It is a great honor to be given the 2021 Arts and Culture Fukuoka Prize. I am honestly baffled by this, as I never think of what I do as worthy of any prestigious praise.
I am the ninth Thai recipient of the award, and completely amazed to find myself among such distinguished names as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Nidhi Eoseewong, Pasuk Phongpaichit, Charnvit Kasetsiri. In this class, I am a clown at best, but a proud clown.
This is not a good year to celebrate personal accomplishments, as so many people are struggling and suffering. However, I must express my gratitude to the Fukuoka Prize, for seeing some value in my work, and congratulate Mr. Palagummi Sainath and Prof. Kishimoto Mio for their accomplishment. It is an honor to share the event with them.
I cannot stress enough the fact that I owe everything that’s positive in my career to everyone who has supported my work throughout the years. I am at heart deeply lazy, habitually drawn to silly and frivolous matters; it is only because I feel that my readers and viewers deserve better that I try my best to make things with some substance and continue to try. I hope sometimes I succeed at offering moments of delight to those who give me a chance.
Read more about the 2021 Fukuoka Prize laureates on the Fukuoka Prize official website. Details about the online ceremony (September 29) and the laureates’ public lectures should be available on the website.
My most recent short stories, เสียงซ้ำ (Same Song) and เพราะออกแบบมาให้ใช้แล้วทิ้ง (Designed To Be Disposable), have been translated to Japanese by Sho Fukutomi. They were published together as one chapbook for the recent Tokyo Virtual Art Book Fair (Nov 16-23, 2020) and sold at the Soi Books stand.
If you can read Japanese and are interested in the chapbook, I believe you can contact Sho for details.
I was introduced to José Luís Peixoto at a riverside hotel in Bangkok and we spoke over a buffet lunch. (The first personal thing I learned about Peixoto was that he’s crazy for buffets.)
There was a mutual connection between us right away, not only because of the obvious facts that we are both writers from the same generation, but because we seem to share a similar sense of wanderlust. Peixoto had been to Thailand before and even written a book about it. I had yet to visit Portugal, but I met him at a time when Portugal was for some reason constantly on my mind. I had for a long time romanticized about Portugal, particularly Lisbon, mostly by way of Fernando Pessoa’s writings, but it always felt like a such a faraway land, a place I might never have a chance to see for myself in this lifetime. Then I started to have a strong yearning to go there, just shortly before Peixoto turned up.
The first time I ever visited Portugal was in 2018, and it happened because of Peixoto’s recommendation. I participated in a literary festival that was organized as one of the healing programs for the communities that were devastated by the 2017 wildfires in central Portugal. It was an incredible opportunity, because I got to see much more of Portugal than I would’ve been able to as a tourist. The festival took me to rural parts of the country, very small towns and provincial communities. I was probably the first Thai person ever to set foot in many of those places. To put it another way, I had the chance to see and feel what Galveias would be like on my very first trip to Portugal.
Galveias is Peixoto’s hometown. When we discussed the possibility of translating his work into Thai, Peixoto suggested Galveias without hesitation. From what I gather, it’s not his most popular book in Portugal, but he wants his foreign readers to know what Portuguese culture in a place like Galveias is like, rather than to present yet again the already famous cities like Lisbon and Porto. To be honest, I didn’t really understand his choice until I was finally able to read Galveias. It’s an honest and charming book about Portugal that’s hard to come by in other languages. Thai people can easily find reading materials about Lisbon or Porto, but Galveias offers a rare glimpse into the heart of Portugal that has never been available to the Thai readers before. As editor, designer and publisher, I am proud to play a small role in bringing this book to Thailand.
I designed two covers for my novel Basement Moon (published in 2018), one for the regular edition and one as a jacket for the special, pre-order edition. The good people at the Archivist, the printing studio I’ve worked with many times, took on the task of turning the latter into a hand-pulled screen print edition.
In hindsight, the task was much more difficult than they’d anticipated. When they finally finished, during the two-month lockdown in Thailand, they told me that the process of printing this work was like a spiritual journey they persevered in tears.
I had the much easier task of inspection and signing the prints once they were done. Seventeen made the final batch. I was genuinely in awe of how beautiful and rich the colors were when I first saw the result. In a perverse way, I’m glad this was so hard to make.
If you are interested to learn more about the print, please visit the Archivist.
The UK independent publisher, Platypus Press, has just published my story “Dissolution of Light” (translated from the Thai story, แสงสลาย, by Mui Poopuksakul) in their “Shorts” (small digital fictions) catalog. This is a relatively recent story in comparison to the stories in both of my previously translated and published collections, “The Sad Part Was” and “Moving Parts”. It was written in Kyoto, then first published as a chapbook in Thailand in 2009. I remember feeling excited after finishing the manuscript, as I felt I was moving toward a new direction with it creatively. It’s still one of the “older” stories I’m proud of.
The story revolves around a middle-aged man who repairs analog TV sets for a living. He owns a small shop in a narrow soi in Bangkok. Such shops can still be found today. I am from the generation in which the analog TV was an exciting new technology, and its global influence coincided with Thailand’s entrance into its first era of successful authoritarian capitalism. Arguably, we, the Thais, are still living in a similar condition, only now digital technology leads the way. In my opinion, the beginning of that era (my childhood years) shaped modern Thai culture. “Dissolution of Light” partly deals with that idea.
In 2000, ความน่าจะเป็น, or Probability, was my second published book. I had been back in Thailand for about three years, had completed my military service (the main reason that brought me back), and had had one story collection published. It was also a story collection, thirteen in all, ten of which were previously printed in a bimonthly magazine called Soodsubda (Weekend). My first published book (entitled Right-angled City) was a surprise hit but this collection did even better. It had already gone through multiple print runs when it was awarded the S.E.A. Write in 2002. It was the S.E.A. Write, however, that sealed its fate.
ความน่าจะเป็น has not been out of print since, and this year, in its 41st print run, it turns twenty.
As a writer, I’m probably best known as the author of the stories in this collection, even though I have written many more stories over the years. And because my first book translated into English, The Sad Part Was (Tilted Axis), is made up mostly of these stories, I am now also known for them outside Thailand. While I’m certainly grateful that a body of work I wrote two decades ago is being discovered by people around the world, to me it feels almost as if the new readers travel back in time to find that work. They’re reading something the twenty-seven year old me wrote, not the current me.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that the twenty-seven year old me was a much better writer than the current me. I don’t mean to suggest that I wish I was known more for my recent work. It’s just a strange phenomenon, on a personal level, to have written a book that has managed to achieve a kind of longevity beyond its author’s comprehension.
My new book to be published in Japan is entitled 新しい目の旅立ち in Japanese, which, I’ve been told, translates as “a journey with new eyes” or “new eyes journey.” It was published in Thai as ตื่นบนเตียงอื่น or “waking up on a different bed.”
The book is made up of essays about my research trip on an island in the Philippines called Siquijor. Siquijor is sometimes regarded as “black magic island” by the Filipinos because of its famous “mananambal” (healers), shamans, witch doctors and the likes. I had never heard of Siquijor before arriving in the Philippines for my research (on art and nature among the indigenous peoples), but several random passing comments about the island in conversations with writers and artists caught my interest. I was actually warned by a few people not to go, because “things happen to people who visit Siquijor.” So naturally I went there.
But the book is not really about Siquijor, which, by the way, is beautiful and, as far as could tell, black magic-free. It’s more like a journal in which I recorded my reflections on the meaning of nature, taking some of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s pantheistic ideas as my guiding inspiration.
The Japanese translation was done by Fukutomi Sho, and it was serialized in Azuma Hiroki‘s GENRON journal throughout 2018-19. I was thrilled to receive the news that Azuma wanted to include this work of mine in his journal, as I had read and admired his work. Now the thrill continues with the book getting its release in Japan in January 2020.
I wrote a feature article for Culture Trip, on the last 3 metal-type typesetters at Bangkok’s (and most likely Thailand’s) last metal-type letterpress print shop. The shop was already preparing to close when I visited and talked to the typesetters, and just a few weeks before this article was published it did.
I don’t have any information about the fate of the 3 typesetters, all of whom are over 60, but I believe another Bangkok print shop, Parppim, had purchased many of the old letterpress machines in order to preserve them.