Think Bigger, Think Differently

How Coffee House Press Inspires Sun Yung Shin

Sun Yung Shin
Photo by Hunt + Capture

Sun Yung Shin (BF’07) reignites her passion for the power of independent publishing whenever she visits Coffee House Press. Located in an historic building in Northeast Minneapolis, Minn., the award-winning nonprofit is known for lifting up work by Native writers and writers of color—including three of Shin’s own books. “They took a chance on me,” Shin jokes. Indeed, Coffee House, a member of the Bush Foundation’s 2015 Community Creativity Cohort, takes risks as a modern-day publisher. Like Shin, it realizes how important it is to find new ways to engage the community beyond the printed page. 

“We need ‘The Beloved Community’!” says Shin, invoking the philosophy of justice and nonviolence made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The idea is that a beloved community is built on justice, and should be achieved through a philosophy and methodology of nonviolence. “The ultimate end of violence,” King explains, “is to defeat the opponent. The ultimate end of nonviolence is to win the friendship of the opponent.” 

Shin works fiercely to win these kinds of less familiar friendships because she knows they will lead to something different, something better. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised by adoptive parents in Chicago before moving to the Twin Cities in 1992; she is an expert connector. “Relationships are very important,” she smiles, “We all need to be more critically engaged.” 

If you ask her about her time as a Bush Fellow, Shin beams. She took a year off from teaching high schoolers to dream about what it meant for her to be a writer and to produce new work. “The Fellowship elevated my definition of what a cultural worker is and the role we play in communities. I understood how we must reflect our own values. Since then I continue to push myself, to give back to my community and to be outward-facing.”

Think of Shin as a great mashup of artist, strategist, counselor and dreamer. She speaks with honesty and urgency to readers through her three Coffee House Press titles, two anthologies she edited and her bilingual book for children. She hosts events that encourage Minnesotans to push through their discomfort so they can have real conversations about race, identity or the meaning of home. She teaches in college classrooms as much as she does in community spaces. She also recognizes her own need to read such books, attend such events and learn as much as she can along the way. All of this work brings her Beloved Community closer into focus every day. 

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The Fellowship is a recognition of extraordinary achievement and a bet on extraordinary potential, with up to $100,000 to invest in leadership development.