What to expect from Russell Leong’s reading, the third installment in this summer’s Joan Hutton Landis Reading Series, this coming Sunday, July 9? Surprises, that’s for sure, a mix of media, that’s for sure, too, and, yes, a serious reflection, with a whimsical twist, on what it means, how it feels to be an immigrant—to work hard, to not quite belong, but to live a full, rich, resonant life in a place that is now called home.
That’s a lot to deliver, but Leong is up to the task. Born in Chinatown, San Francisco, Leong received his Master of Fine Arts in Film and Theater from UCLA. A talented artist in many mediums—poetry, short stories, visual art, music—Leong has been a writer, professor, and editor at UCLA for more than thirty years. He received an American Book Award for his short story collection Phoenix Eyes (University of Washington Press, 2000), and a PEN Josephine Miles award for his poetry collection The Country of Dreams and Dust (West End Press, 1993). His most recent publication, a beautiful, graphic portfolio, MothSutra (The Bowery Bandit Project, 2015), captures the crazy, frenetic, serendipitous life of an Asian delivery man on bicycle. And that is what Leong will be reading on Sunday.
In black, gray, white, and red drawings, and contrasting type sizes—an urban mishmash of cartoon, billboard, Asian art scroll, menu, ad, map, and traffic sign—language and image swim in a sea of directions, exclamations, headlines, and notes—all representing/ presenting the meandering daily journey of a man on a bicycle in a city, delivering take-out to “Sir/Miss.”
Amid the whiplash scribbling of a graffiti artist and the calligraphic delicacy of pen-and-ink, Leong’s poems of hustle, dart, and pedal, speak honestly and sympathetically to the delivery man. On the page labeled “Exile,” Leong writes:
Blue spokes release red flames.
Handlebars relax your fingers.
Pedals free your feet from the
cycling of your earth-bound body.
The snappy, succinct messaging of advertisement combines with a dream-like never-land to create an under-the-city world, one that we entered for the first time in MothSutra, and now believe we knew all along.