Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Malaysia http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Shifting, questioning, fragmented: Suzanne Joinson on the ambiguities of a national literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/suzanne-joinson/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/suzanne-joinson/#comments Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:20:33 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5090 Before talking at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Kuala Lumpur recently I had never particularly considered myself an ‘English Writer’. My family on one side are Irish, the other Welsh. I was born in the North of England and now live in the South. I spent many years in London and could confidently call myself British, but English is a more complicated matter, as is the idea of a national literature. I live a few miles from where William Blake wrote his love poem to England, ‘Jerusalem’. Not so far from Virginia Woolf territory, too, and I spend much of my time shuttling between the small coastal town where I live and London. Despite the atmospheric architecture of the city – Soho, Bloomsbury, Pimlico in particular – or the beauty of the coastline or the South Downs, the most emotive places for me are actually the points of exit: Victoria Station and Gatwick airport. It is as if I don’t fully belong either in the city or by the sea and am only happy in England if I can leave on an aeroplane, and I regularly do. I write in English, within an English tradition, but I’m unsettled within those confines and any sense of contributing to a literature that sits within the framework of national borders is as paradoxical and complex as my feeling towards home.

The mongrel English are islanders, much as they conveniently forget this. The sea is everywhere and the houses are small. It is a claustrophobic country and people cling to a regionalism to fend off the conflict or tension that comes with a national sensibility. Writers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, London and the North of England are often fiercely territorial. They stake their ground with pride and dignity. They reference themselves within a context, emit a sense of community. Most of all, they seem to belong to a geographical collective. I happen to live in a scrap of land so over-shadowed by the metropolis of London that it almost has no regional identity of its own. It is closer to France than most of the rest of England, chalky, mild-weathered. Often people choose to come to this part of the country to fade away quietly in nursing homes, to watch seagulls, to feel rain or to drink tea while, as Auden said, ‘In headaches and in worry, Vaguely life leaks away’.

There are no specific prizes for English writing, no awards, no self-referencing colloquiums and certainly no Southern Writers Awards. Yet these are, if not corridors of power, certainly parks and side streets and corner shops of power, all operating within the language of the global coloniser. What is left of Englishness and the literature that sits within its contours these days? Following what we might call a melancholic withdrawal of empire and faith, there isn’t much left but a profound state of identity crisis, and the literatures arising from this are by necessity shifting, questioning and fragmented forms.

A London walk I take regularly is from Victoria Station to Soho, via St James’s Park. Four pelicans live in the lake in St James’s park, presumably they belong to the Queen, it being her front garden. There is a sign that says ‘Do Not Feed the Pelicans’ and I have observed that while three of the pelicans spend much time together, happily doing their thing on a small island in the middle of the lake, the fourth pelican is always ostracized. To be an ‘English Writer’ can feel a little like living the existence of that fourth pelican. You comfortably inhabit the Queen’s posh park. You are well fed amongst fountains and tulips and weeping willow trees. You are surrounded by stately buildings and the drumming of procession soldiers in rehearsal. You are at the heart of it: this (once) great nation! But you don’t feel so great. You’re not sure who you are and you regularly feel lonesome.

Nationhood is about identity, but the more one hunts down one’s own stories, the more fractured any sense of identity becomes. Writing, by virtue of what one chooses to write about and what one leaves in or takes out, is about creating narrative meaning from your life. Despite my inclination to dismiss the label ‘English’ I can see that my first novel, ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ is in some senses an exploration of Englishness. It is about English missionaries in China in the 1920s, and it is true that I am drawn towards stories and narratives that explore a legacy between colonial histories and how they resonate today. In my writing, the islandness of England becomes highlighted: the sea around it, a compulsion to leave it, the isolation, all of that examined. Yet, I couldn’t possibly write with a consciousness of my national identity because what kind of writing would that produce? A writer can only tell the stories that haunt her, but hauntings are chaotic, slippery and contradictory. Writing is subversive and uncontainable, and if it so happens that a particular line of thought relates to or explores a specific question or theory relating to national identity then so be it, but it could only be accidental or, at least, not the central impulse behind the creation of the book.

Not many people think of Virginia Woolf as a travel writer but in 1906 when she was 24 years old she visited Constantinople. Sitting at a window looking down at the city she wrote in her diary, “And in all this opulence there was something ominous, and something ignominious – for the English lady at her bedroom window.” Framed by a window, an English lady at the fading end of an empire, she feels an obscure shame as she looks over a city that is as unreal – and yet real – as any city dreamt up by Calvino and it is clear that the unsettledness of her being English  comes into sharp relief.

I read novels in English, written by writers I am interested in, either in translation from other languages into English or written directly in English. The authors are sometimes English but more frequently they are from other places. I am lucky enough to operate in a language into which many books are translated and I am interested in the worlds the novels convey, the stories they tell and the way they use language. I don’t really believe in nationality, or a literature that confines to the edges of a rigid definition.

My grandmother, the Irish one, did not have very much money but she liked to travel. She would take a train from her home in Cheshire to the port in Holyhead and spend a day watching ferries go across to Ireland. Or she would visit Manchester airport, watch planes taking off and landing, and look at the departure boards flicking through the destinations. I have inherited her love of looking into the horizon, of wanting to be both on the move and stay still. One’s national identity does not feel meaningful when one is in the inside of writing, it is just one detail in a more universal story. Yet perhaps from another point of view – the other side of an ocean, the end of a train journey or with the passing of time – national signifiers may in the end seem relevant; I’m not sure. I do know that stories are more often than not born in the no-man’s-land of not-quite-belonging, in transitory existences or inbetween places and those zones and states of mind and landscapes tend to have no borders, but perhaps distance will show otherwise.

Credit: Cheem Photography

National Literature panel: Chuah Guat Eng, Suzanne Joinson, Alfian Sa’at, Pak Samad & Bernice Chauly. Photo by Cheem Photography

The #Word Cooler Lumpur Festival has been a fascinating experience. I spent time with writers from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Discussions ranged from colonial history to the politics of language to the terrible pollution drifting into the city from Indonesia. I don’t know if national borders and identities are the crucial signifiers of the world or not, but I do know that conversations such as those that happened in Kuala Lumpur are exciting and inspiring and that it was an honour to be involved in the ongoing dialogue.

Copyright: Suzanne Joinson

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/suzanne-joinson/feed/ 0
Thida in Malaysia – Keynote on Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/thida-in-malaysia-keynote-on-censorship-today/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/thida-in-malaysia-keynote-on-censorship-today/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2013 12:55:43 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5007 Ma-ThidaCensorship Today

Keynote address given by Dr Ma Thida

First presented at EWWC Kuala Lumpur, #Word – The Cooler Lumpur Festival

Dr Ma Thida keynote text: “Freedom and Literature”

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all, I’d love to express my pleasure and gratitude for being here to make this lecture happen.

Indeed as a native of Burma or Myanmar, the title ‘Freedom and Literature’ seemed surreal to us in the recent past. However, for me, literature itself, either creating or reading it, always relates to freedom.

Literature itself is truly a medium which conveys, maintains and appreciates freedom between writers and readers. Compared to other forms of art, literature is the most modest art form which mainly relies on or includes ‘words’ only. For music, we need not only words but also a tune or sound to have a song. For a movie, we need more. But literature always simply does not include sound, color, motion and image. Without the assistance required by music, movies, pictures, and other art forms, ‘words’ and ‘sentences’ make themselves into ‘literature’. So literature is a form of art which is free from dependency on any other assistance like sound, picture, colors.

Without this assistance, how does literature work as an art which relates to writers and readers? The way literature connects people – writers and readers or readers and readers – is with freedom. For a movie, viewers need to just follow one scene after another in order to know it. Viewers are voluntarily forced to just look at the screen, and accept the scene provided and the actors or actresses performing it as characters of the movie. For example, while watching the movie ‘Gone With the Wind’, viewers experience Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. But while reading the novel by Margaret Mitchell, readers can imagine anyone else or themselves as Rhett Butler or Scarlett O’Hara. Imagination through words is truly more boundary-less or free than imagination through pictures.

While reading, readers have full freedom to imagine the literature or words as they comprehend them. ‘Words’ and ‘Sentences’ alone encourage readers in their imaginative power, free in their right to use their preconceived knowledge to expand or add on the knowledge provided by literature. For example, a simple sentence saying ‘The Sun rises’ can be imagined differently by different readers. But a movie scene of a sunrise can only be the same for every viewer. That is why literature is such a truly free art form for both writers and readers. And even among readers, the perception of a single work of literature will be different. According to their own private knowledge, readers try to imagine what the characters or setting of a novel looks like, or try to relate their experiences to the experience of the characters at a particular period in a short story, or also try to empathise with the feelings of the poet or writer in his or her poems. Even for a single work of literature, perception, feeling and appreciation by different readers could be totally different or more or less similar. It is totally unpredictable and so it shows the nature of freedom in literature. That is why I would like to say literature is truly freedom for both writers and readers, and even among readers themselves.

However, publishing literature might not be related to freedom. For example, in my own country, we had the Press Scrutiny Board for nearly five decades. This censorship board prohibited publishing some literature. In the early 1980s, it took from 1 to 2 years to get permission to publish a novel. Even with permission, there would be much editing. Sometimes writers decided not to publish his or her own works because of immense and nonsensical editing by the censorship board. But at that time, for periodicals, we didn’t need to submit manuscripts before printing, but we did need to submit the print copy before distributing. In the early 1990s, the censorship board asked to remove paragraphs or whole short stories or articles from printed periodicals before distributing them. So we put black or silver ink over the paragraphs or glued facing pages together or ripped out some pages to remove them from magazines/journals. In the early 2000s, the censorship board asked us to submit before printing any form of literature or books including advertisement pages. So we needed to submit them two times, before printing and before distributing. Then there were no more ugly magazine pages. All forced editing was finished before printing. So just before the censorship board abolished its process in mid-2012, a weekly current affairs journal would be submitted three times before it was printed and one time before it was distributed. That is why it is impossible to have regional papers in places far from the office of the press scrutiny board and where people from ethnic minorities live. For this reason, media or literature in ethnic languages was almost impossible establish. This process also prohibited not only the freedom of the press but also pluralism in the press.

For that reason, the investor or owner didn’t want any editors who were willing to test tolerance or censorship or take the risk to reprint all time-and-cost consuming manuscripts. Then some editors refrained from accepting any literature or works which might be censored heavily. And no definitive rules were mentioned by the censorship board. So it is sometimes hard to imagine which one might be censored or not. Since all publication houses need a licence to operate, there were risks in publishing some works. These risks could be terminating a licence, going to trial under one restricted printing law, or a person being putting into prison without any other reason. Eventually writers were forced to give up their freedom to think and write as they wish, ever having to count on the risk of censorship. This is what our Burmese literature has been through. This is how the role of the government’s censorship prohibited the freedom of publication and literature. And consequently this is how media ownership prohibited the freedom of editors and writers also.

Here I would like to tell my personal story. I had been writing many short stories in the 1980s. But because of my political activities and written criticisms of the government, my pen name was on the brown list and most of my short stories were banned. And in 1993 I was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for four accused crimes, and two of them were the printing and distribution of illegal materials. Then all of my writing was banned and I became on the black list. Though I was released after 5 and a half years, most editors didn’t dare to publish my works and no publisher wanted to publish my books. And furthermore I couldn’t get permission for a media licence. I really wanted to run a news or current affairs journal. But I knew it was impossible. I tried to apply to get a licence to run a health journal in mid-2000s but I didn’t get it. And because of the censorship board’s heavy pressure, neither did any publishers want me to be an editor of their publication. The press scrutiny board had the power to refuse any works by particular writers to get published anywhere by any means. So even if a writer weren’t arrested in person, the censorship board could prohibit him or her to become an editor of any official periodical or to write under their own name or a pen name. If this happened, no editor would dare to publish my works. So even though a writer is not inside prison, he or she has very limited freedom, not in creating literature but in publishing it.  Then in 2011, I was awarded a freedom of expression prize by the Norwegian Authors’ Union. But at that time the situation inside Burma was not very good and I was still working as an editor of literature magazines and writing for many other periodicals. So I decided not to go to Norway and accept the prize but I sent a video thank-you note to them.

Here I want to read some passages from this thank-you note in order for you all to understand much more about our Burmese freedom and literature:

What a shame for a Burmese writer who was rewarded the prize but she decided not to come and accept it in person? What made this? I dare to say the reason of making this decision is not to save me but to save my ‘words’ or ‘creativity’.

Writing creatively is indeed very basic and simple needs for any writers around the world. However for us, creativity is not with freedom but with hunting for freedom.

Though I have been trying a lot of new forms and presentations of writing, content and message of my works are usually not out of our struggle and hope. Why? Why I keep writing these? I do care of expressing my feelings and suffering of my people freely. I really do care of creating works to convey our speeches to the others. With free creativity, world has been experienced about rest of the world. I just want the world to be exposed to our creativity on expression of our speechless people. I cannot confiscate both creativity and freedom of expression in my works. We, Burmese writers, use creativity to get freedom of expression at the expense of losing our writing career or physical freedom. And we love to do it. 

For me, loosing chance to be a writer in Burma is worse than being imprisoned. To keep freedom of expression, I have to create and my works should be reached to my beloved people who have full of imaginative power. In other words, freeing the words with efficient creativity is more important for me than freeing myself.

That is why I dare to say that it might be easy to prohibit writers to write but indeed it is hard to prohibit both writers and readers to lose their freedom of creativity. For writers, creativity in their writing itself always helps to expand the boundary of freedom permitted by censorship. So for Burmese literature, creativity is not because of the freedom we have, but it is for the freedom we want to have. And for readers, creativity in their imagination helps them to read between the lines, among words or even inside a vocabulary. For Burmese readers, imaginative power is a very basic need, to understand or appreciate more about literature. For this, they just need freedom in their imaginative power. And for writers too, they do not need to get permission from the censorship board in order to be creative. So writers and readers remain free in their own creative and imaginative power though under a period of heavy censorship. So in this sense, we can still say literature is a kind of art which can still hold freedom. This is the role of writers, to still keep freedom in literature by their creativity, and the role of readers by their imaginative power.

Therefore literature needs freedom but it also brings freedom. Censorship indeed prohibits only the publishing of the literature, not its freedom. The free nature of the creation of literature and its appreciation still remains, even in censored works. However, in order to have freedom of literature, we need more than one party to try hard. So in order to keep freedom in literature, we need not only governments to abolish censorship, but also investors/publishers and editors to be free from the fear of being at risk, and writers to be creatively strong or readers to be imaginatively strong.  Therefore, what we, writers, need in order to have freedom both in creating and publishing literature, is also freedom or independence from fear, greed, hate or dependency.

Eventually I would like to say this; freedom and literature is mutually inter-related and cannot be separated from each other. Then we do not only to fight for freedom but also to keep it in our literature. Let’s be free ourselves to do the best for literature and freedom or freedom and literature. Thank you. Thank you.

© Dr Ma Thida, 2013


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/thida-in-malaysia-keynote-on-censorship-today/feed/ 1
THIDA, MAHATHIR, VEYRA & MORGAN – Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/mahathir-veyra-srithong-morgan-censorship-today/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/mahathir-veyra-srithong-morgan-censorship-today/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2013 12:43:55 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4850 #Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur
Sunday 23 June 2:00pm MYT Censorship Today Keynote: Dr Ma Thida Panelists: Marina Mahathir, Lourd de Veyra, Nicola Morgan. Moderator: Ezra Zaid]]> Ma-Thida#Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur

Sunday 23 June 2:00pm MYT

Censorship Today

Keynote: Dr Ma Thida
Panelists: Marina Mahathir, Lourd de Veyra, Nicola Morgan  Moderator: Ezra Zaid

Author biographies:

Dr Ma Thida is a Burmese surgeon, human rights activist and writer, famously known as the leading intellectual in Burma whose writings dealt with her country’s political situation. She was sentenced to prison for twenty years for “endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations, and distributing unlawful literature.” She has published nine books in Burmese and English, including two fictional works of and a prison memoir.

Marina Mahathir is well known as a leader in many non-governmental organizations such as the Malaysian AIDS Foundation and is currently an active socio-political blogger. She also writes in her bi-weekly column called Musings in The Star newspaper since 1989. Some of her pieces in the column have been published in her books such as 50 Days: Rantings by MM, published in 1997 and Telling It Straight, published in 2012 by Editions Didier Millet. The latter is a selection of her articles published in her column between 2003 and 2012. It includes a foreword by Dr Farish A. Noor, a local political scientist and historian. It contains 90 articles which are written thematically including a special written introduction on the topics discussed in the book. It also includes two previously unpublished articles.

Lourd de Veyra is an award winning poet, novelist, musician and broadcast journalist from Quezon City, the Philippines. He has published three collections of poetry, a collection of essays from his blog, and a novel. He has also released four full-length music albums as the frontman of spoken word-jazz-rock band,  Radioactive Sago Project. He currently hosts TV and radio commentary programmes in the Philippines.

Nicola Morgan is an award-winning British writer, teacher and professional speaker, best known for fiction for older children and teenagers, non-fiction about the teenage brain, and her advice on publishing. Nicola was the Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland, is a member of the committee of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group within the Society of Authors and is an Ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland.

Ezra Zaid is the proprietor of publishing house ZI Publications, which has produced some of Malaysia’s most important and best-selling books in Bahasa Malaysia and English over the past few years, including Amir Muhammad’s  Rojak, Farish Noor’s Di Balik Malaysia: Dari Majapahit ke Putrajaya, Hishamuddin Rais’  Tapai, Marina Mahathir’s  50 Days: Rantings by MM and Zaid Ibrahim’s Saya Pun Melayu.

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/mahathir-veyra-srithong-morgan-censorship-today/feed/ 1 MARKOVITS, SULAIMAN, FLINT & LI – Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/markovits-rashid-flint-li-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/markovits-rashid-flint-li-should-literature-be-political/#comments Sat, 22 Jun 2013 17:45:05 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4815 #Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur Saturday 22 June 12:30pm MYT Should Literature Be Political? Panelists: Benjamin Markovits, Huzir Sulaiman, Shamini Flint, Di Li. Moderator: Sharaad Kuttan]]> Benjamin Markovits, Credit: Charles Glover#Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur

Saturday 22 June 12:30pm MYT

Should Literature Be Political?

Panelists: Benjamin Markovits (image left), Huzir Sulaiman, Shamini Flint, Di Li
Moderator: Sharaad Kuttan

Author Biographies:

Benjamin Markovits is a UK based writer with six published novels including the trilogy on the life of Lord Byron: Imposture, A Quiet Adjustment and Childish Loves. He is also on the recently announced list of Granta Magazine’s Best Young British Novelists. Benjamin teaches Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Huzir Sulaiman  is a Malaysian actor, director and writer. One of Malaysia’s leading dramatists, acclaimed for his vibrant, inventive use of language and incisive insight into human behavior in general and the Asian psyche in particular. His plays, often charged with dark humor, political satire, and surrealistic twists, have won numerous awards and international recognition. He currently lives in Singapore.

Shamini Flint writes children’s books with cultural and environmental themes. She also writes crime fiction. Shamini has sold over 500,000 books since she began writing six years ago.

Nguyen Dieu Linh better known as  Di Li is a Hanoi based writer. She has published thirteen books and especially well-known with Red Flower Farm which is the first mystery horror novel in Vietnam. She’s a member of the Vietnam Writers Association, Hanoi Writers Association and the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association.

Sharaad Kuttan is a producer with BFM89.9 – a business radio station in the Klang Valley. He produces a weekly review of the media – The Week in Review – as well as a show that discusses philosophy and social theory – Night School. A member of the International Art Critics Association, he is a graduate of the National University of Singapore, where he obtained a Masters degree from its Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He is co-editor of a collection of essays on cultural politics in Singapore, “Looking at Culture” (1996).


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/markovits-rashid-flint-li-should-literature-be-political/feed/ 1
SAID, JOINSON, ENG & SA’AT – A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/thida-said-saat-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/thida-said-saat-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 22 Jun 2013 17:41:52 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4810 #Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur Saturday 22 June 3:30pm MYT A National Literature Panelists: A. Samad Said, Suzanne Joinson, Chuah Guat Eng, Alfian Sa'at. Moderator: Bernice Chauly]]> Suzanne-Joinson#Word – A Cooler Lumpur Festival, Kuala Lumpur

Saturday 22 June 3:30pm MYT

A National Literature

Panelists: A. Samad Said, Suzanne Joinson (image left), Chuah Guat Eng, Alfian Sa’at. Moderator: Bernice Chauly

Author Biographies:

Abdul Samad bin Muhammad Said, pen name A. Samad Said is a Malaysian poet and novelist who, in May 1976, was named by Malay literature communities and many of the country’s linguists as the Pejuang Sastera (Literary Exponent). He also received the 1979 Southeast Asia Write Award and, in 1986, an award for his “continuous writings and contributions to the nation’s literary heritage”, Sasterawan Negara. He is the author of over 17 works.

Suzanne Joinson’s first novel ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ was published by Bloomsbury in 2012. It was reviewed in the New York Times, was an LA Times Bestseller, a Guardian/Observer Book of the Year 2012 and translated into 12 languages.

Chuah Guat Eng published her first novel,  Echoes of Silence, in 1994. Her other works are  Tales from the Baram River (2001), The Old House and Other Stories (2008), and a second novel, Days of Change (2010).  She read English literature at University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur, and German literature at the Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich. In 2008, she received her PhD from the National University of Malaysia for her thesis, From Conflict to Insight: A Zenbased Reading Procedure for the Analysis of Fiction.

Alfian bin Sa’at is a Singaporean writer, poet and playwright. He is a Muslim of Minangkabau, Javanese and Hakka descent. Alfian published his first collection of poetry, One Fierce Hour at the age of twenty-one. The book was acclaimed as “truly a landmark for poetry [in Singapore]” by The Straits Times, and Alfian himself was described by Malaysia’s New Straits Times as “one of the most acclaimed poets in his country… a prankish provocateur, libertarian hipster”. A year later, Alfian published his first collection of short stories, Corridor, which won the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award. Alfian’s plays, written in both English and Malay, have received broad attention in both Singapore and Malaysia. They have also been translated into German and Swedish, and have been read and performed in London, Zurich, Stockholm, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

Bernice Chauly is a writer and poet. Born in George Town to Chinese-Punjabi teachers, she read education and English literature in Canada as a government scholar. For over 20 years, she has worked extensively in the creative industries as a writer, photographer, actor and filmmaker and has won multiple awards for her work and her contribution to the arts. In 2012, she was invited to be writer-in-residence with the Nederlands Letterenfonds (Dutch Foundation for Literature) in Amsterdam where she began work on a novel. She has toured and performed in literary festivals in Suriname, the Dutch Antilles, South Africa, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands. She is the Festival Curator of the George Town Literary Festival in Penang, Malaysia.

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/thida-said-saat-a-national-literature/feed/ 2
Benjamin Markovits on Literature & Politics, Byron & the Longevity of Lists http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/benjamin-markovits-on-literature-and-politics/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/benjamin-markovits-on-literature-and-politics/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:24:06 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4998 Benjamin Markovits, Credit: Charles GloverBenjamin Markovits, recently announced as one of Granta magazine’s Best Young British Novelists, has published six published novels including the highly acclaimed trilogy on the life of Lord Byron: Imposture, A Quiet Adjustment and Childish Loves. He was brought up in Texas, London and Berlin and was at one time a professional basketball player. Not afraid of stretching the form of the novel, his works are marked by dazzling, layered narratives and intense, gorgeously effective and affecting prose. Critic Mark Lawson, writing in The Observer, said “Childish Loves is a very, very odd book, although I mean this as a high compliment in a time when so many authors are content to write again a novel that either they or others have previously written.” He is taking part in EWWC Kuala Lumpur this weekend discussing ‘Should Literature Be Political?’.

EWWC: Have you been to Malaysia before?

Markovits: I haven’t been to Malaysia but I have been to a megacity before, São Paolo. I like megacities; that combination of mega corporations and high rises with wonderful little traditional areas scattered in between. I’m really looking forward to it.

EWWC: Do you think the experience of being a writer varies according to where you live or what your nationality is?

Markovits: I think writing seems to mean something very different everywhere. A few years ago I played in something called the Writers World Cup. We were playing against Hungary, and all the Hungarian writers were authors of books of literary essays, a form which basically doesn’t exist here anymore. They were thinking up complicated responses to Beckett and getting paid to have that published; and you could tell that what it meant to be a writer in Hungary was something very different [to the UK/US]. I raised this same question in Moscow [Markovits travelled to Moscow as part of the Granta / British Council Best of Young British Novelists global launch series] about how the idea of censorship can seem bizarre to an English writer because the best way of getting people to ignore a book is to publish it.

There are class associations with being a writer [in the US / UK]. I’m a product of the usual chain of events: my great-grandparents were immigrants; my grandfather’s family were in retail, and he then went to law school; my dad became an academic and I became the artist. You first get a financial foothold in a country, and once you feel confident you can produce kids who don’t need to overly concern themselves about making money and who can do what they want to do. There are writers who buck that trend but I don’t think mine is an unusual pattern.

EWWC: You’re going to be discussing Should Literature be Political? this weekend. As a writer steeped in the literature and lives of the Romantics, whose work famously intersected with politics in various ways, what kind of parallels do you see between that time and ours in terms of politics and literature?

Markovits: As you say, there was a political element to a lot of the Romantics’ thinking. Byron died fighting for Greek independence; Shelley could have been imprisoned had he returned to England and published some of his political essays. I like Byron’s politics actually; he’s a mixed figure and there are lots of unlikeable things about him, but there’s this wonderful line (in the Douglas Dunn edition of Selected Byron, quoting Disraeli) that people forget Byron’s sagacity, his shrewdness. He could play the buffoon and be completely ridiculous but he had a shrewd sense of human weakness and he was quite tolerant of it. Despite his political involvement he didn’t get too caught up in serious political theories. One of the things he said was: wealth is power and poverty is deprivation and this is true wherever you go. That’s what his political thinking came down to. And that seems persuasive to me.

He also thought about writing as an alternative to politics. He liked to sign himself as “Noel Byron” – “NB” because, even though he got the ‘Noel’ from a wife he didn’t much like, it gave him the same initials as Napoleon Bonaparte; he liked to think of himself as a sort of Napoleon of verse.

Sure, all writing is political in some way, but there’s something that I would say makes up a particularly ‘writerly’ kind of world view that’s different from a politician’s world view. Politicians don’t tend to be into moral ambiguity in the same way as writers. The politician’s response isn’t usually ‘I can see it from both sides, I’m not sure what to do about it. Maybe I won’t do anything.’ – that’s not their business. Even though there’s something political about that neutrality, it may not tell you things you want us to hear.

The other thing is that there is a distinction between Byron’s writerly political involvement and his human political involvement. When he was in Greece he wasn’t writing – he was organising people and weapons and munitions and making decisions; writing didn’t get in the way of any of that. But even in his day Byron was an outlier.

EWWC: Is there such a thing as a community or fraternity of writers? Historically we look at the Romantics as a movement with cohesion, common ground, form, linked concerns, complex personal relationships. What about now?

Markovits: We look back on the Romantics and see them as a group, a band of writers writing together in relation to each other. And that’s partly true, but the reason we see them like that is because the writers who have survived are the ones who were good at keeping their name alive. Byron and Shelley’s relationship is famous but they weren’t really that close, there were people he liked more. So I wouldn’t want to overstate the writerly intensity of their lives.

One thing which has changed since then is that there’s more gender equality now, definitely. And there’s also a big middle class. And the association with writing and men and a certain kind of privilege which was certainly significant in Byron and Shelley’s lives, just doesn’t work that way anymore. Writers nowadays are looking after kids and doing different jobs and living probably not very well.

Having said that it’s totally true that writers, like any kind of job, have common concerns and struggles. Bankers hang out with bankers and writers hang out with writers and I’m sure bankers sometimes think ‘I could do with a weekend not hanging out with bankers …’

EWWC: You were recently awarded the accolade of being one of the Best of Young British Novelists. What would Byron have made of this?

Markovits: If they were making lists of people whose writing counted, I think he would have been on that list. But the writers who make the list aren’t always the ones who count. That was true then and it’s true now. I think also the nature of the lists have changed, immensely. There’s a different publicity machine around it and it’ll mean a different thing in the future than it does now. But even in Byron’s day you needed a break to get attention; it wasn’t just the work, you needed something else. Scandal, fame, his looks – they all helped sell his books.

EWWC: The EWWC questions are the same as those discussed at the International Writers Conference in Edinburgh 50 years ago. What questions do you think a World Writers’ Conference in 50 years’ time from now might address?

Markovits: There are people who think that nothing ever changes fundamentally very much, and there are people who that that everything is changing fundamentally all the time. I tend to be in the camp that thinks nothing changes fundamentally, so I would suspect that in 50 years we’d be asking the same questions. But I could be wrong.

The big forms change. The novel in Byron’s day was a long poem – now the long poem is mostly dead. It’s possible that the evolution of e-books may play a part in that change. One of the things you can do in an ebook that you can’t do in a paper book is take people off in two different directions at once; but what’s really happening there is that you’re taking control out of the hands of the writer and putting it in the hands of the reader, and the reader won’t have thought about it so much. I think that will happen, but I don’t think it’ll become dominant because of the basic fact that you can still only read in one direction at a time. So there’s a limit to its uses, but it might be an interesting experiment.

I think the novel’s a really good form – it’s got a lot of life in it yet. So I suspect things won’t be too different where the novel’s concerned, but I could be wrong about that too.

EWWC: And finally … If you had to be exiled permanently to one of the EWWC cities – Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

Markovits: I’d love to live in Berlin again. My kids could learn German properly.

Thank you Benjamin!

http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/benjamin-markovits-on-literature-and-politics/feed/ 0