Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Malaysian PEN?

I didn't blog about this then, but want to blog about it now, in the interest of getting something moving ...

Some weeks back, a group of local writers had a meeting with British novelist Hari Kunzru at La Bodega, Bangsar. The agenda? Setting up Malaysian PEN. (That's Hari with our Jo, left.)

It is for sure something that needs to happen ... the formation of a local chapter is long overdue in fact, and I know Malaysian writers who have joined Australian PEN and New Zealand PEN.

Okay, a bit of background for those who are scratching their heads at this point ...

PEN is the worldwide association of writers with 144 Centres in 101 Countries, and it exists to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere, to fight for freedom of expression and represent the conscience of world literature.

Members of the organisation are required to sign this charter. Writers use their skill with words to help other writers across the world, monitor human rights issues and disseminate the information they get. Projects that PEN has been involved with include providing moral support for writers in prison, speaking out against censorship, promoting women's writing, and protesting human rights abuses (e.g Hari Kunzru recently protested torture, imprisonment and disappearances in the Madives). Our own writers would have the support of an international organisation should their rights be compromised ...

There is also the social side of PEN, of course, and most centres organise a lively programme of talks, set up writing competitions and provide a much needed sense of community for writers. (Wouldn't it be nice to have something like that here?)

Hari is involved with English PEN and has promised that London would act as mentors if we were to set up a branch here.

That was where we left it. And there is where it hangs.

There was a brief flurry of emailing. Jac Kee set up a wiki. But so far there's been no meet up and we need to get together to thrash out issues and discuss how we get the society registered.

Now Hari has e-mailed from London to know what's happening.

So far, Hari, nothing. Sorry.

What do I want, then?

That the writers among you give this matter some thought - would you want to be part of this organisation?

Would you be prepared to put in time and effort to make it happen?

Could you pass on the message to other writing friends and bloggers who might want to play a part?

And I will let you know what happens next soon as I know myself.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sharon,
It sounds like a fantastic idea. I have a question: Will the PEN be open only to published writers or to anyone with a keen interest in writing? What are the preconditions of entry?

bibliobibuli said...

good question. as a group we would need to define it and that's one of the first things to thrash out. publication is necessary in some form but the entry bar should not be so high that few people qualify!

hari also felt that bloggers should be included.

bibliobibuli said...

to add to that ... english pen seem to have 2 categories members (to apply you must be published) and friends (anyone)

but all this is to be debated

The Eternal Wanderer said...

I think having our very own PEN is swell idea, Sharon! Considering that our government can sometimes come down hard on writers, we really do need the support of our fellow writers - locals and international.

I believe the first step to setting up a PEN is to gather as many signatures of writers as much as possible and register PEN with the RoS. That is if we want it as a legimate organisation. However, the alternative is to utilise the Web space such as the one on Wiki.

There has to be a lot of planning and organising for this PEN to materialise. But if we are serious about setting this up, we should not waver or procrastinate any longer! This could be the first step to empowering our local writers, illuminating others on all kinds of issues with our writing for the betterment of our society, country and the world!

Ted Mahsun said...

Tell me where to sign and I'm there!

Earlier this year I was actually contemplating joining the Thai PEN! :D

MunshiAbdullah said...

Interestingly, Pen's international secretariat approached a friend of mine, to set up a local chapter. This person has broad networks, including the Chinese and Malay literary scene. Was Mr. Hari assigned to assess this when he was here?

Just that, when i read this, my first thought was, oh. Hope this won't be restricted to English writers.

bibliobibuli said...

ted, eternal wanderer - good enthusiasm, hold on to it!

munshiabdullah - interesting! your friend was dealing with international PEN and english PEN was acting independently through Hari ... without either party knowing. i think it shows that there is a vacuum that needs to be filled. please tell your friend about this because he should be involved in the dialogue. it actually doesn't matter where the push comes from as long as something actually happens at last. i do hope no toes are stepped on though ...

and of course it shouldn't be restricted to english writers. in fact judging by the PEN websites, there is positive encouragment for getting works not originally in english out to a wider reading world.

aneeta said...

Me too - tell me where to sign and I'm there!

Aneeta

Chet said...

Me, three, please!

starlight said...

And me four! I've been taking my own sweet time with my plans to do something to boost the local writing industry and now that this is being set up, I'll support it 100% - in both enthusiasm and effort!

animah said...

You know I'm in!

Yvonne Foong said...

When can I sign up? Are there documents to sign? Any oaths to pledge? Any tattoos? Got uniform ah? Hostel provided? I am interested lah, but so far published in newspapers only.

:P

John have a similiar idea underwraps too.

oops! terlepas

Yvonne Foong said...

If we specify our human rights activities in the constitution, won't they refuse to approve us?

Ron said...

I am member of Sydney PEN and this comes from their website:

"Membership is open to all who subscribe to the aims of International PEN as expressed in its Charter and agree to abide by its Rules. Those who are not writers, editors and translators may become Associate Members or Corporate/Institutional Members, enjoying all rights of membership other than voting rights."

A very, very worthwhile organisation.

bibliobibuli said...

ahah ron, thanks for the clarification - i think we have been thinking so far about the formation of the intitial committee which would have to be of published writers, editors, translators

yvonne - you can't sign up ... malaysian PEN doesn't exist yet and there's blood sweat and tears needed to bring it into being

of course the first step is to get it registered as a society ... some human rights organisations have had a problem here (e.g. amnesty) so have had to set up themselves up as companies (which of course costs more and has more red-tape attached to it) ... our friends from amnesty are happy to act as advisors ... and hey, we have at least one lawyer well versed in human rights issues!

Jane Sunshine said...

What about Malaysians abroad? Can they be members too? I would love to support any way I can albeit virtually.

lil ms d said...

been waiting for the meeting.... :)

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - me too ... hopefully soon

jane sunshine - no reason why not ... after all malaysians have joined other overseas branches of PEN in the past ...

Janet Tay said...

Hi Sharon,
I think it's an excellent idea, it's about time we had a PEN centre here. Plus it may encourage more writers to join competitions etc. For e.g., entries for the David TK Wong Prize have an administrative fee of GBP25 each if you submit to the English PEN.It might not be much considering the value and prestige of the award but it's still expensive for a Malaysian.
writer, I would think.
Anyway, would definitely sign up as a member if it gets set up eventually!

Yvonne Foong said...

was joking about the signing la... :P

Who's the lawyer?

Vally of Muse said...

As you said it Sharon, it is long overdue.

In India I think it was the Late Nissim Ezekiel who had got the ball rolling. And the admission citeria if remember, in Nissims own words "If have written a verse at least, or intend to. If you have singed the charter believe in the freedom of expression, not just intend to..."

Let me know is if it comes through, let me know if I can be of any help.

Smiles

Shakeel

bibliobibuli said...

yvonne - hope the day won't be too far away when we can both sign up! animah is a lawyer, so's aneeta

shakeel! ho wlovely to hear from you after so long and to discover your poetry ... that's a very good list of criteria - no-one should be excluded

Yvonne Foong said...

Are you a friend of Haji Sulaiman?

bibliobibuli said...

i don't think i know a haji sulaiman ... why?

Thaatch said...

Sounds like a great idea. Came across PEN when I read your post on David T.K. Wong. http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com/2006/06/real-david-t-k-wong.html

Looking forward to "joining" PEN...

Chet said...

Isn't Haji Sulaiman a road in Taman Tun Dr Ismail?

Yvonne Foong said...

*slaps forehead* I meant Haji Sulaiman the lawyer! Spotted him at Shirley Lim's book reading. Thought maybe you, the bookaholic, would know him personally. I think Raman night. Hmmm...

bibliobibuli said...

i still don't know ....

Sufian said...

Haji Sulaiman is the father of Huzir Sulaiman, if I'm not mistaken.

bibliobibuli said...

oooohhh yes, thanks sufian

don't know him personally, yvonne, though i've met huzir

i don't know evereeebody ya know!

Anonymous said...

"If you have singed the charter.."

Now I know why old charters are always burnt at the edges :)

Anonymous said...

"There is also the social side of PEN, of course, and most centres organise a lively programme of talks, set up writing competitions and provide a much needed sense of community for writers. (Wouldn't it be nice to have something like that here?)"

Personally I think King is right. It's salami. A commodity. You make salami, you sell salami. You run out, you make more. It's not caviar. Running a contest for "best salami" or having an organization to provide a sense of community to salami-makers or vendors just seems.. weird. I mean, aren't they competition ?

Hari Kunzru said...

Hey, I just found this post. There was a deathly silence when I mailed to ask what was happening. There are people in London waiting to help with set up, legal issues, questions about procedure. It just needs someone to get it together to start the process. I've been mailing with some of the people from the CiJ about the recent batch of books your government banned - and we've contacted the publishers here in the UK and the US to try to get them to complain. This is exactly the sort of thing PEN can help with. And you guys should feed us information about these things, even if the business of getting a PEN centre together is going, um, slowly ...

bibliobibuli said...

hari - have e-mailed you with some related stuff. many thanks for your continuing support. please don't give up on us!!!!