Forest Avenue Press and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) have joined forces to gather early book reviews for Ramiza Shamoun Koya, the debut author of The Royal Abduls, due out in May 2020. Koya has terminal cancer and her health has recently deteriorated. “We wanted to give Ramiza the experience of a new author that she might miss out on,” said PNBA executive director Brian Juenemann, who helped spread the word about the project to members.
Koya served as director of youth programs for Literary Arts, championing diversity and inclusion efforts at the Portland nonprofit, which coordinates lectures, seminars, festivals, fellowships, and more. Now the literary community is giving back through the Reviews for Ramiza campaign. Responding to an item in the PNBA newsletter and an email blast to membership last month, a half dozen authors, booksellers, and other publishing professionals have already contributed reviews.
The novel takes place in Washington, D.C., and explores how an Indian-American family copes with the fragmented and divisive culture of post-9/11 America, following the stories of an evolutionary biologist and her 11-year-old nephew. “I grew up with the idea of the melting pot, and I see that slipping away,” Koya said. “I hope The Royal Abduls can help create empathy and understanding, or provoke discussion. Around the world, anti-Muslim sentiment is rising, and it’s terrifying.”
PGW and Two Rivers sales rep Cindy Heidemann is among the reviewers and she highlighted the novel’s focus on community in her review for the campaign: “This is the story of loner scientist Amina’s emotional coming-of-age and her accepting that family and love are a necessary and valued part of life. You can’t do it alone. You shouldn’t do it alone.”
In addition to review efforts, Forest Avenue is collaborating with PGW to build a soft launch among Portland booksellers ahead of the May release. PGW has the books and will ship them to Annie Bloom’s, Broadway Books, and Powell’s for early release in Portland.
Forest Avenue signed Koya in October 2018, after she submitted a manuscript during the publisher’s annual open submission period. “It immediately rose to the top of our stack, because of the story she was telling and the confidence and beauty of the writing,” said publisher Laura Stanfill. Koya also shared that she had been coping with cancer.
Stanfill grew very close to Koya during the next two years of editing, design, and preparation for publication. “The editor is the author’s advocate—and in editing with that author, you’re building a relationship of trust and respect,” Stanfill said. “The relationship piece is hugely important to publishing.”
In December 2019, Koya called Stanfill after receiving new test results saying that she didn’t expect to be able to participate in her May book launch. Stanfill reached out to PNBA’s Juenemann, who remembered Koya’s visit to the PNBA conference last fall.
“Ramiza was really charming,” Juenemann said. “She was doing this book in her hometown, and that made it that much more special. It’s the human factor that we add by being a tight, inclusive, and supportive indie community.”
After these conversations, the PNBA team launched the Reviews for Ramiza campaign, assembling the reviews to be published in a long article in the association’s NW Book Lovers publication by early March.
“It’s amazing to feel the support of the literary community, both from PNBA and Portland’s amazing book culture,” Koya said. “I’m humbled by people’s willingness to read and comment, to offer praise, and to show their support. There are so many books out there, and I couldn’t have imagined that so many people would be willing to stand up for mine.”