“If we can liken life, for a moment, to a furnace, then freedom is the fire which burns away illusion.”
James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name
Sunisa Manning is a writer from Bangkok, Thailand. Half American and half Thai, she grew up in the Kingdom and came to the US for college at Brown University. She did her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and currently lives in Berkeley, California where she teaches at Berkeley City College.
Sunisa’s work has been published in Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus, Atlas and Alice and elsewhere. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook and Hambidge Center for the Arts. In 2015-16 she was an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts, and will be a Steinbeck Fellow for 2017-18.
She is represented by Brettne Bloom at The Book Group.
Sunisa’s working on a novel set in 1970s Thailand about three students who radicalize and join a pro-democracy movement. The book was inspired by stories she heard growing up. Her mother was a Chulalongkorn University at the time of the student movement, and her uncle at Thammasart University, though her book is definitely fiction.
When Sunisa was doing research on the period, she was surprised to discover that some members of the nobility radicalized. This led her to take up the challenge and make main character noble. It seemed such a contradiction to work for free elections and opportunity for others, since if the character succeeded, he’d dismantle many of the privileges he enjoyed. This type of paradox propelled Sunisa through the writing of manuscript.
To research the novel, Sunisa leaned on academic books that started out as PhD dissertations, because they have the intellectual rigor to provide specific details that blossomed when situated in the novel. She complimented this with interviews with surviving student radicals on a trips back home.
Works whose tone, scope, and curiosity informed the novel are: Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.
The “large, loose, baggy monster,” as Henry James said, whose spirit inflects Sunisa’s novel is War and Peace. She didn’t do this on purpose, but recognizes that her novel also has two worthy men, one brilliant but too hard, the other dreamy, sensitive, and more astute, who compete for the hand of a coquettish, wonderful, untraditional woman.