For the Fall 2022 season, UC Press will publish the restored edition of Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and a reissue of Cha’s Exilee and Temps Morts: Selected Works edited by curator Constance M. Lewallen who recently passed away. UC Press spoke with Summer Farah about editorially overseeing the projects.
Sara Fan: What inspired you to envision a restored edition of Dictee?
Summer Farah: In mid-2020 we were understaffed, so three of us worked with editors we didn’t normally work with. I was working with our premodern world history editor Eric Schmidt who was thinking about doing a backlist project. He said, “We have this book, Dictee. Do you know it?” and I said, “Oh my God! Do I know it!”
At the University of California Berkeley, I took a course with Celeste Langan called Romanticism & the Law, where we engaged with the double use of the word “fair” – in justice and in beauty. There was one essay by Kant that made me think of Solmaz Sharif, so for my final paper I wrote about Look, which engages with terms of the Department of Defense Military Terms dictionary. Professor Langan said, “You should read Dictee because it’s doing something similar, and that’ll help inform your reading.” Sharif and Cha are absolutely in conversation, and it made me think about this legacy of women of color writing in experimental styles with this explicitly anti-imperialist work. There’s an enormity to Cha’s work, in the way that she touches film and visual art and poetry all at the same time. In order to express this politic, and your place within it, the turn to multiple disciplines only makes sense. Another poet who touched the Bay who fits into this lineage is Etel Adnan. When Sharif wrote a blurb for the jacketed version, I told her that I came to Dictee from her work and she said that she also came to Dictee from a class at Cal; it feels very special to be able to trace and record these relationships, since that connection has always been there.
Linda Norton acquired Dictee, and the first UC Press edition was published in 2001. There’s the original Tanam Press edition, and then there was the Third Woman Press edition from the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Department. The press had two versions, and the current version being circulated is the fourth version, a scan from a scan from a scan from a scan. In the edition that I read as a junior at UC Berkeley, the images were not easy to read.
After having conversations with Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, we realized a restored edition leading with the artist’s voice and vision was the best way forward. Considering we were working with an artist who did not get to see the book’s impact, we thought a lot about how you continue to be respectful to this work, even if you are leading with love. BAMPFA holds Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s archives, so we had this opportunity to do new, high-res scans with our 2020s technology to give the interior a refreshed look. There’s text within the art that you need to be able to see! We also based the type-setting on a second printing copy from Tanam, so everything is back in place, as intended. The hardcover edition came a little later, after the folks at BAMPFA told us about the small circulation cloth-bound versions from Tanam. We thought it would be really special for people who really love Cha’s work to have something a little sturdier on their shelves (like me!)
Sara Fan: What was it like working with BAMPFA?
Summer Farah: It was really lovely to work with a team where everyone is on the same page. We love this work and care about this author and artist, and we want to do what is best for the project.
There was excitement about what else this project could lead to, considering the increasing interest in Cha’s work!
From these conversations came putting Exilee & Temps Mort: Selected Works back into print, this time with a new cover. It was really fun to go through the interior art program and know we wanted to use something Cha had created to introduce this work, especially with the different perspectives present; like, I’m a fan of this work, not a scholar–we had curators, people who have studied her performance and exhibitions, all thinking about how to package this selection, how to introduce another aspect of her legacy.
Sara Fan: What drew you to Exilee?
Summer Farah: BAMPFA’s online archive of Cha’s work is available, but Exilee is a selected work; a book always feels a little easier to locate! The way that Constance Lewellen put it together is really clever and in-line with the fragmentary nature of Cha’s work—poems alongside film stills alongside typewriter notes. You see the notecards she wrote on and the art books she made. There’s a section that’s just a letter per page, and it’s so stark and gorgeous. A book grants you that special material quality of Cha’s work.
I think it’s important that Cha is more than Dictee; the more of her work that is in circulation is a stronger affirmation of her impact and multitudes. You have this continued proof of what her work set out to do, so it’s easier to kind of maintain the integrity of it.
Sara Fan: How did you come to UC Press?
Summer Farah: Everything I had done in my university career—all the clubs, all the activities—was centered around working in publishing. I was super lucky with timing because the press was hiring an editorial assistant right when I graduated and they had sent the announcement in through the multicultural community center listserv and I applied!
Sara Fan: What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
Summer Farah: I really like works that are very clear in their positionality as well as vulnerable in understanding that the written word isn’t the only thing. I think that the best academic works report and they identify and they disseminate knowledge, but they also come with the understanding that this knowledge needs to be in the hands of people in order to move forward, that this simple processing of this knowledge is not enough.
I work on the Critical Refugee Studies series, which is edited by Yến Lê Espiritu and the Critical Refugee Studies Collective. I just love every project from that series, it is full of the most compassionate and kind authors, mostly people who are from the communities that they are studying. The first project that I led was Networked Refugees by Nadya Hajj, and it was just the best. I got to work with another Palestinian! Her research about digital networks that Palestinians create across the diaspora is incredible and important. It’s something that I’ve experienced in my everyday life, and it was also published open access, which is super exciting because anyone can read it.