It’s not news that May-lee Chai is a phenomenal writer. The author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, she was our clear choice to introduce readers to the twenty emerging and established voices included in Lookout’s latest collection, Trespass: Ecotone Essayists Beyond the Boundaries of Place, Identity, and Feminism. As Chai writes in her foreword, “From campus open-carry laws to the health of the planet to the way women’s bodies are treated and patrolled, these essays touch upon the most urgent issues of our times, in prose that is incandescent. . . . Women here trespass boldly, asserting their right to tell their stories, to critique, to explore, to assert their place in the world. I am honored to join them on this journey.”
But we weren’t the only ones to take note of Chai’s wise, award-winning writing. Her story collection, Useful Phrases for Immigrants, was selected in December for the Lily Lit Club, the book club of the Lily, a news arm of the Washington Post dedicated to those “who have something to say and who want to be heard.”
The Lily’s namesake was the first newspaper edited by and for women, with its debut issue published in 1849 on the heels of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Among other issues vital to its readers—and that often filled its pages—were voting rights, the abolition of slavery, and the right to wear pants.
Both the original and the revived Lily feature the work of women who challenge boundaries, a mission the publication shares with Chai and contributors to Trespass. In an interview with Neema Roshania Patel, the Lily’s deputy editor, Chai says, “I put this collection together in 2016 as a reaction to the political climate. We are facing a whole new level of crazy, anti-immigrant speech. I put this together as an act of resistance.”
Lookout Books publishes emerging and historically underrepresented voices, as well as overlooked gems by established writers. The imprint debuted with Edith Pearlman’s new and selected stories, Binocular Vision, which prompted Ann Patchett to ask in her introduction, “To that great list of human mysteries which includes the construction of the pyramids and the persistent use of Styrofoam as a packing material let me add this one: why Isn’t Edith Pearlman famous?”; and Joyce Carol Oates named Clare Beams, author of Lookout’s 2016 story collection We Show What We Have Learned, “a female/feminist voice for the twenty-first century.”
Since its publication, Useful Phrases for Immigrants has received rave reviews from the New York Times and the Washington Post. It was selected by Tayari Jones for the Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman and published by fellow North Carolina publisher Blair.