Friday, January 26, 2007

Racism at the Hong Kong Litfest?

Shock news (passed on to me by Deepika): novelist Nury Vittachi, the co-founder of the Hong Kong Literary Festival is to be sacked by the organization’s board in a row about racial insensitivity and improper business links.

He claims:
* That he campaigned for years to set up a literary prize, but once sponsorship was obtained, he was cut from the project because of a Westerners-only rule.
* That the festival board, ostensibly non-profit, limits membership to directors and authors of and Chameleon Press, companies run by board member Peter Gordon.
* That prime slots in the festival programme were given to Chameleon Press novelists even if they paid for their own publication.
The article (reproduced in full on Nury's blog, source not given) concludes:
While Vittachi’s claims of racism may initially seem hard to swallow given that two of the men on the festival board have Asian partners, yet it is difficult to escape the conclusion that there has been, at the very least, racial insensitivity and a blur between business and festival matters. There is little doubt that Vittachi was one of the key progenitors of the Man Asia Literary Prize. To cut him out after he changed publishers was a move that had to raise eyebrows in the industry. As an extremely well-connected Asian author whose career is in the ascendancy, he would have been an ideal figurehead. In 2007 Vittachi is scheduled to be a featured author at festivals in Germany, Australia and the UK. Furthermore, with a chairman and judges from North America and Australia, the Asian literary prize now feels uncomfortably non-Asian. Without Vittachi, there is no involvement whatsoever from south Asia, the widely acknowledged home of Asian genius in English literature. ... Whatever happens, festival-watchers say the row is likely to force the board to institute the major reforms its outgoing founder recommended. It appears obvious that the group would benefit from having other Asian publishers and bookshops involved, and it will eventually have to open itself up to new members--and preferably Asian ones.
Am extremely sad, for Nury, whom I met at the Ubud Readers' and Writers' Festival.

Related Posts:

New Prize for Asian Writers! (18/11/06)
Man Asian Literary Prize (1/11/06)


lil ms d said...

huh, am not surprised, sb. went there in 2001, and the snobbery! nuri was nice, but he was busy. unless one's an asian writer who's a star, writers like me were pretty much ignored. it WAS very much an expat thing. then again, who am i to say, kan?

Anonymous said...

It is shocking that racism still occurs in this day and age when everyone's supposed to be more educated. Well, I guess it is a human-nature thing. Some things will never change. Education is useless. You never learn anything from it.

Sufian said...

My favourite cheese is an australian brand (best selling!) called Coon.


Ruhayat X said...

Shocking that racism still exists? Jesus. You should get out more. In Malaysia you only need walk just a little beyond your front gate.

As for Nury as well as the article writer's "lament" (I'm sure he meant it as harder than that, though) about the Asian lit fest having no Asian representation and comandeered by people by "a chairman and journalists from North America and Australia", perhaps they ought to read Arundhati Roy's reasoning on why she stopped writing fiction ("The Chequebook and The Cruise Missile").

Come on. The Western book industry, just like the Hollywood film industry, exists to make products that speak to their primary demographic. That the other people in the world find it agreeable to their tastes is, largely, accidental and more likely a result of their Westernised bent.

This is NOT a rant against Westernisation. I'm serious. We're all Western by sheer osmosis.

Ruhayat X said...


did I say "just a little beyond the front gate"? I meant "just look around your dinner table", surely.

lil ms d said...

hello r x. your elarti was a hit with my hairdressers (yes, plural). they all want to read more.

next time pass me some more and i'll try to flog them there.

my kid sis is trying not very hard to sell the mag in UM. eesh.

Ruhayat X said...

Oo. You have a kid sister?

Obiwan is wise to hide her from me.

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - keep her hidden

Anonymous said...


" racial insensitivity "

I observe some authors who are too busy writing and practicing words of wisdom may prove to be of inspiration to at least the local school kids and university students in Hong Kong. Following is excerpts of a poem ( transcribed here without the author's knowledge ) from a program held some time ago in Hong Kong schools and university.
I hope it helps in healing and building bridges.

I’ve got the blood of China in my veins
not through father, mother or distant forebears
but passed on from another’s ancient line.
Seven pints passed through the eye of a needle
the anonymous gift of life
for a bastard son, a white ghost!

We Chinese treasure our traditions
but whose ancestors should I worship now?
Mine, or his.
Maybe I’ll just give thanks
pay homage to an eternal mother
and the universal father."