Cheryl Tan Talks ‘Singapore Noir,’ Transition from WSJ to Books & More

Hannah Bae June 9, 2014 0
Photo by John Searles

Photo by John Searles

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Cheryl Tan, who just launched her second book, the fiction anthology “Singapore Noir.” An accomplished journalist, she told us about how she made the leap into the literary world.

From the WSJ to writing books:
I had been a fashion writer for several years — at the Wall Street Journal, In Style and the Baltimore Sun — and I loved covering the industry. But at the same time, I always knew that my secret passion was food. I had grown up in Singapore, an incredibly food-obsessed country, and the longer I lived in the United States, the more I missed the dishes of my girlhood. After more than 15 years of living here, I decided to make a journey home to learn how to make my late grandmother’s famously delicious pineapple tarts and the experience felt so rich I wanted to write about it. I published an essay about it in the Wall Street Journal and a book editor with a major publishing house called me out of the blue saying, “I think there’s something here.” That’s how “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family” got its start.

Into the noir:
It’s always frustrated me that many in the West seem to have this perception of Singapore as being a rigid place that’s squeaky clean, boring and perhaps a little sterile. We have shady characters, femme fatales and prostitutes, too!

I happened to be speaking at the Miami Book Fair in 2011 on “Tiger” when mystery writer S.J. Rozan introduced me to the head of Akashic Books, which publishes the award-winning “Noir” series of fiction anthologies set in a particular city or country. I leapt at the chance to ask Johnny why there hadn’t been a “Singapore Noir” in his lineup and he said, “I don’t know any Singaporean writers.” S.J. replied, “You do now.”

Home borough:

What’s next?
I am currently finishing the revisions on my next book — which will be my first novel! It’s also set in Singapore, though in a very different world from my my first two books. I’m incredibly excited about it, though I can’t say more about it just yet. Will share news as soon as I can!

Why should we pick up a copy of “Singapore Noir” or “A Tiger in the Kitchen”?
Both books, in vastly different ways, shed light on the intimate folkways of Singapore, a country that most know as being very modern, bustling economic powerhouse in Asia. “Tiger” explores this through food — and includes some of my family’s treasured recipes — while “Singapore Noir” pulls back the curtain on neighborhoods sprinkled across the country and takes you deep into some very textured settings, old Chinese temples, brothels and more.

Also, I really wanted this anthology (“Singapore Noir”) to showcase the work of some of Singapore’s best and most-beloved writers and I’m pleased to say that we have a stellar cast here. Several aren’t as known in the U.S. because they’ve not been published here before — so it’s very exciting to present some of the best of Sing Lit to the world in this book.

Cheryl will join fellow “Singapore Noir” contributors Damon Chua and Colin Goh for an event at the Asian American Writers Workshop (112 W 27th Street, 6th floor) on Thursday (June 12) at 7 p.m. Free entry. RSVP here.

Video care of Leighton Ginn, AAJA-LA

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