase 2?

WTL: To sum up with respect to phase 2 is, financially, I think we were doing okay because we got grants, because the granting agencies had more money than they have now. We were also doing okay with books sales and subscriptions. And this was because, frankly speaking, Amazon didn’t exist at that time. This is before the digital revolution, so people were still interested in hard copy books, and so we were able to do both sales of textbooks for classes and also trade books that were for sale in individual bookstores because people were still interested in buying hard copy books. After the digital revolution, of course, everything changed, and maybe we can get to that at the later point, but this was a high point in the finances of Bamboo Ridge.

I got some statistics out for this interview and like, as far as books sales, we basically peaked in in the 1990s. We basically peaked as far as subscriptions and book sales and it’s been downhill ever since because of the digital revolution. People are not buying as many hard copy books as they were at that period of time. That’s just a demographic or cultural trend that has taken over whether we like it or not.

KT: You’ve already noticed this third phase was marked by Joy Kobayashi-Cintrón taking over the managing editor. Can you tell me how she came to be in that position, what kind of involvements occurred, and the printing of books at that time?

WTL: I asked Joy about this to get the story straight, at least her version. Well, you can ask her in her interview, but what I understand is that she and Cathy Song’s sister, Andrea Gilbert, were classmates, high school classmates, good friends. Cathy, for several years, was managing editor at some point. She wanted to retire and she got her sister Andrea to take over. However, Andrea was managing editor for maybe one or two issues. What Andrea did was smart; she brought Joy to the meetings. Joy said that Andrea basically asked her to attend some meetings and Joy did some work that is part of the task of managing editor. Andrea then quickly bowed out and Joy was stuck, and she has been stuck for the past twenty-five or thirty years now. I think she started around 1996 so that’s about twenty-five years. And we’ve been lucky to have her because she was able to expand the roles of being the coordinator for the whole enterprise. So she’s like mission central for us. Everything goes to Joy. She has to be involved or know about what’s going on. That doesn’t mean she’s involved in editorial work. I think I mentioned in my first interview that we would come to meetings, Joy and I would come to a meeting with Eric and Darrell, and we would be informed as to what the next books were going to be because Eric and Darrell had worked out, editorially, the lineup for the next several issues.

We were not involved in those types of decisions. Instead, we were involved in implementing the ideas that Eric and Darrell had decided on, as far as the direction of Bamboo Ridge. And so Joy coordinated production, liaising with the authors, the book designer, the typesetters, etc. She also did subscriptions. She also did mail orders or coordinating, if we had a mail order person, coordinating with that person, and deliveries to bookstores. So she did all of that work. I look at that as a next phase of Bamboo Ridge, because she provided stability for the, for these past twenty-five years.

KT: Can you talk about the Bamboo Ridge Writers’ Institute, what it is and how it came about?

WTL: Okay, at this period, we also were trying to do more outreach financially. We had fundraisers. We had launch readings, which were also fundraisers. And we also had the Writers’ Institute. I think there was at that point in 2001 where people were saying, hey, we need to give back to the writing community and we wanted to do some outreach to encourage new writers to participate in the Bamboo Ridge family. And so, I remember we planned the first Writers’ Institute, which was entitled “Try Write!” with an exclamation point. It took a year, I think, Juliet Kono was the chairperson for that. Our planning committee met in her place. She had a condo and we met in the downstairs meeting room of her condo on a monthly basis to plan the first one. Ultimately, we had four writers’ institutes in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006 and each of them were attended by between 100 to 200 people. All one-day conferences, I think, if I remember partly, there might have been a few that were two-day conferences. And there were panels, maybe two or three panels in the first session and there were maybe four sessions, two sessions in the, in the morning, and two sessions in the afternoon with a break for lunch, and we provided the lunch as well. We had maybe a kickoff reading the night before, maybe a reading during the lunch time period. There was also an open mic session, where writers could just read their own pieces and there would be an audience for them. So there were a lot of things going on during those days or two-day periods of the Writers’ Institute. And there were a lot of really good writers who were able to share their experiences and guide some of the more budding writers to encourage them to write. We also, I think, in the, some of the later Institutes provided scholarships to all the high schools, college and high school students, so that they could attend for free. [I believe the basic registration cost was about $50 or $75, with master workshops an additional $50. -WTL.] They were well attended and we got good comments from students, so it was a milestone. Luckily, we did have four, but then I think we ran out of gas and everybody said it was really too much work, both in terms of planning for a year and execution during that one day.

I remember it was either for the first or second year that we did this, you know, we promised everybody lunches but the lunch guys, the caterers, showed up late, and so I remember personally having to go into the afternoon session, carrying bentos to give out, interrupting the session to give people their lunches that they had been expecting, you know, during the lunch period. It was that kind of stuff where, you know, it was a lot of work for a lot of people to put on these Writers’ Institutes, and then, of course, in 2020, Misty-Lynn Sanico got the idea to resurrect this and we did a virtual writers’ institute, which was called Writers’ Institute Virtual. That was also successful in again showing that we were still around, and that we were trying to again give back to the writing community—especially that there are these people who are writing now who can share some of their experiences with people who are just starting to write. So that was the Writers’ Institute.

But if I can then segue from the Writers’ Institute to the fundraisers, because we also felt that there were, you know, ways that we could outreach to the community, but also frankly speaking, ask people for money because we were always in need of money. I mean, when people ask me about the financial condition of Bamboo Ridge for these forty-odd years, the word that comes to mind is precarity. It’s just that it’s always been a touch-and-go operation, even though we may have a have a nice reserve fund sitting in our bank checking account at the present time. I’m always looking for what we have to pay for in the future, and there have been times when we didn’t have money in the bank account to really pay for what we had committed to do, publishing wise. We have always had fundraisers and some of the notable fundraisers were to celebrate the 20th and the 25th anniversary of Bamboo Ridge in 1998 and 2003. Most of them were held at McKinley High School, and we had readings at those times, but we also had silent auctions and “Trash and Treasure” sales. And so, people were able to show their love for Bamboo Ridge not only by contributing money, but also in other ways instead of just buying a book or buying a subscription.

Another notable event was for the 30th anniversary celebration, which was held at Hale Koa in 2008. We entitled that “Not Pau Yet,” because people were thinking that maybe after thirty years, we should fold the tent. But it also was a time for us to acknowledge and thank people in the community who had supported us, like some of the bookstores. We acknowledged the bookstores that supported us, our printers, some of the educators who used our books, some of the authors who helped us promote some of our books. We also tried to acknowledge them, and so we took that opportunity in the 30th anniversary celebration to highlight the other people outside of Bamboo Ridge who were in fact part of the team which made our publications possible. Lastly, we had a 40th anniversary celebration at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. This gala was in 2008 and again we had silent auctions and “Trash and Treasure” and we had readings by some of the authors who were recognized by HONOLULU magazine as writing some of the fifty important books about Hawai‘i. I think they’re about seven or eight writers who were honored by HONOLULU magazine and we had them read. But it was a time to celebrate forty years, because I think nobody had really imagined that we could do, have ever lasted that long.

We entitled that ‘Not Pau Yet,’ because people were thinking that maybe after thirty years, we should fold the tent. But it also was a time for us to acknowledge and thank people in the community who had supported us…

Moreover, we also have had every year—we’ve also tried to have other launch readings for newly-released books by holding “Wine and Words” celebrations either at Manoa Valley Theater or Kumu Kahua. In addition, other fundraising events took the form of these “for love of” events like “For Love of Pidgin.” Like we had a lot of pidgin writers who were featured for this fundraiser. Also, we had a “For Love of Eric and Darrell,” when we roasted Eric and Darrell at Manoa Valley Theatre. So those are some of the highlights in that period of time where we thought we needed to have other creative ways of bringing in some income. You know, that’s how we also got the community involved to get more individual contributions rather than solely rely on government grants.

KT: You had mentioned earlier that after the peak of Bamboo Ridge’s hard copy sales, they eventually sunk and dropped off, but had Bamboo Ridge ever considered actually digitizing their books to put on Kindle, etc.?

WTL: Yes, and some of them are. I think there have been glitches with respect to getting all of our publications as part of the Kindle bookstore. But if you go to Amazon.com, you will see that probably about couple dozen, maybe, of our titles are up there on for sale as Kindle books. The problem is that the earlier issues from issue #1 on, this was prior to—this was all done by printing hard copy books, typesetting them, etc. Digital files had not been invented yet, so all of those books don’t have the digital file for converting them to a Kindle. So it’s only been in the later years when we did have the digital files that we were able to provide them for conversion for sale via Kindle. But frankly speaking, financially, we don’t have a lot of purchases in that area. Somehow, that hasn’t taken off.

KT: Okay. So now we’re getting to the last phase when Darrell and Eric retired. What kind of challenges did it present at that point and how did you manage them?

WTL: Yeah, there was a meeting and Darrell announced that he was going to retire. He didn’t tell anybody about this. I don’t know if he told Eric about this. He decided that this was a good time to retire and so it was a shock to everybody. For instance, I’m older than Eric and Darrell, so I thought, you know, I would go before him.

We took a while to discuss how to make an orderly transition instead of just them retiring today, and tomorrow, we have a new team to take up the baton. That really would not have worked, and so we took a while to decide how to do that. And we also had to take a while to find out who would be ready, willing and able to assume the responsibilities of editors, because, you know, there were big shoes going to take over particular tasks. The concept was that we do it in two steps. For one year, which was two issues, Eric and Darrell would still be around, but they would bring in the new editors, and what happened was we paid Eric and Darrell’s full salaries and the new editors were paid half salaries for the first year. In the second year the situation was reversed. Eric and Darrell were paid half salaries, and the new people were paid full salaries. And that was acknowledging that the two old guys were going to act more like consultants for the new editorial team.

That was what was supposed to happen, but it wasn’t what actually happened. We had Lee Cataluna and Lisa Linn Kanae who said that they were willing to take on the role of the new editors. Unfortunately, I think Lee and then, later on, Lisa had other responsibilities and they decided that they would not continue as the editors. There was a period of time where we had some guest editors, and then, luckily, Juliet Kono stepped in and said, okay, I’ll take over as the editor of the organization. So that’s what happened, but it was a three-year transitional period. It wasn’t like okay, Year One, there’s Eric and Darrell and Year Two, there’s a new team. It took about three years to really make the transition to the point where Juliet was able to say she could step in and take over.

We’ve been fortunate that it has worked out that way, but it was a little bit touch and go for a while. But that was the transition. And so that occurred, as I said, around Issue #104 in 2013. So from 2013 to the present time, you know, we went through this transitional phase and then Juliet has been the editor in chief.

KT: Well, that’s about the last question, so is there anything else you want to add at this point?

WTL: Yeah, again some more funny moments or interesting moments. Okay, one very moving occasion was the launch for What We Must Remember, Issue #111, which was the four Renshi poets, Juliet Kono, Jean Toyama, Ann Inoshita, and Christy Passion. Those four had already done a Renshi book of linked verse for Issue #96, No Choice but to Follow. They wanted to do a second book of linked poetry and they chose the Massie case, the infamous Massie case, to write a series of poems on this case and that turned into the publication What We Must Remember, which is our Issue #111. One of the earliest launch meetings was held at Native Books, the Nā Mea bookstore, and we were honored by having the family of Joseph Kahahawai be present. Joseph Kahahawai was the one who was murdered by the husband of Thalia Massie. So, the family was present, and they didn’t tell anybody that they were going to show up. They were in the audience without letting anybody know their connection to the Massie case, but they asked some interesting questions without revealing their background. But then, after the reading, they identified themselves, and I think it was a very poignant moment with a lot of hugs and kisses. They mostly supported what the four Renshi poets had done. So that was a very moving moment.

Another kind of memorable moment that I have was for the following issue: Issue #112, The Best of Aloha Shorts, and that was to celebrate the publication of works that had been featured in Aloha Shorts, a radio program that had been broadcast around 2011–2012 on public radio, KHPR. Craig Howes, Phyllis Look, and Sammie Choy were the producers of this Aloha Shorts broadcast. And they and we decided a few years later to publish the best work that they had performed, to publish it in print. We did The Best of Aloha Shorts book and again one of the memorable moments that I had was that there was a fundraiser for KHPR that was held at Windward Community College in the auditorium [Palikū Theatre -Ed.]. It was packed with people and it had many of the performers of the radio program: the actors who read the pieces originally during the radio broadcast, to re-read the poems and short stories, and so that was really neat. So, I have these kinds of moments. Gee! It’s worthwhile that we’re publishing these pieces because they’re being appreciated by so many people.

‘Gee! It’s worthwhile that we’re publishing these pieces because they’re being appreciated by so many people.’

KT: Okay, that about wraps it up.

WTL: Okay. Let me just look at my notes. I think I got the things I wanted to talk about. Maybe I can add a few—I have some notes for some, adding a few other tid-bit pieces of information.

Sometimes people ask, what are the most popular books that have been published? My response is, of course, the Kauai Tales series [Issues #28, #53/54, #70, and #80 -Ed.], especially led by the first book, Kauai Tales. I guess earlier in this interview, I mentioned 24,000 copies. Twenty-four thousand copies of the single issue sold. So that’s our bestseller. Eighteen thousand copies of Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre [Issue #58/59 -Ed.], Lois-Ann’s poetry book. Growing Up Local [Issue #72 -Ed.], 17,000. The Best of Bamboo Ridge [Issue #31/32 -Ed.], 12,000. Folks You Meet in Longs [Issue #86 -Ed.], that’s Lee Cataluna’s book, 12,000; and Darrell Lum’s Pass On, No Pass Back! [Issue #48/49 -Ed.], 10,000. These are our bestsellers and deservedly so.

KT: That’s terrific.

WTL: Nobody asked about the unpopular books, but I will say that we still have in the warehouse substantial, unsold copies of especially two titles: Outcry from the Inferno [Issue #67/68 -Ed.], which is the tanka written by atomic bomb survivors, which may be the reason why not too many people have bought this book. And also OUTSPEAKS [Issue #71 -Ed.], which is Albert Saijo’s book of poetry, which is very surprising, because, you know, Albert is a wonderful poet and well-known. But maybe that’s why we printed too many copies. Okay, so there’s that factor involved of how many copies did we decide to print as the initial run of those two books in particular. They are still languishing in the basement. And so, you know we can pat ourselves on the back with respect to a lot of the books that we have sold, but there were also mistakes that we made as well.

Okay. Another funny moment is Sister Stew, Issue #50/51, edited by Juliet Kono and Cathy Song, celebrating women writing in Hawai‘i. Great book. This was again a guest edited job, and so they solicited writings from women here in Hawai‘i. They also decided to help with the graphics, the layout, and also choose a cover. And so it got to the printer, and then came back from the printer. They looked at the book, and they decided that the cover didn’t really suit the contents of the book. So, they decided to reject the cover. Unfortunately, it was their choice for the artist and the material that was sent to the printer. So, what happened was they chose another piece of art from another artist, which was really, really nice. And so, we reprinted it.

KT: Wow!

WTL: So we ate the cost of the first printing. Also, there was this question of what do we do with the printed copies of books with the wrong cover. Basically what happened was Cathy’s husband, Doug, and some, I think, kids from a soccer team came to my basement, loaded up their trucks with the cartons of the first version of the book and they dumped them someplace. I don’t remember how many cartons there were but they were more than just a few because it was the first printing. So that’s another funny moment, right?

KT: Bittersweet.

WTL: But we basically ate the cost of the first printing because it was not the right cover. And I think everybody did agree when you looked at it, you know, as a hard copy and actually held it in your hand, that it was junk. I’m not going to name who that original artist was but it was junk. And it was a good idea to get the new cover by this other artist, because it’s a great cover. Anyway, those are some other funny moments that I thought of.

KT: All right. Good. Anything else?

WTL: There’s another bittersweet anecdote which is quite infamous. It has to do with Lois-Ann Yamanaka, whose first book, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre we published as Issue #58/59. Lois-Ann became famous, and subsequently published many novels with the mainstream publishing houses. One of them, Blu’s Hanging, was originally given an award by the Association of Asian American Studies [AAAS]. Unfortunately, there were those in that organization who decided that the book was racist and so the award was revoked. The AAAS conference was held that year [1998] in Hawai‘i and we at Bamboo Ridge worked hard to support Lois-Ann. It was a matter of the artistic freedom of the writer to write even uncomplimentary or unsettling things about one’s own people. I was the floor manager of this effort, and David Mura was our theoretician. We had over eighty Asian American writers from around the country who contributed statements of support for Lois-Ann and this issue, and these statements were read at the conference just before the vote by the membership. Unfortunately, there were more social scientists than artists in this organization, and so the vote to revoke the award prevailed. So that was a great disappointment. But what was rewarding was all of the writers in Asian America who rallied to support the rights of artists in the face of perceived political correctness.

That’s it.

KT: Thank you, Wing Tek, for your memories, anecdotes, and funny stories.

Back to Session #1

Wing Tek Lum is a Honolulu businessman and poet. Bamboo Ridge Press has published two earlier collections of his poetry: Expounding the Doubtful Points (1987) and The Nanjing Massacre: Poems (2012). With Makoto Ōoka, Joseph Stanton, and Jean Yamasaki Toyama, he participated in a collaborative work of linked verse, which was published as What the Kite Thinks by Summer Session, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1994.

Ken Tokuno has contributed poetry and short stories to the pages of Bamboo Ridge and first started volunteering after he retired from the University of Hawaiʻi in 2017.

“I was always a great admirer of Bamboo Ridge and thought it would be a great idea to develop an oral history by talking to the people who were instrumental in its creation and success. Talking to Wing Tek Lum was a special experience for me since he has been a major figure for the Press for so long, plus he’s a great poet.”

Talk story

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