Where to Find Me at AWP 2016

Iris's New Business Cards for AWP 2016

I’m off to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ 2016 conference in Los Angeles for the next few days! I just designed some new business cards for myself (pictured above; I got them printed at Moo.com, my favorite place to do short-run printing of this sort), and my bags are just about packed (leaving room, of course, for the huge cache of books I always manage to acquire while there!) Here are a few notes about where to find me and my work this weekend if you’ll be going too:

1. Look for me anywhere Lantern Review is.

My coeditor, Mia, and I recently relaunched our literary magazine and blog, Lantern Review, and we’re planning on hanging out at as many APIA-poetry-related events as we can. At the very least, we’ll be attending the Asian American caucus on Thursday evening and will be selling books for Kundiman at their (and Kaya Press’s) “Literoake” off-site event on Friday night. We don’t have our own bookfair table this year as we have in the past, but Kundiman has very kindly offered to let us put some business cards on their table (1018). As always, I’ve designed our LR cards to double as pocket-sized art, and this year, they contain some of our cover images from past issues in addition to quotes from the blog and the magazine that have to do with light and illumination (since we are LANTERN Review . . . get it?). I’d love it if you stopped by to pick one up, either to share with a friend or take home for yourself. (Also, if you’re interested in finding out more about APIA poetry at AWP this year, I’ve also created a guide for the Lantern Review blog that went up yesterday. Please do click on over to read up on events of interest and to download our free companion to the bookfair.)

2. Pick up a copy of the new issue of Exit 7 in the bookfair.

I have four poems in the new issue of Exit 7, a beautiful literary journal run out of a two-year college in Paducah, KY. The first year that LR had a table in the bookfair (2011, which was incidentally also my first year living in KY), the conference placed our table right next to Exit 7‘s, and I got to meet Britton and Amelia, the fantastic couple that edits and runs the magazine. Earlier this year, Exit 7 was kind enough to accept some of my work for their current issue, and they will be selling copies in the bookfair at table 412. Please do stop by and consider purchasing a copy of the issue to read my poems (several of which are set in Lexington!) and to support the amazing editorial work that Amelia and Britton do. (Amelia also has a new book out this spring from Sarabande, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat. I recommend picking up a copy of it at Sarabande’s table, 513.)

3. Visit the Kundiman table and buy a copy of Periodicity to support their work.

I’m donating several copies of my chapbook, Periodicity, to Kundiman to be sold (along with other fellows’ books and chaps) as part of a fundraiser to support their work. Kundiman is an amazing literary nonprofit that supports Asian American writers through retreats, mentorship, and community, and as a Kundiman fellow, I’ve grown so much and have benefited so deeply from their work. They have a very special place in my heart, and I’m so honored to have the opportunity to give back to them even in this small way. If you have some extra cash during the conference, please do consider stopping by their bookfair table (1018) or dropping in at one of their events where they will be selling books to help support by buying a copy of Periodicity or any of the scores of other amazing titles by other Kundiman fellows that will be available.

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I’m off now to take care of some last minute things before jetting off to LA, but if you’ll be at AWP this weekend, please come find me and say “hello”!

p.s. Curious about Moo.com and want to try it out yourself? Here’s a referral link that will let both you and me save a little money on our next orders (you’ll save 10% on your first order, and I get some store credit to spend).

Pomelo Olive Oil Pound Cake with Black Pepper Glaze (On Coloring Outside the Lines)

Pomelo Cake 1
I’m not really into the whole adult coloring book craze. Don’t get me wrong; I am a hardcore rules follower when it comes to things like school and work, and it drives me crazy when I see typos in advertisements or a picture frame that’s hung crookedly on a wall. But coloring inside the lines of someone else’s drawings just isn’t that exciting to me. I’m impatient, and when it comes to creative projects, I’ve never been very good about following exact instructions. I’m notorious for taking shortcuts in craft projects, and I’d much rather freehand shapes or eyeball measurements when it comes to things like sewing and home decorating (often to my detriment—c.f. the seventh grade sewing project that was supposed to be a stuffed rabbit but ended up looking like a slightly queasy llama). I’ve always been “entropically favored” and messy, and my creative process reflects that. I’m a person who can appreciate the order of skill and discipline, but when it comes to creative work, I like to do my own thing.

Maybe that’s why I love baking. While there are techniques that must be executed precisely and general proportions that must be followed accurately lest the final taste or texture be compromised, the “rules,” once established, are only a framework. If you know how to work with different kinds of ingredients and can predict how their flavors might complement one another, it’s endlessly fun to play with the details—changing the flavor of a cake by infusing the milk with different spices or herbs; using ground pistachios instead of almond meal; adding ginger to a chocolate cookie for a warming take on an old favorite.  It’s as much an art as it is a science, and I love that there are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to riffing on an original theme—to coloring outside the lines, so to speak.

Pomelo Cake 2

This past weekend, we attended a church potluck, and when my husband mentioned that there always (to his observation) seemed to be a dearth of desserts at these events, I was more than happy to sign up for an excuse to bake. I’d been meaning to try making a citrus loaf cake for the last several weeks anyway, ever since listening to an episode of the podcast Things Cooks Know in which the hosts had extolled the virtues of olive oil cakes made with seasonal fruit. So I did some research and settled upon one of Deb Perelman’s reliably fantastic recipes—in this case, a recipe for Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake from her book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (via this blog). In an effort to make cleanup and transport easier, I bought some paper loaf pans to use in place of my 9″ x 5″ aluminum loaf pan, but the paper pans turned out to be smaller than my aluminum one, and because, being my imprecise self, I decided to eyeball it, I ended up buttering and flouring one more pan than I needed for the amount of batter that the recipe made. When we got home after the potluck, I wondered aloud to my husband what to do with the extra buttered pan. It seemed a shame to throw it out, but I didn’t see how I would be able to store it.

“Put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake another cake tomorrow,” he suggested. So I did.

Pomelo Cake 3

The original cake recipe had been well received the night before—sharp and tender and wreathed in a cloud of delicate grapefruit scent, it offered a strong hit of citrus flavor that was both unusual and refreshing. I didn’t think any of the proportions needed tweaking the second time around, so I halved the measurements pretty much exactly. But because I can also never leave well enough alone, I decided to experiment with the flavors. We’ve had a lovely red pomelo sitting around our kitchen for the last couple of weeks, just waiting to be eaten, so I hacked that in half and zested and juiced it instead of the two grapefruits called for by the original recipe. And because pomelo has more of a mellow flavor profile than grapefruit, I decided to crack some black pepper into the glaze for a surprise kick.

The result was an equally beautiful, though slightly different, kind of citrus cake. The olive oil and yogurt lightened the batter and made the cake soft and moist, while the pomelo syrup saturated it with the sweet, mildly floral flavor of the fruit, and the peppery glaze added just a hint of heat. After comparing both cakes, I ended up deciding that I slightly preferred the intensity of the original grapefruit version (in which the flavor of the citrus was much more pronounced), but the pomelo-and-pepper version turned out to be a very nice variation, indeed, and it suggested a wide range of ideas for future experimentation: pomelo curd, pomelo tart, pomelo and black pepper scones . . . the options abound. I can’t wait to play around with the possibilities.

Pomelo Cake 4

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Pomelo Olive Oil Pound Cake with Black Pepper Glaze
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf, 2012)

Note: This is a halved recipe that yields one small loaf cake baked in a 7″ paper loaf pan. I found that Perelman’s original recipe for grapefruit cake fills two 7″ paper pans and bakes up in about 35 minutes rather than in 30 minutes (simply double the proportions given below). If you wish to make this cake in a standard 9″ aluminum loaf pan, double the proportions and also bake according to the original recipe’s guidelines of forty-five minutes to an hour. Regarding the paper pans: technically, one isn’t supposed to have to grease and flour them, but I find that doing so results in a cleaner release, yielding neater slices that are much easier to serve. As for the pomelo—since it is such a large and unwieldy ingredient, I found it easiest to first halve the fruit, then zest and juice it in smaller sections. (The entire recipe, including the juice and zest needed for the cake, syrup, glaze, and garnish, required just under half of my single medium-sized pomelo.)


For the Cake
butter and flour for pan
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon freshly grated pomelo zest
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup raw or turbinado sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large egg at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed pomelo juice
1/6 cup (about 8 teaspoons) plain Greek yogurt

For the Syrup
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/6 cup (about 8 teaspoons) freshly-squeezed pomelo juice

For the Glaze and Garnish
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed pomelo juice
Generous pinch of cracked black pepper, plus more for garnish
Small pinch of salt
Additional pomelo zest for garnish


Make the Cake
Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 7″ paper loaf pan.

In a large bowl, rub the pomelo zest into the sugars with your fingers until fragrant. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add the egg, and whisk until combined.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a second bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, combine a tablespoon of pomelo juice and the yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt mixture, alternating between them, to the oil-and-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

Spread the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a knife or piece of dry spaghetti comes out clean.

Make the pomelo syrup
Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1/6 cup (8 teaspoons) pomelo juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then poke holes in the cake with a skewer or piece of dry spaghetti. Brush or pour the pomelo syrup over the cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup.

Make the glaze
Combine the confectioners’ sugar, pomelo juice, black pepper, and salt in a bowl, whisking until smooth. Pour the glaze over the top of cooled cake, and finish with a dusting of pomelo zest and a final crack or two of black pepper. Settle a sprig of mint into the setting glaze for additional garnish if desired.


No Greater Love: Free Printables for Celebrating Community & Friendship this Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day Card (framed)

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
—John 15:12–13 (NLT)

I’ve been meditating on community a lot lately. Ash Wednesday was a couple of days ago, and during this season of Lent, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about focusing less on the things that I don’t have or think that I want and more on the things that I’ve already been given. Less online window-shopping, more thank you notes. Less time spent on mindless internet video-watching, more time spent investing in (and praying for) the people around me. As a writer, as a woman of color, as a Christian, my community is so important to me. And this past year, it seems, I’ve been finding so much life the more I dig in.

John 15 (the vine and the branches) was one of the readings for our wedding last summer. In it, Christ urges His disciples to abide in Him, and also to love one another as He has loved them. This is my command, he says, to love one another. His command. It’s pretty astonishing to me (in a good, crazy kind of way) that Jesus, while giving His last set of instructions to His friends before His death, was as concerned with their relationships with one another—with the health of their community—as He was with their relationships to Him.

I’ve been so grateful for my community these past few months. At our wedding, one of the things that felt most special to my husband and me was the fact that we were supported and surrounded at every turn by the people that we loved. From the worship band made up of friends and family, to the all-nighter that our friend J pulled decorating the church, to the weeks that my mom and her friends spent carefully sculpting delicate tissue paper into flowers for the centerpieces, to the late nights my mother-in-law stayed up with us to help finish putting together favors (and more! so many people helped in so many ways), we felt loved beyond measure. When my husband landed his current job and had to move out West without me for a few months, our community in Kentucky closed ranks around me—bringing me soup and medicine when I was sick for two weeks; giving me rides; praying for me and inquiring about how I was doing. When I decided to focus on my writing again after a long dry spell, there again was community, pounding down my door: one morning at the office, I got a call out the blue from a woman named Tanya, who invited me to be a part of what turned out to be an amazing community of WOC writers, creatives, leaders, and professionals, right in my hometown. Now that I’m back in California, I’ve begun to meet regularly with M, my closest writing friend, whom I’ve long considered to be my literary co-conspirator, and it is like a long drink of water to be physically present in the same space after so many years of corresponding almost exclusively through Skype and email.

Kundiman, the community of Asian American writers that has been a constant part of my life for a few years now, has a bumper sticker it gives out at conferences that says “Kundiman is for lovers.” Because a kundiman is a love song written and sung under duress—a love song that arises out of hope and devotion to one’s people—and because what is a writer without the strength and solidarity of his or her chosen community? Certainly, I am the stronger for mine.

This Valentine’s Day, even while my husband and I are celebrating together, I’ll also be thinking about our community, and the radical ways in which their love has enabled us to grow and to thrive—both together and as individuals. John 15:13 has been running through my head constantly, and in the spirit of gratitude, I thought I’d share a little something that I made here with you.

Free Printable Files:

“No Greater Love”—Two 5″ x 7” black and white flat cards
“No Greater Love”—Two 5″ x 7” color flat cards

Valentine's Day Cards (all)

This little hand-lettered assortment of flat cards prints at 5″ x “7 (two to a letter-sized piece of paper or cardstock) and can be slipped into an envelope and used as notecards, framed and hung up as wall art, or glued to a card front to make a folded greeting card. The print comes in four different colorways, and to give you an idea of what you can do, I’ve come up with four different ways to treat them.

You’ll want to start by downloading one or both of the files above and printing each on a sheet of letter-sized (8.5″ x 11”) piece of cardstock or heavy paper. Make sure that you are printing in color, not grayscale (I don’t own a color printer, so I had mine printed at a copy shop nearby), and that you tell the printer to print at “actual size” (you don’t want the computer to scale it down, or you’ll end up with cards that are smaller than 5″ x 7″). Once you’ve printed the files, use a paper trimmer or a craft knife and ruler to cut each card down to size. I’ve included some gray trim marks for you so that it’s easier for you to line up your straight edge or blade with exactly where you need to cut.

Valentine's Day Cards (trimming)

Once you have the cards cut out, you can have some fun with them! I put the simplest design, the one with black text on a white background, in a clean, gold-tone frame (which you can see at the top of the post). For the card with a red background, I simply rounded the corners with a punch and paired it with an envelope to use as a notecard.

Valentine's Day Card (red--rounding corners)

For the design that has red-and-black text, I folded a sheet of 60-lb, kraft-colored cardstock in half, trimmed it down to be slightly larger than the size of the print, and glued them together to make a folded greeting card.

Valentine's Day Card (folded card)

As for the design with a black background and white text, I thought it looked a little bit like the night sky, so I colored in the heart and added a few scattered dots of different sizes with gold and white gel pens (the photograph shows a gold Uniball Signo gel pen and a white Gelly Roll pen, but actually, I ended up using Uniball Signos for both the gold and the white, since I liked the flow and opacity of the ink better).

Valentine's Day Card (black card being embellished)

Whether you’re alone or with loved ones this weekend, I hope you’ll print, cut out, and keep one or more of these cards—but even more so, that you’ll consider giving one away as an encouragement to someone who has made a difference in your life just by being there. Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s celebrate community and friendship together.

Happy Lunar New Year! (On Blogging and New Beginnings)

Happy Lunar New Year 2016!

I begin again with the smallest numbers.
—Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year”

Hello, there, internet! It’s been a while.

I’m Iris. You might remember me from here, or maybe (reaching really far back) even here. I’m a writer, an editor, a lover of books and words; a feminist, an Asian American—a woman of color who writes and for whom faith, poetry, and the pursuit of social justice are inextricably intertwined. I also like to make things: literary “interventions” and art; food and music; drawings and crafts; simple hand-lettering and typography.

It’s been a few years since I last made a habit of keeping a blog, but today is the first day of the lunar new year, a time of sweeping away the dust from the corners and starting afresh. 2015 (the year of the sheep) was a year rife with change for me. I got married; I moved in with my new husband; he got a job across the country from our beloved adopted hometown in Kentucky. Fast forward to December, and we found ourselves road tripping across ten states, through flooding rains and icy mountain peaks, across endless swaths of open prairie and the dusty Nevada desert, to find ourselves here, in California: this old-new state where he grew up, where we went to school, where we first met, where we fell in love, where last summer, we returned to say our vows before the altar of his family’s home church. For me, it’s more than just a return to a familiar place—to shy winter rains, the wet surprise of February citrus dropping to the sidewalk at one’s feet. I’m coming home to the place where I first found my legs as a writer; the place where I discovered Asian American studies and read my first book of poetry by an Asian American poet; and where my first, rudimentary sense of insight into what it means to be a person of color living and writing in America first began to take shape and grow.

But there are new things, too. The streets are more crowded. The water crisis is more urgent. The rent’s even more hair-raising than it ever was before. I am transitioning out of the wonderful job (at a small university press) that I held back in Kentucky and am looking ahead with hope and much hard work as I figure out what’s next for me in my career.

In a way, it seems like a fitting time to return to blogging. I’ve been all over the map, and it’s as good a time as any to come home. I don’t know what this next year will look like, or the exact direction that this blog will eventually take. You might see a little bit of everything: writing updates; snapshots from my daily life; recipes; a sprinkling of DIY projects; thoughts on poetry, language, the business of publishing. Whatever the case may be, I do know that I have lots of ideas for the creative and literary content that I plan to share here, and it’s my intention to push myself in more new directions, creatively and professionally, than I ever have before. So I begin again—with a small breath, a word, a sentence, a first blog post for a brand new year.

Happy year of the monkey. Here’s to blogging and to beginning afresh.