Professor's anthology tackles issue, image of fat in society

imageThere may be a lot of humor in “Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology,” but co-editor Ira Sukrungruang said a very serious subject sits below the surface.

The essays provide several perspectives on what it’s like to be fat in an image-conscience world. There is “very limited discussion about fat” in American society, and it’s all negative, said Sukrungruang, an assistant professor of English writing arts at SUNY Oswego. “We want people to know there are other voices, other things to say.”

While society’s discussion of fat is normally limited to how to lose weight, whose fault obesity is, and the medical implications, Sukrungruang emphasized he sought a range of viewpoints. “It’s not a positive book at all, although there are some positive pieces,” he said.

The anthology, edited by Sukrungruang and Donna Jarrell, includes pieces from people learning to love their larger bodies and observational stories like humorist David Sedaris describing how his sister, coming home from college wearing a fat suit, flummoxed their father’s expectations of femininity. Sukrungruang contributes “Tight Fits,” about a series of misadventures during a visit to Thailand.

But there are also tales from those fearful of fat—from a former anorexic to a woman ashamed of being seen in public with her 300-pound boyfriend.

The project stems from Sukrungruang and Jarrell meeting as graduate students, both looking at how people wrote about being fat, at Ohio State University. The collaboration started as “a fun research project,” he said, but the depth of literature convinced them they were onto something.

“We spent the next two to three years at the library looking at poems, stories, novels and essays. We were really surprised on what we uncovered,” Sukrungruang recalled. They compiled some of the best, sent it to an agent, and soon had a publishing deal.

The result, “What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology,” was such a hit among buyers and critics at the Book Expo in Los Angeles that the publisher asked for a second anthology before the first even hit bookstores in summer 2003, Sukrungruang said.

“We were taken aback by how well the first book did,” he said. “It did real well here, and it was just republished in the United Kingdom.” The interest continued with the January release of “Scoot Over, Skinny.”

Sukrungruang noted the text works within the context of how discussions of weight have evolved in American society. What was once a personal and private issue is now a political, public policy and social issue as debates rage over how obesity impacts the health care system and whether a “fat tax” should mitigate such costs, he explained.

“What I found really shocking and surprising for the book as a whole is that these essays are talking to each other, that this is the type of discussion we should be having, as opposed to the discussion we are having,” Sukrungruang said.

Published by Harvest Books, “Scoot Over, Skinny” retails for $14.

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(Posted: Apr 05, 2005)