Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week I’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject. This week I talked with Ira Sukrungruang. Ira is the author of Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and a forthcoming poetry collection, In Thailand It Is Night. He is the co-editor of the anthologies, What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The FAT Nonfiction Anthology. He is the recipient of the 2013 Artsmith Writers Residency Fellowship, The Emerging Writer Fellowship, and an Arts and Letters Fellowship. He teaches at University of South Florida. www.sukrungruang.com
So, has anyone ever asked you how to spell or pronounce your name and you’ve said, I R A. EYE-RUH. What’s so complicated?
You know, I did this all the time when I was younger. I was such a bastard. Or I would tell them they were pronouncing my name wrong. Ira with a short I. I told a girlfriend this as a joke that went on for a few days. She broke up with me soon afterwards.
Seriously, you have one of the most singularly awesome and recognizable names ever. Has it always felt like a blessing? Did it have anything to do with you becoming a writer?
Truthfully, I hated it while growing up. I didn’t understand why my family who raised me to be nothing but Thai gave me a Hebrew name. I was going through an identity crisis already, so this weird name only fed to that crisis. Now I do consider it a blessing. And I love it. I’m still not sure if it’s a good writer name. I used to write under Pierce Tan. Tan because Amy Tan was the only Asian American writer I knew of then, and Pierce because my stories would pierce your soul! I’m still kinda drawn to that name.
When you Google your last name, there are 10400 results. As far as I can tell, they’re all you. Have you ever met another unrelated one? Or is Sukrungruang the Thai Smith?
So does this make me vain to know that 1 of the 10400 results is actually my father Montri, who is on the Chicago Temple website for a donation he made years ago? Does that mean I’ve gone through all 10400 results of my name? For the longest time I had thought that my father and I were the only Sukrungruangs in the world. But then I was friended by another Sukrungruang on Facebook. I asked if she was related to my father and she said “no” but just friended me because of my last name. Traditionally, Thai names are very unique and very rarely are they the same, so meeting another Sukrungruang who isn’t related is a mind-blowing trip.
What do telemarketers say? Has one ever got close?
Never. They stumble and stutter. So what comes out is Mr. Suck. Mr. Suck. After that I usually hang up.
Do you have a pseudonym? Maybe just for when you need to give a maître d’ a name, or, of course, for more nefarious purposes?
I now make reservations under my wife’s last name. So it’s Mr. Riegel. Our three dogs have taken my wife’s last name, too. Their dog tags can’t fit my last name. Makes life so much easier. My wife will tell you that I have the troubling trait of lying to strangers, especially other Thai people I meet randomly. I would tell them I was in the import/export business, that I had a Thai wife and a Thai child. That my name was Pisute, a popular Thai singer in the early 90s. I do it to be nefarious. I think I’m allowing myself to imagine the life my mother at one time wanted me to live. Plus—I would never see these people again. So whatevs.
Did you know that Cheryl Strayed said your name was a “pure delight, just like he is.” Could you verify the accuracy of that statement?
Awww…schucks, Cheryl. I have a big crush on her and her writing. I mean, really, have you read Wild and Torch? Now, here is a writer that is unafraid to strip the layers of being human. Explore the vulnerabilities of life with such elegant, sophisticated language. Cheryl Strayed…now that’s a writer’s name. That’s a helluva writer.