Sally Tyler is an attorney and policy practitioner in Washington, DC, where she has worked in the U.S. labor movement for more than two decades. She is a frequent commenter on events in Southeast Asia.
Will you tell us about your book? Why did you write it?
The Durian Chronicles: Reflections on the US and Southeast Asia in the Trump Era is a collection of brief essays linking policy developments in the US and Southeast Asia, juxtaposed with the kaleidoscopic events of a turbulent era. My style is punchy and lively, and sometimes a bit provocative. The topics are varied – from criminal justice and the environment, to fashion activism and religious freedom.
Though the essays are sourced and the book is being used in some college classes, the work is highly accessible to the reading public. I wrote the book to help forge connections – between the policy and scholarly communities, between readers in the US who are seeking a broader global view and between readers in Southeast Asia who want to know more about how actions in the US can have repercussions in their own lives.
Can you say a little about your background? How has your professional experience related to your writing?
I have an undergraduate degree in English literature from Emory University and a graduate degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where I studied public policy and administration. I also have a law degree and am a barred attorney. I started out in my professional life as a journalist, but moved into politics. After graduate school, I moved to Washington, DC, to work for a Member of Congress. I eventually transitioned to working for one of the largest labor unions in the US, where I was responsible for helping develop policy and I am now part of the executive team.
I have always written in my jobs, whether it be political speeches or policy analysis memos, but this book is the first time I have published in my own voice and that is exciting!
How did you research the book?
I am an inveterate traveler (56 countries and counting), but I have a special connection with Southeast Asia and it is to that region that I continue to return, year after year. I have developed enduring friendships there and I have become a keener student of the history, politics and culture of nations in the region. But for me, experiential research is the best teacher and there is no substitute for being there. But the book is not solely about Southeast Asia, nor is it solely about the politics and policy of the US. It is about connections and reverberations between the two. It is important from my vantage point to live in the US and to travel to Southeast Asia frequently.
Although it was difficult being unable to travel during the pandemic, the necessity of being homebound afforded me the time and space to finish writing the book. I was so happy to have returned to the region in the Fall for the first time in two and a half years. I was anxious to see how the region has changed and what remained the same.
If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
Would it surprise you if I said somewhere in Southeast Asia? 😉 Though work pressures sometimes limit me to flying into a city and quickly flying out again, I prefer slow travel when I have the time. I like local trains that are un-airconditioned, riding through the countryside with the windows open. And above all, I like slow boats, whether navigating the Tonle Sap from Siem Reap to Battambang or cruising down the Irawaddy from Mandalay to Bagan.
What do you like to do when you are not working or writing?
I try to stay fit and like being active. I am a certified teacher of yoga and Pilates, and I like sharing those forms of exercise with others when I can. I also took up pickleball during the pandemic. It’s an extremely popular sport in the US and beginning to spread elsewhere (Google it, if you’re unfamiliar). It is played with a lightweight paddle that I was able to easily slip into my suitcase when I returned to Southeast Asia this Fall, and I got to play in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where the game is beginning to catch on. It was lots of fun and a great way to meet new people. When I’m home I also love films, music and just hanging out with friends.
What have been reader impressions of your book?
I have been really gratified by some of the comments from readers that underscore that The Durian Chronicles is resonating with people. One reader review noted, “Tyler clearly chose the road less traveled wherever she went, leading to original insights gained through careful observation and conversation.” Another one said, “More than a worthwhile read, it’s an important read.”
Has there been any media coverage that you want to highlight for readers?
The Southeast Asia Globe featured a book review and in-depth interview (https://southeastasiaglobe.com/the-durian-chronicles-explores-political-dissonance-between-the-u-s-and-southeast-asia). They wrote, “Tyler commits herself earnestly as an observer…Her on-the-ground approach and passion help her address sensitive cross-country political issues.”
How do you hope to connect with readers?
I am always happy to talk about the work and am appreciative for the insights of others who think about related issues. In the US, it’s a little easier to connect through public events, but I am also happy to do interviews for blogs or participate in podcasts, webinars or Zoom discussion panels. Anyone with specific engagement ideas can reach me through my publisher, Chin Music Press (chinmusicpress at gmail.com).
Where can people buy the book?
The book is available at many brick and mortar bookstores in the US and internationally, and is also available through online platforms, including Amazon.