Sunisa Manning was born and raised in Bangkok to a Thai mom and American dad. She studied journalism at Brown University then came back home to work in the non-profit sector, which led to working in rural Thailand with farmers, school teachers, and descendants of royalty alike.
The experience opened her eyes to the wealth disparity in the kingdom and was part of Sunisa’s political awakening. (“I was one of those people who probably couldn't have told you it was rice growing in the field for a long time.”)
It planted the earliest seeds for her debut novel, A Good True Thai, a coming-of-age story about three young Thais from different classes and ethnic backgrounds who join Thailand’s 1970’s violent democracy movement.
The characters are compelling; the story has the sweep of historical fiction. Jonathan Head, the BBC’s long-time Thailand correspondent who hosted Sunisa’s launch, says it has an incredible sense of place. It is deeply researched and took six years to write.
Between the writing and the topic, there was potential for getting published in the US. “We tried to sell it in March 2017. Donald Trump took office in January 2017. I talked to my agent about it: ‘You think Americans are going to want to buy anything to do with the rest of the world?’ She was like, ‘I think it's so topical.’ And that's really not what anyone else thought.”
After trying to sell it to a US publisher for three years, Sunisa submitted her manuscript to the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, a Singapore competition that opened up to Southeast Asian writers in 2020. A Good True Thai was a finalist and sold out in four months, which hasn’t happened since the Prize’s first year.
In this interview, Sunisa tells us how she advocated for her own work and promoted the book during the pandemic.
We're also joined by Epigram's Fiction Editor, Jason Erik Lundberg. He edited the book and provides insight into the writer-editor relationship today.
If you have a novel in your drawer, or in your head, this is the podcast episode to listen to
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