Roh-Suan Tung, tell us a bit about yourself. Are (were) your parents great readers?
I was born and grew up in Taiwan. My parents both love books and I remember lots of books surrounding me as a kid.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Yes and no. I learned how to be an editor early during the school years. I was then involved in the student movements for media freedom during around 30 years ago in Taiwan. My formal career started as a researcher and a professor in physics, in UK, USA and China. During the time, I was acting as editors for international science journals for some years. I always feel there is a need of literature and humanity publication, translating from all the languages in Asia, and I started to devote myself to Balestier Press.
Has your vision from when you started Balestier Press in 2014 changed?
The vision that there should be more books in translation from Asia remains. Since we started Balestier Press, we have received numerous encouragements and support from the writers and translators around the world.
How do you balance originality and profitability publishing general-interest trade rather than educational or technical books?
Much diversity from Asian translated literature remains to be explored. Publications of Asian translated literature covered by the big presses are limited due to the current system. I believe there is room for small indie publishers. Translators play a key role of originality in our publications. We look for funding support and awards from organisations for translation. We are glad that Crystal Wedding received the English PEN Translates Award. Some of our other books received translation awards from organisations in Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. However, the current resources for translation are far from enough, and we have to keep slim to achieve balance.
Your views on writing?
Writing is a reflection of real human life and what we care about.
How do you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
We select the best and the most original voices in contemporary Asian literature in translation — including novels, short stories, and children’s picture books, all translated by the best in the field. We try our best to find the best literary works of Asia that have not yet appeared in English.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Publishers have to publish across all forms of media to make a book available for readers, and provide additional materials on the internet. All of our books are available as ebooks on several platforms including Kindle and iPads, in addition to print.
Do you think the physical book will die away eventually?
No. I believe the physical book will never die. Sometimes I buy and read a book I like in both physical and electronic versions, but the experience of reading a physical book is something which is not replaceable by any other medium.
Your views on marketing and distribution?
Marketing and distribution are essential processes in publication. With more titles and limited space at bookstores, it is much harder for small publishers. We are glad that many of our books have received awards, and we are very grateful to have the help from our writers and translators for marketing and promotion.
How do you deal with your colleagues – are you very involved, or do you just let them get on with it?
We work with the best translators and freelance editors, and some volunteers. In many cases, our colleagues are working independently in different time zones, with the ideas to do the best for literary translation from Asia.
How do you relax?
Playing or listening music, reading, moving (travel).
Your favourite qualities in a man?
Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Patience, kindness, consideration.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
I am quite tolerant. I don’t really see faults, but understandings.
Your chief characteristic?
Gentle with some passion.
Your chief fault?
Overestimating the market. It is taking much more time then expected to grow.
Your bedside reading?
New Yorker (Kindle).
Your favourite prose author?
Your favourite poet?
Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Huang Chunming, Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, Yukio Mishima, Umberto Eco, Gabriel García Márquez, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Shen Congwen, Milan Kundera, George Orwell, I could go on!
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Eileen Chang, Alice Munro, Harper Lee . . .
Your heroes in real life?
Kip Throne, Howard Goldblatt, Darryl Sterk, Huang Chunming, Chen Yingzhen, Yeng Pway Ngon . . .
Your favourite heroines in real life?
Nicky Harman, Helen Wang, Andrea Lingenfelter, Li Ang, Xu Xiaobin, Angela Merkel, Tsai Ing-Wen . . .
Your greatest achievement?
My son, Ivan.
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