For this series of interviews, THROUGHLINES will be interviewing artists, writers, and editors to interrogate the relationship between cultural production and the production of race and power.
YAP is a small art press based in New York City, started by Larissa Pham, Clare Mao, Jaime Chu, and Jeesoo Lee. On the eve of their launch in March, we discussed friendship and the uncertainties of publishing. The first book is about crushes, I’ve fallen in love or imagine I have by Clare Mao. For more information, go to: http://www.yapyapyap.org or—better yet—follow them on Instagram and twitter.
THROUGHLINES: Is there a discernible trajectory from when you all first started becoming friends to the inception of YAP?
Larissa Pham: YAP originally started when Jaime and I were in Europe and we would hype up each other’s questionable decisions by saying “ya ya ya ya ya.” We started YAP initially to publish Clare’s book, and Jeesoo came on board to help get things in order.
THROUGHLINES: Were there other presses you were looking at and going, “Oh, this might be something I would want to do—but differently?”
Clare: Instead of responding directly to other presses and wanting to do things differently, it came more organically from a desire to make the books we wanted to see. The rhetoric around identity politics, especially in mainstream publishing, can often be stale, when it’s not inaccessible and silo-ed from a larger conversation. Either it’s heavy on theory or it’s so retread that it doesn’t mean anything anymore: when anyone can say they’re for amplifying minority voices, it tends to become an ad-lib for diversity marketing.
THROUGHLINES: What do you see as the confining parameters of the existing publishing landscape?
Larissa: Publishing, even and maybe especially indie publishing, feels insulated from people who aren’t already in the scene. Within the scene, there tends to be a noticeable paucity of representations among minority voices, as if there were only a handful of ways to be “Asian.” We are interested in being playful with our politics, which means not being too heavy-handed about who we are or what we do.
THROUGHLINES: When you’re not based in New York, it can be difficult to tap into the scenes that are the most visible. On the one hand, New York is in a position where you need it for wide distribution. On the other, the silo effect (or its inaccessibility) is essentially a side effect for managing overproduction.
Clare: We want to be more internet-based than New York-based—after all, we were all raised by the internet, found each other via the internet and continue to make friends through it.
Larissa: We’re more acutely aware of how the internet plays a part in creating and maintaining our networks, so it makes sense to intervene in the space where all our friends are concentrated and where we direct our intellectual/social labor. I would hate to think of YAP as merely part of the New York publishing industrial complex.
THROUGHLINES: What do you wish you had known before you entered publishing, prior to YAP?
Clare: Uh, that I shouldn’t have bothered entering it at all. To be honest, getting into things as a publisher has been enlightening. Not to sound like a cop but even the logistical and financial stuff helps me understand why traditional publishing can be stale.
Larissa: We’re realizing how expensive and bureaucratic everything is. You need a lot of capital upfront to start a press. We have an advantage in that three of us work in publishing and media, so we understand it to some degree, and are jaded by it—yet we still think there’s room for books that are new and exciting to us. One reason it feels stale is that a lot of the same kinds of people make big decisions, resulting in the same books, the same parties.
Jaime: Trade publishing tends to say, “Fuck No” first and we are the kind of people who say “Fuck Yes” first.
Larissa: Money in publishing is so covert. The rates that are offered to writers are laughably low, and it’s not like that in other industries!
Clare: Publishing is so dumb because you ostensibly work in it for passion because you love books and yet you’re seldom rewarded as readers.
THROUGHLINES: What could make publishing feel less stale?
Clare: To me, the people doing the most interesting creative things these days are musicians, DJs, and people who organize parties. While they have their own set of problems, there’s something about the ethos of parties that I really love and I don’t think you can find in publishing.
THROUGHLINES: There’s a more conspicuous lack of, say, self-consciousness wrapped up in party culture—ideally, assuming you’re at a good party. Dance culture can be politically radical in that sense, which is hard when you’re around a bunch of pasty nerds desperately clinging to some anachronistic idea of the ‘70s or The Partisan Review.
Larissa: Publishing parties are so awful. They always remind me of going to college and realizing I hadn’t read enough, that I was boxed out of so many conversations because I didn’t have the same cultural upbringing as these kids who grew up in like, Manhattan.
THROUGHLINES: I don’t think I ever figured out how to get into the box. I could imitate the mannerisms but i always ended up sounding like Manhattanite drag.
Clare: I detect a fetishization of authenticity that usually translates to an appropriation of “low” culture or poverty.
THROUGHLINES: You mean something tending toward high end normcore or DIS mag?
Clare: Yeah! We want instead to question that tendency and work toward a kind of earnestness. It’s recapturing that joy we had as Asian American teenage girls. We all had that genuine and even uncool euphoric moment when we met each other so hopefully we can create a space like that for other people as well.
THROUGHLINES: Growing up, what did the space you created look like between all of you?
Larissa: We partied a lot! Even before that, I found a power in Asian female friendship stemming from the realization that we don’t have to be inherently in competition with each other.
Clare: Mine was getting put in a group email with four other Asian girls, one of whom used to be friends with my CYBERBULLY on LiveJournal. Asian girls on the internet really changed my life.
Jeesoo: My best friend Vivian showed me Mitski, and we listened to “Best American Girl” together in my room — that really took our friendship to the next level. The two of us also read Larissa’s book in the same bedroom but separately in silence before YAP was even an idea!
Clare: Something else that’s interesting for us is that while we all are kind of the same genre of Asian girl today, we also all came from really different backgrounds. We’re interested in capturing that plurality of Asian girl experience. For example, I grew up in a majority Asian community in Flushing so had a different relationship with the self-hatred assimilation narrative.
Jeesoo: We come from four different corners of the country. I grew up in Texas, so I was constantly surrounded by shit I hate like basing adolescent culture around sports and trucks. I think one of my old high school classmates went so far as playing in the Super Bowl.
Larissa: I grew up in liberal yet white supremacist Portland and I didn’t feel as though I had become raced until I was in college, where most of my identity stuff was around being first-generation.
Jaime: I grew up in Hong Kong and moved here for high school!
THROUGHLINES: Any final words?
Jaime: More parties, less panels.