By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly
Meander through the aisles of your corner bookstore, and you’re bound to come across some intriguing titles. “The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest,” “The Cancer Lifeline Cookbook,” or how about “Sleeping Bag Yoga”? These books share a common thread beyond just challenging convention. What may not be so apparent is that the person putting out these covers is Asian American.
Gary Luke isn’t a writer. He’s actually the big guy who gives authors their chance. Luke is the president and publisher of Sasquatch Books, a Seattle-based company whose publications can be found on store shelves and Web sites nationwide.
Sasquatch specializes in books that explore all aspects of life in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and California. Works include the top selling “Best Places” travel guides and collections by renowned nature photographer Art Wolfe.
Luke’s job is to pore over manuscripts and give the most promising drafts the green light. However, his job doesn’t stop there. He also works on the books editorially, oversees their design and makes sure authors get enough publicity once their books hit the market. Luke admits it’s no easy task running what he calls the country’s premier regional press.
“The puzzle of how the whole thing works as an enterprise can be a challenge, but when it works, it’s supremely satisfying,” he said.
Luke earned an English degree from Western Washington University in the 1970s. He left with a knack for editing, but no clue where those skills would take him.
“I ended my college career with absolutely no plans,” he recalled.
As to how he wound up in the publishing industry: “I sort of fell into it,” he said.
The Chinese American took up editing jobs in Chicago before making the big leap to New York, where he spent more than a decade.
In 1994, Luke applied for a position in his hometown of Seattle. He got the job, becoming the editorial director of Sasquatch Books, a small press only in its eighth year.
Luke brought a wealth of experience and East Coast perspective to the company. In 2006, he was promoted to president and publisher after founder Chad Haight stepped down from the position.
Luke is now leading the company as it widens its reach and increases the number of books published. Sasquatch currently puts out about 35 books each year and distributes to stores like Barnes and Noble, Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma and online sites like Amazon.com.
Luke credits his success to hard work and never forgetting his humble beginnings. As a striving professional in New York, he recalls being one of only a handful of Asian Americans working in publishing. He joked that the biggest challenge wasn’t getting hired, however.
“Getting my parents to understand what I was doing, that was one thing,” he laughed.
Now Luke is being honored as an Asian American pioneer in publishing. The executive says he has plenty more work ahead of him — like creating new books and discovering new authors.
One book due out next year celebrates cuisine across Asia. Northwest Asian Weekly writer Pat Tanumihardja is cooking up a compilation of recipes in her up-and-coming publication, “The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook.”
As a publisher, Luke feels a sense of honor and responsibility to make his company an outlet for diverse perspectives.
“Whoever decides what gets published is, in many ways, acting as a gatekeeper. I think the culture is better served by more varied gatekeepers,” said Luke.
And in a world driven by the Internet, Luke says he doesn’t feel threatened.
“It’s less about the books and more about the reading,” he said. “At some point I’m sure much of reading will take place on some device, and that would be fine as long as people are reading. The thing is that when people stop reading, then you’re in trouble.” ♦
For more information about Sasquatch Books, visit www.sasquatchbooks.com.
Evangeline Cafe can be reached at email@example.com.