Love for Literature
As far as motivation goes, Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback have it in spades. It takes an attenuated sense of insight and patience to spot a gap in the market and determine to fill it.
Most are compelled by financial gain in these endeavours but the creators and co-editors of Hong Kong online literary journal Asian Cha do it as a labour of love in their already limited spare time. “It takes up a lot of our life but it is also something that we quite enjoy, so spending time on it doesn’t seem such a chore”, yawns Jeff at 6am on a rainy Wednesday in London.
Theirs is a true love story. They met in 2005 at a Hong Kong Writers' Circle and have been together since; but somehow sentimental musings seem out of place around these two. They are all business and so far business is all good.
In 2006 poet Tammy had been sending work to various international English language journals for some time and realized that there was no online journal to submit to in Hong Kong. A goal was set to craft her own; and one year later, in November 2007, Asian Cha Literary Journal was up and running. “It wasn’t actually a difficult process.” Says Tammy,” First we needed a website and a name and then some guidelines. Once they were set we got a number of good responses.”
These responses began to come from a litany of Asian or Asia-based writers existing under the radar who were searching for an English language forum to showcase their work. Such outlets are notably rare. Aside from The Asian Literary Review, Asian Cha is the only purely literary online journal based in Hong Kong. This meant that the scope for the format of the site was uninhibited by competitors and could remain decidedly open.
To try and broach the content in any real sense would be a vast undertaking. The list of categories included seems to grow considerably with each new issue. All the literary staples of poetry, fiction and non-fiction are covered in various forms, while they also endeavour to address the visual by accepting art and photographic submissions. “For the visual stuff we usually pick something that really strikes us and we have a gut reaction to”, Says Jeff.
The two seem invariably in synch and so far following their combined instincts have paid off. After just two years, the journal has begun to exceed either of its editor’s humble expectations. It has garnered attention not only from the Hong Kong literary world but also further afield, winning the StorySouth’s Million Writers Award for best new online magazine in 2008, and Scottish publisher Cannongate’s Website of the Week.
With the overwhelming volume of its content, the site would come across as intimidating, if it weren’t such a bloody good read. Most of the submissions are from amateur or previously unpublished writers so the usual weight of reputation is lifted and the work can be enjoyed without bias or expectation. “We [editors] all read the pieces independently and it is amazing how often we say yes to the same works”, reflects Jeff, “Good work inevitably stands out.”
He is right. Newer aspects of the site such as the reviews and interviews categories, or the analytical Cup of Fine Tea section, provide additional examination of the content that warrants more attention than presentation alone. This means that writers can use the site as a tool to hone their erudite skills; but there is also a simple pleasure in acting the voyeur and jumping from section to section selecting snippets of Asian literary treats to pass an idle afternoon.
Find Asian Cha at www.asiancha.com.