Two Pinay writers among top 10 in international book scene

Jia Tolentino and Mia Manansala among the best

Charmaine Janis Rodriguez

With more and more Asian writers making it to the international book scene, two Filipinas made it to the top 10 list and it is but proper to celebrate them.

Jia Tolentino and Mia Manansala join the spotlight with fellow Asian authors Ocean Vuong, Kazuo Ishiguro, Sayaka Murata, Min Jin Lee, Hanya Yanigahara, Haruki Murakami, R.F. Kuang and Yoko Ogawa in ushering a decade of breakthroughs in diversity in an industry dominated by white writers.

Mia Manansala

In an article by Esquire Magazine, 33-year-old Vuong tops the list with a number of writing honors, namely a Whiting Award, the Lambda Literary Prize, and T.S. Eliot Prize, for his evocative writing style.

For Filipinos, it is interesting to note that Vuong’s family fled the war in Vietnam and spent a year at a refugee camp in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States.

Vuong writes from personal experiences as an Asian-American immigrant in his works Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and his award-winning novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Canada-born Tolentino, for her part, is the author behind Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion—a collection of essays that became an instant New York Times bestseller upon its release in 2019.

“Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die,” a review in reads.

Her work was named best book of the year by the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, and GQ, among many others.

“Tolentino has an enviably honest and sharp-witted writing voice that she developed from her background in journalism. Each one her essays in her debut book, Trick Mirror, is packed with both insightful research and humorous personal narratives. She explores a wide variety of topics, from the fragility of identity and the commodification of the self, to the eroticization of female obedience and the pressure to optimize all aspects of our lives. She examines all these topics with rigorous critical thinking, drawing our attention to the fractures that lie at the center of our modern culture,” writes.

Tolentino has an impressive journalism background. A staff writer at The New Yorker, contributing editor at The Hairpin and the deputy editor at Jezebel, and her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Grantland, Pitchfork, and other publications.

She was raised in Texas. She went to the University of Virginia, served in Kyrgyzstan in the Peace Corps and received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. She lives in Brooklyn.

Manansala, the other Filipina who made it to the list, has won several awards for her debut mystery Arsenic and Adobo, including the highly coveted Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and the Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for writers of color. The latter involves an annual grant of $2,000, intended to support the education and careers of crime fiction writers-of-color, reads.

“Manansala is making breakthroughs in the world of contemporary literature as she delivers Filipino culture to the mainstream, what with all the vivid, mouthwatering descriptions she uses to describe traditional Filipino cuisine in her novels. The third installment of her globally beloved Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries series is set for release later this year. Fast-paced, deliciously told, and packed with humor, Manansala’s work can pull you out of a perpetual reading slump, and is a good light-hearted read if you’re just looking to escape and unwind,” it adds.

Arsenic and Adobo, which came out in May 2021, is with Berkley/Penguin Random House and is the first in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series. The sequel, HOMICIDE AND HALO-HALO, is out now.

“The book is full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer,” her website reads.

It’s about Lila Macapagal, who moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup. Her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant and has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longganisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block, the website added.

Manansala was born and raised in Chicago and she has won the 2022 RUSA Reading List for Mystery, 2021 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She was shortlisted for the 2021 Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery/Thriller and the 2021 CHIRBy Award for Fiction by the Chicago Review of Books. She’s also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2020 mentor.

Aside from writing, she is a book coach who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture, according to her website.

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