Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Pat Matsueda, a fiction writer, poet, and publishing professional. Pat is the founder of the Ms. Aligned project; the managing editor of MĀNOA: A Pacific Journal of International Writing; and the author of Stray, a collection of poetry, and Bedeviled, a novella.
How long have you been writing fiction? What drew you to this genre?
I have published one piece of flash fiction and a novella. The flash fiction was written many years ago, after I attended a dinner at a female friend’s house, and I wanted to focus on a male guest. The novella was started about ten years ago, but I only decided about four years ago to commit to finishing it. It became a personal mission to get Bedeviled out into the world. One of the subjects it covers is potential blackmail of a government employee because of his debts—something that gained prominence with the disclosure of President Trump’s enormous debts.
How long have you been working in the publishing industry? How did you land in this profession?
In spring 1992, I began working for MĀNOA: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, a literary journal published twice a year by the University of Hawai‘i Press. That began my formal engagement in the field, but I’d been working in it for years before that: as a writer, editor, and small magazine publisher. Many people mark the beginning of Hawaii’s literary history with the formation of the Hawaii Literary Arts Council (HLAC) in the early seventies, but of course, writers such as O.A. Bushnell published long before that. In the eighties and nineties, local publishers grew to the point where they could shape the literary scene without the help of HLAC.
How has your writing and/or publishing of fiction overlapped with or not overlapped with your work as a publishing professional?
It’s definitely overlapped, and I’m grateful that my occupation—as the journal’s managing editor—allows that. My exposure to hundreds of writers and translators all over the world has affected how I perceive reality, selfhood, gender through the writing lens. When I read a poem or story by someone who has grown up with a different language or in a different culture, time, or place, the limits of history and national boundaries melt away. I feel as if I have lived a hundred lives, experienced wartime, hunger, violence, and all the other sensations and actions that literature realizes. The piece of fiction I strive to equal—but will never match—is Intizar Husain’s “Stranded Railroad Car,” which we published in our summer 2015 issue. His novel Basti was considered for the Man Booker International Prize.
If there was one thing you could change about the publishing industry what would it be?
I think publishing should enter people’s worlds when they are kids. They should be exposed, somehow, to the idea that people will value what you write and that you can use this vehicle—called publishing—to interact with other eyes, minds, and hearts.
What fiction project are you working on right now, as a writer, that excites you?
I’m trying to work on another novella, a story about the meeting between Isaac Silva, a local film student with a Puerto Rican father and an Australian mother, and Lita, a fiftyish Filipino tax driver. In the course of getting to know Lita, Isaac discovers she is a healer and accepts the challenge to learn from her. I have no idea how this teaching is going to happen, but I am excited by Lita because I know she is a quiet but powerful force who is going to change Isaac’s world.
I heard you have a new poetry collection coming out. Can you tell our readers a bit about it?
Thanks for asking. Bitter Angels is being published by El León Literary Arts, of Berkeley, and Mānoa Books, of Honolulu; they published my novella and Stray, my volume of poetry. Bitter Angels is a chapbook, a collection of about a dozen poems, including a prose poem called “Michelangelo Street.” I had originally intended for the title to refer to beings whose compassion leads them into dangerous territory: where the soul is imperiled and bitterness and loss of faith results—not religious faith but the existential faith that keeps us from perishing. When my sister became very sick, I developed a different relationship with the poems and came to see that life and death are not exclusive states of being. In fact, the gap between them can narrow at times and become a dangerous place of emotional and psychological intensity. My sister passed away in early December, and I am dedicating the book to her.