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.
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.
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.
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.
I was commissioned by Gloomphim House, a Thai indie press, to design the cover for their book, วรรณกรรมดำดิ่ง (literally “literature takes a dive” or “literary dives”). The main request was to have a unique typeface for the title. I came up with this design, an effort to create a downward motion with a kind of “weathered surface” feel in the typeface.
The book is a collection of essays on various literary works, written by the award-winning critic Jirat Chalermsanyakon (จิรัฏฐ์ เฉลิมแสนยากร), who is also a talented fiction writer in his own right.
Here’s my cover design for the Thai translation of a collection of 22 essays by George Orwell. The book is published by Typhoon Studio this month. All essays were translated from English and French by Bancha Suwannanondha, who also translated Orwell’s Animal Farm, Burmese Days, and Down and Out in Paris and London for Typhoon Studio. Most of Orwell’s famous essays, such as “Books VS Cigarettes” and “Shooting an Elephant,” are included in the book.
The Thai title of the book is taken not from any of the essay titles but from the last sentence of “Literature and Totalitarianism,” in which Orwell writes: Whoever feels the value of literature, whoever sees the central part it plays in the development of human history, must also see the life and death necessity of resisting totalitarianism, whether it is imposed on us from without or from within. The title is “The Life and Death Necessity of Resisting Totalitarianism,” and the Thai is an almost exact translation.
I came up with two design directions for the cover and liked both. So we asked the readers to help and vote for the one they would like us to use. This is the winner.
I made this illustration for the new cover (second print-run) of the Thai translation (by Kong Pahurak) of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published by Typhoon Books. The general intention was to make it look like a movie poster in a poppy symbolist style, or a panel from a weird graphic novel. It’s not a style of drawing I do very often, but I really wish I had an ongoing project that required this kind of work because it’s so enjoyable and satisfying.