Sunday, April 23, 2006

Writer - Where Do You Belong?

Literature isn't a matter of postcodes or coastlines, it's a matter of obsessions and of the universal human experience.
Thomas Keneally to Geraldine Brooks after her Pulitzer win.

There is a petty meaness in words like these: "So and so is not really a Malaysian/British/American/Australian (fill in the blank for yourself) author because he/she wasn't born here/only lived here for X years/has lived for abroad for X years/doesn't write about living here," especially as so many writers live between cultures and countries.

I think Keneally's quote wraps up the argument quite nicely.

6 comments:

=] said...

I commented a while back that Vyvyane Loh can't really be considered local. I wasn't saying it because I felt she doesn't deserve to be considered local. I'm just a bit bothered by Malaysians who always seem to be claiming credit for every successful person that makes it overseas - Miss Georgia, Australian Idol, etc; although these people themselves probably hardly think about the Malaysian part of them.
If a writer proudly declares that he/she is a Malaysian although he/she has been abroad for decades, then I'll be more than fine with that. I've seen too many people who've forgotten their roots after just a couple of years abroad. Some are even ashamed to admit that they're Malaysian.

bibliobibuli said...

=] - yes, i quite take your point ...

... a writer must be the one to decide where he or she belongs ... and what's wrong also with belonging in more than one place?

i don't know how Loh sees herself ... certainly she has a strong local connection (and i certainly consider singapore "local" in a broader sense - so much shared history, what?) and her novel is set there ...

i guess i've felt hurt when i've been told that i'm not eligible to enter writing competitions here because i'm not malaysian enough (as has happened) ... when a large part of my heart is here

bibliobibuli said...

sorry, =] ... just to add that i've often heard people say things like this about malaysian writers who very do much identify with malaysia, but have studied or lived abroad and published abroad ... i think it's sour grapes because they have been successful ...

but this question of identity is well worth discussing

=] said...
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=] said...

I see where you're coming from on this. It's their loss really if they don't allow you to join the competitions. If they think they are qualified to deem you 'not Malaysian enough', then I say that they certainly don't deserve to have such talent joining their competitions =]
It's so important to be rooted to somewhere, to have some place to call home. After all, identity is a big factor in shaping the way one lives one's life, whether it is in one's writing or anything else. After four years away from home, I identify with this question of identity - not so much from the viewpoint of a writer (coz I'm not one), just identity in general =]

animah said...

Malaysians are keen to declare as "Malaysian" any successful person with an iota of Malaysian blood who's made it big internationally, yet never really lived here. Yet there are those who were born and lived here, whom we deny citizenship to - witness the many children of Filipinos in Sabah who are denied schooling because they are not "Malaysian". There are countless others, even in Selangor.
Why have national borders anyway? It's just a way of keeping those we don't like out.