Thursday, December 17, 2009

Encouraging Writing in English on Both Sides of the Causeway

English matters. As a medium of communication, we reach the world with it and the world reaches us. That’s a fact we can’t ignore. Hence, Malaysians writing in English is a bridge for us to connect with the global audience. ... And, since English is a widely spoken language in the country, it’s a medium for us to connect with each other as well. ... Malaysian literature in English is unique to us. We wrestle with demons uniquely our own and our works reflect that. But are we seeing enough Malaysians write in English?
asks Rizal Solomon in today's New Straits Times. He says that he was stung into feeling guilty by Wong Phui Nam's words at the Singapore Writers' Festival KL press launch : wasn't he himself guilty of not really paying attention to local writing talent? He took the opportunity to talk to writers from both sides of the causeway at the festival.

Veteran novelist K.S. Maniam says (and I personally really applaud this) :

I think they have to break down this wall between writing in the national language and writing in English, Tamil and Chinese. We have to say all writing is Malaysian.
Maniam mentions some of the factors which will really help and encourage local writers - much more translation, workshops, competitions and awards.

Singaporean Wena Poon tackles an attitude problem:

Many Singaporeans complain there is no point producing art because there is no audience in Singapore; people won’t buy tickets or books. They assume the readers’ lack of sophistication and everybody gets depressed. That’s a non-constructive view ... Even in America, the typical layman doesn’t give a damn about the arts, poetry, theatre or novels; so don’t expect a heartlander to shell out for a book. You play to a certain audience, in every society. If you, as an artist, care about ticket or book sales, then it’s your job to figure out what readers want ...
Writer/artist Sonny Liew (whom I am ashamed to say has slipped beneath my own radar despite being nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award, while the recent French translation of his graphic novel Malinky Robot won the 2009 Prix de la meilleure BD award), quite rightly points out that things are changing for the better for writers with the Internet :

... which allows easier networking and online publishing, means there’s less isolation and less dependence on traditional forms of distribution and publication
Amir Muhammad says :

I never believe in ‘scenes’, just in individual writers. And on that note, there are a few rather strong writers indeed. Among fiction writers, Brian Gomez and Shih-li Kow are world-class and inimitably local.
As Rizal says at the end of his column, really it is up to all of us to give out local authors a chance!

I must add that I find it greatly encouraging to see space given to this discussion in the NST and hope there will be much more to come. Now that's a great way to boost local writing!


Argus Lou said...

I would be very interested in translating books in Malay into English - if any publisher wants my services. It's a shame not more Malay literature is known to the rest of the world.

bibliobibuli said...

i might call on your myself, Argus Lou ...

Argus Lou said...

Oh, yes, please do, Sharon. :)
If not, I will only bake cakes and cookies and learn how to cook Indian cuisine and make sushi. My mind is turning to mush.