May 29, 2007
Origin Story: More Than Serving Tea
At the 2004 Asian American staff conference for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, ministry coordinator Paul Tokunaga talked about all the recently published IVP books that had been written by Asian American authors - Kingdom Come by Allen Wakabayashi, Secure in God's Embrace by Ken Fong, Get the Word Out by John Teter, The Kingdom of God LifeGuide Bible study by Greg Jao, Grieving a Suicide by Al Hsu (yup, that's me), and Paul's own Invitation to Lead. That was quite a list, and a definite increase over recent years.
Then I realized that all of those authors were men.
Not a single female author was on the list. That fact was painfully obvious to everyone in the room, especially since we have far more Asian American women on InterVarsity staff than AA men.
After the session, Nikki Toyama came running up to me and said something like, "The authors were all men. Is IVP looking for Asian women authors too?" I said, "Yes. Let's talk."
We then sat together at lunch, and I think Tracey Gee was at the same table, and we talked about what a book by and for Asian American women might look like. Two months later I was in Los Angeles for a conference. While there, I connected with Tracey and talked further about the book idea.
Over the next two years, Nikki and Tracey assembled a pan-Asian writing team and embarked on a first-of-its-kind effort. They stretched beyond traditional East Asian demographics of Chinese, Japanese and Korean heritage and included coauthors from Southeast Asian (Filipina) and South Asian (Pakistani) backgrounds. They also included the voices of their biracial, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and adopted sisters.
Their book, More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith, was published in November 2006, just in time for the Urbana 06 student missions convention, where 29 percent of the 22,000 attendees were of Asian descent. I was thrilled that apart from the featured books of the day, More Than Serving Tea was our #2 bestselling book of the convention, outselling even Knowing God and Too Busy Not to Pray.
As society continues to diversify, the multiethnic dimension of IVP's publishing program becomes increasingly important. So I am always on the lookout for books by people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, writing on ethnic-specific topics as well as general topics for all audiences. Because we want to equip the church to serve our diverse twenty-first-century context, our books and authors need to reflect the multiethnic diversity of the global church and kingdom of God.
Posted by Al Hsu
at May 29, 2007 8:11 AM
Awesome. Thank you IVP for looking out for people of all ethnic backgrounds. I was so excited to hear that a book was coming out about Asian-American Christian women and the specific issues they (I should say we since I am Chinese- and Japanese-American) deal with.
That's cool that More Than Serving Tea was the #2 selling book. Not surprising, given the proportion of Asians and Asian-Americans at Urbana (why is it that there are many there? do we just love conferences or something?).
What was the #1 selling book, just out of curiosity?
Al's on vacation, so I'll comment on the question of bestsellers at Urbana. More Than Serving Tea had, as I read the report, the second-highest net dollar sales of IVP books at Urbana that weren't featured as "books of the day." Books of the day were deeply discounted and sold onsite at the plenary sessions; all other books were available only at the bookstore. Technically, by the way, there were always more than one book of the day, since each session (morning and evening) had at least one featured book.
But I digress. In the bookstore, the legendary Out of the Saltshaker snuck past More Than Serving Tea in unit sales and total net dollar sales. Technically More Than Serving Tea sold nine fewer copies than A Pocket Guide to World Religions, but it's no contest when you look at net dollar sales.
OK, that was the most technically confusing blog post I've ever typed.
I've been noticing (for a while now) that while I love IVP, there are SO many more male authors than female (as is true for many/most publishers, I imagine). Are there other ways you've been trying to pursue female authors, especially to write books that aren't directed at women/about gender-related issues?
Ashleigh - Yes, IVP has been more intentional in recent years about publishing female authors, but one of the challenges is that many of the fields that we tend to publish in (biblical studies, theology, etc.) have also been traditionally predominantly male fields. Our book Confessions of a Beginning Theologian by Eloise Renich Fraser talks about how when she went to an evangelical seminary, she was one of the few women there. Then she went on to do doctoral work at a larger university, and there it was no big deal that she was a woman - what was weird was that she was an evangelical. So evangelical women are in something of a double bind; our book Living on the Boundaries by Christine Pohl and Nicola Hoggard Creegan also explores these topics about evangelicalism and feminism in the academy.
In terms of what we've done to pursue more female authors, a few years ago we hosted a publishing consultation for women in the academy that discussed the various issues female academics face. And just as we want more multiethnic authors writing on both ethnic-related as well as general topics, we also want to publish women writing on gender-specific issues (Kim Gaines Eckert's Stronger Than You Think, Ruth Haley Barton's Longing for More, Michelle Graham's Wanting to Be Her, etc.), we also want to publish women writing on anything and everything for all readers (Ruth Haley Barton's forthcoming Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Adele Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Mindy Caliguire's Soul Care Resources, Kelly Monroe Kullberg's Finding God Beyond Harvard, Marva Dawn's My Soul Waits, etc.) So anyway, we know we have a ways to go on this, but we're certainly aware of it and working on it!
And Michelle - The big numbers of Asian Americans and Asians at Urbana is a fairly recent phenomenon, mostly since Urbana 90, I think. It's partly due to intentionality on the part of Urbana in recruitment among Asian American ministries, churches and mission networks, and I think it also hit some sort of tipping point/critical mass where Urbana became multiethnic enough to self-perpetuate high numbers of Asian delegates convention after convention.