Marpheen Chann ’14 holds many titles: Speaker. Advocate. Community impact manager.
And now: Published author.
He will discuss his new memoir “Moon in Full: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story” on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Hannaford Hall on the Portland Campus. The book tells the story of Chann’s life with his Cambodian-refugee mother, his time in the Maine foster care system, and his adoption at 14 by a Christian family whose beliefs would run counter to his coming out as a gay man.
It’s a story that took 21 years to live and eight years to write. And it turned out not to be a story about anger and struggle, but one about hope.
Name: Marpheen Chann
Town: Portland, Maine
Job: Community Impact Manager at Good Shepherd Food Bank
What year did you graduate and what was your major?: I graduated from USM in 2014 with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and from Maine Law in 2017. I don’t practice law, but find the skills helpful in the nonprofit and advocacy work I do especially when it comes to my community and public service.
Tell us about your book: “Moon in Full” is my memoir covering the events and things that happened to me from the time I was born and leading up to age 21 when I reunited with my biological family. It pulls together what may seem like pieces and fragments of my life and takes the reader through my time living with my refugee mom, who struggled with mental health and domestic violence, to my time in foster care and being adopted by my deeply religious family that I came out to later on. It then ends with me trying to reconcile the intersectionality of worlds colliding.
What prompted you to write it?: The summer of 2014 I had just graduated and was on the cusp of starting my law school career at Maine Law. I had been reflecting on my reunion with my Cambodian family in 2012 for quite some time. During that time, then-Governor Lepage was threatening to cut general assistance for asylum seekers in Maine. I wrote a Maine Voices column that appeared in the Press Herald and then ended up speaking at a rally (which you can watch here:
It was the first time I had put pen to paper and written out my story from birth to age 21 and seeing how people connected to it, that it had the power to move people and move the needle toward a brighter and more just and equitable world… Next thing you know I had written 30 or so pages within a span of a few months.
How long did it take to write?: It took about 8 years. I don’t know if people could tell from my bio, but I wear a lot of hats and I like to keep busy. That was part of it, but I think I also knew I needed to take my time with it. To process, reflect, and mentally and emotionally prepare myself to write about deeply traumatic things.
Where does the title come from?: Well, my Moon is in Taurus… kidding! My last name “Chann” actually means “moon” or “moonlight” in Khmer, the first language I learned despite being American-born and the language I lost. I was hesitant at first because of the association of the moon with “phases” and the homophobic connotations that comes from that. But we need to normalize change and allowing people to change. And the more you think about it, even though the moon goes through phases, it’s only because of its orbit and its position relative to the light of the sun. The moon, its essence, body, and being, still exists and is still there. Light or no light. Shadow or no shadow.
This book is very personal. Was that challenging or cathartic?: Oh yes. It was very cathartic and many, many times I had to push myself to be vulnerable knowing that this would be read by many, many people. I think that is why it was also important for me to take my time with it.
Was it hard to find a publisher?: Honestly, not really. I mean, I submitted to some of the big publishers and got turned down. But I just so happened to know a few people in Maine who were connected to Islandport Press, a regional, Maine-based publisher. It’s really further proof that you need to take risks but also build relationships, authentic ones not transactional ones. It’s actually something I learned from being involved in USM and having such great mentors like Sarah Holmes, Christopher O’Connor, and Reza Jalali. All of them were great human beings to learn from and emulate.
What's the response been like so far?: My book launch had about 80 or 90 people throughout the evening at Rising Tide Brewery. It’s been really steady since, intimate (small groups of 10 to 30). Which I honestly prefer because it allows me to connect more with people and gives me more time to answer questions more deeply - which I find the fulfilling part of the book tour.
What do you hope readers come away with?: I think democracy is under threat. But not just from authoritarian forces. From within, and I’m not talking just about the January 6th attack on the Capitol or the rise of the far right. That’s the macro level. I’m concerned about what’s happening at the micro level. What’s driving our behaviors and attitudes and how we treat one another. When I look around, I see so much that is driven by toxic anger and trauma and less by cooperation, dialogue, discussion, relationship building and the greater good. Instead, both left and right, are resorting to short term means and ends that tears at the fabric of society and could lead to the kinds of events my own family experienced in Cambodia. I hope readers find inspiration to find a better way to move us along toward a more just and equitable future.
Plans for the future (maybe another book)?: I have a few ideas clunking around. Right now I’m exploring the best way to turn the book into an audiobook. So stay tuned!