A Malaysian Literary Festival wins at The London Book Fair 2018, by Dipika Mukherjee

Picture from Facebook

The George Town Literary Festival (GTLF) won the Literary Festival Award at The London Book Fair in 2018, on April 10.
But why should we even care about this win by a little-known literary festival?
The judges chose the George Town Literary Festival as it “stands out as a vibrant, diverse and brave festival that engages with a wide community of voices, speaking to the world from a complex region”.
BRAVE. In a complex region. 

YES. This is first South-East Asian literary festival to win the prestigious award, GTLF director Bernice Chauly and her team continue to do the impossible. Buttressed by booksellers like Gareth Ismail of Gerakbudaya, this festival presents an eclectic range of world voices, with an emphasis on Asia, despite the odds.
Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world. 

Books, as well as movies are censored, and the authorities just passed a fake-news bill on April 2, 2018, which is likely to further stifle free speech with punishments of up to six years in prison and a fine of RM 500, 000 (US$128,000).
The Malaysian Prime Minister is embroiled in the 1MDB financial scandal under investigation by the Department of Justice in the US, but the Malaysian newspaper commenting on this issue was shut down. Free speech, or a free judiciary even, is under siege in this democracy.
Among the books banned by the Malaysian authorities is Zunar's Sapuman: Man of Steel  which has illustrations of the Malaysian Prime Minister and the allegations surrounding the 1MDB scandal.
Yet Zunar's work has been featured at the Georgetown Literary Festival, as have voices of opposition. The panels are feisty and free-wheeling, for the George Town Literary Festival is held in Penang, and has been a bastion for free speech in a country where the laws are getting more draconian. 
What can we do to support these brave writers and literary curators? 
Read books by authors writing about Malaysia. Go beyond your usual readings lists and explore the world of writers in countries where writing or speaking can be seen as acts of sedition. There is much to be discovered.
Or, if you can, attend the Georgetown Literary Festival from November 22-25 this year. I'll be there!

Dipika Mukherjee is a writer and educator. Her work, focusing on the politics of modern Asian societies and diaspora, is internationally renown. In the past year, she has given a keynote at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference (Bali, 2017), juried at the Neustadt International Literary Festival (USA, 2017), spoken at the Hearth Festival (Wales, 2018) and the Singapore Writers Festival (Singapore, 2017), among others. More at dipikamukherjee.com.


JO said…
This is simply brilliant - writing is a challenge over here, but in Malaysia is it so much more difficult. (And Georgetown is food heaven!)
Umberto Tosi said…
Your account puts a much needed and deserved spotlight on the courage and valuable contributions of writers about Malaysia and other nations where suppression is a frightening reality far beyond what we can imagine. These works - and your own - enrich our lives and merit attention and support.

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