Imagining your audience
As a publisher we're faced with a particular responsibility to ask ourselves, who do we see as our ideal readers for the various books we put out over the decades ahead. Not everyone is going to buy our books, nor do we necessarily need them to. But among those who do buy our books, it's helpful to have a sense of what they're looking for, and who our audience might be. In a 2003 review in Rain Taxi magazine, Lucas Klein asked a question that serves as a guiding point for many of us at Sahtu Press:
"Over a decade ago Harvard Sinologist Stephen Owen took on contemporary Chinese literature with his article "The Anxiety of Global Influence-What is World Poetry?," wherein he succeeded, through astonishingly sensible and even-tempered writing, in laying out a pretty bullet-headed point. Now required reading for Chinese poetry courses in English-speaking universities, the article faults Bei Dao and his fellow Misty Poets-poets who were raised on clandestine translations of experimentalist writing from outside China-for not being Chinese enough. The main point of Owen's review is simple: "Poems are made only for audiences," and the audience Misty Poetry is written for is international, not Chinese. He asks, "is this Chinese literature, or literature that began in the Chinese language? For what imaginary audience has this poetry been written?"
It's an interesting question as I imagine what might happen if we asked, what is Lao American literature: Is it Lao literature, or literature that began in the Lao language, or a Lao consciousness? Who are our audiences for whom we envision we have been writing?
At the moment, we think it's safe to say the good majority of Lao writers abroad are writing in languages other than Lao, although many engage in Laoglish. We see our community wrestling with the question of what it means to be a people. With almost 300,000 of us in the United States, we need to be comfortable examining the many different ways there are to be Lao.
No one publishing company can be all things to all people, but it can and must have a personality. Sometimes you'll agree with it, sometimes you won't. But like any good writing and art, you should at least expect that whatever comes out has been well-considered and thought out.