As part of the inaugural Cooler Lumper arts festival, intended to become annual, Kuala Lumpur this weekend hosts #Word, an event committed to encouraging reading, nurturing an appreciation of language, and improving literacy skills in Malaysia.
#Word will host a series of lectures, panel discussions, creative writing workshops, and readings from Malaysian authors, and from international authors from the UK, and from right across Asia.
Asian authors attending include Lourd Ernest H. de Veyra, an award winning poet and novelist from the Philippines, Di Li, a Vietnamese novelist best know for the mystery-horror novel Red Flower Farm, and Wipas Srithong, from Thailand, whose first novel The Dwarf won the South East Asian Write Award, 2012.
Dr Ma Thida, the Burmese human rights activist and campaigner, is also attending. Her first novel, The Sunflower, was banned in Burma. Her documentary-novel The Roadmap, published under the pen name Suragamika (the brave traveler) received the Norwegian Freedom of Speech Award in 2011.
#Word incorporates the only South East Asian segment of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference (EWWC), a series of events in cities across the globe, giving writers in different countries the chance to discuss literature and its relationship to contemporary life. The Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council jointly present the EWWC.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is really something else. Every August the organizers invite hundreds of writers from across the world to Scotland, to mingle with each other, and with vast crowds of readers. Why have they branched out to form the EWWC? Nick Barley, Festival director, said: “Writers have a role to play in stimulating our imaginative health and thereby engendering mutual respect amongst individuals and nations. The EWWC represents an opportunity for all of us to rethink how writers, and their writing, can play a part in understanding and improving our world. The EWWC is a worldwide discussion, and we look forward to seeing how the debate will continue in Kuala Lumpur.”
Meanwhile, the British Council promotes UK writers, poets, and publishers to readers around the world, hence its involvement, and that of UK-based authors. Grey Yeoh, from the British Council Malaysia said: “We are proud to be hosting the South East Asian leg of the EWWC in Kuala Lumpur. We want to continue to contribute to the growth of the community here, and hope that this festival will leave a permanent mark on the literature scene in Malaysia.”
The EWWC hosts three panels at #Word. Should Literature Be Political? will discuss whether the political and the aesthetic are separable in literature, and if so, whether literature should be political or should be enjoyed only for its aesthetic value? Censorship Today will consider the impact of censorship on writers and writing in Malaysia and around the world. A National Literature will ask whether, in a globalised world, national literature is still a relevant concept? Malaysian National Laureate A. Samad Said will be one of the panelists.
Of other events at #Word, the workshop for novelists led by Benjamin Markovits will surely be popular. Markovits, a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of London, is hailed in the UK as one of its best young novelists. His workshop will explore the tricky questions what is your novel about? and why are you writing it?
#Word, runs from 21st to 23rd June, at Publika, a shopping mall in KL. For the programme, ticketing information etc, see www.coolerlumpur.com/word . All events will be in English. The EWWC panels will be streamed live on the internet.