Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wena's Big Break

As an Asian writer, I have had enough of ‘prettified pathos’ ... It’s always about the past, about Chinese people being concubines, having their feet bound, etc. We’re not all Amy Tans, and we Asian women don’t all have ‘issues’ with our families or mothers, or have immigration issues. We’re ready to move on.
Singaporean author Wena Poon is interviewed in Starmag by Alexandra Wong about why she has decided to represent modern Asian voices in her new collection of short stories, Lions in Winter, published by MPH.

She drew on real-life characters and situations for her stories, she says. Her stories, says Wong:
... examine the quiet lives of displaced Singaporeans living abroad, and those in Singapore who are often torn between two worlds in their search for an imaginary homeland.
Poon adds:
My theory was: white people write so much about themselves, we should write more about ourselves. Don’t we have our own sorrows, stories, joys, histories? I never want to believe that Singaporeans, for example, are less interesting than any other group of people on Earth, but in Singapore we often think of ourselves as boring, dull, compliant, etc. Are we not worthy of being captured for posterity in our own writing?
Of course, and one hopes that her writing will encourage others to capture those ordinary (but, oh so rich) lives as well.

She describes the almost accidental way the book happened. Her first ever short story Moving was scribbled on a legal pad during a plane journey, in response to a call for stories for the 2002 Merlion and the Hibiscus anthology put out by Penguin.

Two more stories appeared in Silverfish anthologies.

And then a number of things came together: me thinking (as I read a third great short story) that I'd love to read a whole book of her stuff Eric Forbes of MPH telling me every time we met that it was so hard to find good local writing that deserved to be published, and Wena's own piece on Raman's website about how she couldn't find a publisher and so had decided to go the print-on-demand route. There were loose ends that clearly needed to be connected. I'm so glad they were. Eric read her stories in the Silverfish collections and immediately scooped her up with a contract.

Alexandra Wong also reviews the book and finds it:
... an accomplished piece of work ... (which would) hold its own among works by more experienced Asian writers.

I think this is a story about what can happen when a publishing environment is working optimally, Penguin and Silverfish providing a platform for a new writer, MPH being so proactive in signing her up, and Starmag for highlighting her book even before it hits the shelves.

I really wish Wena the very best of luck with this collection when it is released next month, and I hope we get to see her here in Malaysia soon.

(Note: the title of this post is of course a nod to Wena's hilarious and very clever story Kenny's Big Break.)


Janet said...

Thanks for blogging about this, Sharon. Just wanted to add that the book isn't on the shelves yet, but will be soon in December 2007. The review was an advance review actually!

bibliobibuli said...

noted janet and added to the post.

suanie said...

sounds really interesting. am looking forward to it.

personally i love reading autobiographical books. i've gone through most of amy tan's stuff, and the book 'wild swans', and i think another one was 'joss and gold'... basically what wena is trying to avoid. true that, we are not all bound to our ancestors' fates. the oldest relative i knew didn't even bind her feet (she was kind of cruel to my grandmother though, does that make a story? :P ).

but i think what matters more is how it's told. indeed, it might seem very 'sien' to read yet another story on an evil matriarch.. or how 'he came to nanyang with a bundle and 30 years later became a millionaire with 3 wives'... but somehow it does not seem boring to me at all. maybe because the books with such a theme i've read were written most wonderfully, there wasn't a moment when i didn't feel for the writer. i guess what i am trying to convey is, any story told beautifully is a good story. to me.

currently i am reading neil cross' heartland, and i just bought peter roche's unloved. 10 pages into 'heartland' and i felt like wailing.

Anonymous said...

Actually suanie I think cruelty makes a good story. Happiness is not entertaining, unless there's some sort of sinister motive behind it. All the most popular books have been about cruelty and death and murder and pain and heartbreak.

But hey, more details about the contract, how much was it worth, how many books ? :)