Bitter Melon苦瓜 Organisation / Collective / Group


NameBitter Melon苦瓜
Decades Active2010s, 2020s


Bitter Melon苦瓜 is a small press founded in 2019 by Malaysian-Chinese and Pākehā writer Nina Mingya Powles. Currently based in London, the press publishes risograph poetry zines and pamphlets by Asian diasporic writers from all over the world. In an interview with EX/POST magazine in 2020, Powles comments that she started Bitter Melon苦瓜 “simply because [she] wanted to make beautiful, handmade poetry books by Asian poets”.

The first two publications from Bitter Melon苦瓜 in 2019 were met with positive and critical acclaim — Jay G. Ying’s poetry pamphlet Wedding Beasts was shortlisted for the 2019 Saltire-Calum MacDonald Award and mentioned in Camille Ralph’s feature on poetry pamphlets and small presses in the Times Literary Supplement. Subsequent zines have also been reviewed in well known literary outlets such as the Poetry Book Society bulletin. Bitter Melon苦瓜 sources writers in a range of ways, using open calls for zine anthologies and working with particular authors for single-author pamphlets.

Bitter Melon苦瓜 publications are limited edition runs and use DIY techniques such as hand-stitched binding and Chinese seal stamps. Binding and printing is often done communally, as shown on the Bitter Melon苦瓜 Instagram. The design aesthetic is simple and subtle — classic serif typefaces and line art illustration are a consistent stylistic feature. The visual format and physicality of the publication is important to Powles: “Poetry pamphlets, to me, should be art objects”.

In March 2020, Bitter Melon苦瓜 released an international open call for Asian writers, artists and zinemakers to contribute to an e-zine called Stay Home Diary: "a free, online collective archive of diary entries recording our experiences from March to April 2020". Centering on Asian diasporic experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, the e-zine posted a new ‘diary entry’ each day as part of a Stay Home Diary online blog. Artistic mediums ranged from handwritten letters to comics to watercolour paintings and covered topics such as loneliness, food, and family. A notable common thread in the entries was around experiences of anti-Asian racism: “...many writers chose to recount their experiences of casual and not-so-casual racism they’d experienced, as visibly Asian people during the pandemic”. Stay Home Diary received overwhelmingly positive feedback with readers referring to the e-zine as a “soothing” presence during lockdown. In 2021, Bitter Melon苦瓜 published a 150 print run of Stay Home Diary with a curated 31 diary entries — the zine sold out in just under two weeks.

After a period of hiatus throughout 2021–2023, Bitter Melon苦瓜 is currently developing two new collaborative zines with new work by Asian artists and writers on themes of ecological collapse, community and creativity.


Key works / presentations

2021 — Stay Home Diary, Bitter Melon苦瓜, London

2020 — Bulbul Calling by Pratyusha, Bitter Melon苦瓜, London

2019 — Diary of a Miumiu Sales Girl by Jennifer Wong, Bitter Melon苦瓜, London

2019 — Wedding Beasts by Jay G. Ying, Bitter Melon苦瓜, London

Related entries

Last updated: 5 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


A photo of three people smiling and binding zines with a stack of pages on the table in front of them.

Instagram screenshot of Bitter Melon苦瓜 hand-binding zines, 2019

Photo sourced from Bitter Melon苦瓜 Instagram.

A snippet of a newspaper mentioning Bitter Melon.

Instagram screenshot of Bitter Melon苦瓜 zines mentioned in the newspaper, 2019

Photo sourced from Bitter Melon苦瓜 Instagram

Four pink zines with light green text and illustrations fanned out on a table.

Instagram screenshot of Bulbul Calling zines, 2020

Photo sourced from Bitter Melon苦瓜 Instagram