Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Justin Chia
By Yeow Kai Chai
As any self-respecting writer knows, behind every published work of his or hers is an army of minds and hands, not least those of the editor.
Over at Ethos Books, a brigade of young staff has been steering the ship since Ng Kah Gay took over operations from founder-publisher Fong Hoe Fang a few years ago. One particular editor, among the crew, stands out: Justin Chia.
Since joining Ethos in 2017 as project editor and then poetry editor, he has shown a keen eye for experimental fare, helming two eye-catching debut collections, Marylyn Tan's Gaze Back (2018) and Hamid Roslan's parsetreeforestfire (2019). Other publications he worked on included Interpreter of Winds, the 2019 debut collection of short stories by Fairoz Ahmad; and Memorandum, a 2020 collection of English-language translations of previously untranslated Chinese short fiction, edited by Quay Sy Ren and Hee Wai Siam, and translated by Tan Dan Feng.
Together with Boey Kim Cheng and Arin Alycia Fong, he also co-edited To Gather Your Leaving: Asian Diaspora Poetry from America, Australia, UK and Europe, a 2019 global anthology which examines new ways of looking at nation, culture, identity, and place. Earlier this year, he conceptualised and delivered two sold-out Valentine's Day readings at The Projector, featuring Alfian Sa'at, Pooja Nansi, and Marylyn Tan, and hosted by Preetipls.
He has also taken over the reins of Ethos's marketing and publicity, and now writes and edits Ethos' weekly letter series which goes out every Saturday.
1) What are you reading right now?
2) If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
3) What is the greatest misconception about you?
4) Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
5) Name one classic novel in either the Western or Asian literary canon you wish you had published and tell us why.
6) You have been the editor/manager behind some of Singapore's more interesting poetry collections released of late, namely, Marylyn Tan's Gaze Back (2018) and Hamid Roslan's parsetreeforestfire (2019). What do you look out for in poetry manuscripts?
I think books that give the reader a sense of permission or a sense of freedom. That is really meaningful to me because it means that the work didn't just nominate, describe or give a good argument – it gave an affect or a feeling, that something previously thought to be foreclosed is now possible.
7) What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
8) What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
9) If you could only give a piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
10) Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
11) At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy or an action thriller to watch, which would you go for?
12) If (or when) you write a book, what would it be?
13) What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
Favourite word hmm… I think about "longing" a lot so let's go with that.
14) What is the one thing you would like to change most about the Singaporean literary scene?
15) In these challenging, coronavirus-stricken times, which writers, artists and/or works of art do you turn to for solace and sustenance, and why?
16) If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
How about maybe just David Wojnarowicz? I listened to his audio diaries a lot; David's voice and presence feel very familiar to me in my head. We could have drinks, read beautiful poems to each other, and possibly make out.
17) What would you write on your own tombstone?