AFTER three months of preparation and with five writers now on board, the latest addition to Penang’s arts and culture calendar is set to take off this weekend.

Shih-Li Kow’s debut collection of short stories, Ripples And Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award for Short Stories.

The two-day George Town Literary Festival started with a vision: when Penang Global Tourism’s managing director Ooi Geok Ling got wind of Writers Unlimited 2011 coming to Kuala Lumpur in June this year, she approached festival director Bernice Chauly to ask if she would like to do something similar in Penang.

(Formerly known as Winternachten, Writers Unlimited organises an annual international literary festival every January in The Hague in the Netherlands, as well as other literary events abroad in cooperation with local partner organisations.)

“It was a great idea, but I wanted to focus on Writers Unlimited first, so I told her that I would think about it. It was to be held less than six months after Writers Unlimited and I didn’t really want to do it myself,” says Chauly at an interview in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday.

She decided to take the plunge when Reka Art Space owner Chee Sek Thim offered to produce the George Town fest on the condition that Chauly take on the role of festival curator.

“That’s when Sek Thim and I started working together. We spent the last three months putting this together. It’s the first literary festival in Penang, so the obvious theme was history and heritage,” says Chauly.

Tan Twan Eng, whose novel, A Gift Of Rain, was longlisted for the Booker Prize, will be giving us a sneak peek of his latest book, The Garden Of Eveing Mists.

The state-sponsored festival, with the theme “History and Heritage – Where Are Our Stories”, encourages an exploration of our roots. “It’s about that connection with the place of your birth and the place that you come from. It’s all about going back to the beginning of your stories,” Chauly explains.

She adds that Penang has changed drastically in recent years. “There is a real buzz to it now, there’s a sense of possibility in the air. The restoration looks great, but it’s not just about preserving old things; it’s also about creating new things. I think Penang is ready for the future, and ready for such a festival.

“It will also be very interesting for me because all previous literary festivals I’ve done have been held in KL. I think the Penang festival will attract a very eclectic audience and I’m interested in how they will react to it.”

The festival will open on Nov 26 with a book launch and reading of Bila Terkenang Zaman Dahulu, a book of pantun (Malay poems in traditional form) collected from the oral and written archives of Penang, and edited by National Laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh.

Penang-born 2007 Man Booker Prize nominee Tan Twan Eng, who currently resides in South Africa, will read from his second novel, The Garden Of Evening Mists, which is set in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, in the 1950s.

From Indrapura to Darul Makmur: A Deconstructive History of Pahang is the latest book by iconoclast historian and social commentator Dr Farish A. Noor, a Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

“It’s kind of like a sneak preview as the novel will only be available in January next year,” says Chauly.

The other three participating writers are Farish Ahmad Noor, Iskandar Al-Bakri and Shih-Li Kow. Moderators are BFM Radio’s Sharaad Kuttan and online news and commentary portal The Nut Graph’s Jacqueline Ann Surin.

The programme line-up includes public readings and discussions by the participating writers (mostly free events) and the festival will close with a performance by guitarist-composer Az Samad.

National laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh will launch his latest book, Bila Terkenang Zaman Dahulu, which celebrates traditional poetry.

“I wanted to keep the festival small, local and intimate. Many of us (writers) perform in festivals around the world, but rarely do performances in Malaysia.

“It’s important that Malaysian writers remain in touch with Malaysian audiences. Because the festival is small, everyone will have a chance to talk to everyone else – be it a writer with another writer, or the audience with the writers,” says Chauly.

Having being part of the audience as well as a participating writer in numerous literary festivals around the world, Chauly says, “I know what writers want, and I know what audiences want. I drew on my travel experiences, participation in various festivals and the Writers Unlimited earlier this year to pull together this festival.”

Iskandar Al-Bakri’s first novel, The Beruas Prophecy, is his attempt to discover the dark history of the Malay Peninsula that involves politically influential Malay secret societies in the early 19th century.

She applauds the Penang State Government for supporting such an event: “It’s very visionary, very forward-looking of them. They gave us complete freedom in choosing the writers, content and theme.

“The long-term plan is to sustain this every year and in the future, it might even include writers who write in Chinese or Tamil. A literary festival has to be free – there should be no censorship or limitations on what you can talk about or what you can’t. And that, I think, is a big challenge for Malaysia,” she concludes.

The George Town Literary Festival will run from Nov 26 to 27 at China House (No. 183B, Lebuh Victoria) and the E&O Hotel (No. 10, Lebuh Farquhar) in George Town.

For more details, visit, e-mail or call 017-872 7721.

Article taken from The Star


Article below is taken from Malaysian Insider.

MARCH 29 — Bernice Chauly has a number of photos currently on display at the Annexe Gallery that I hope you’ll find time to have a look at (the rest are quite good as well).

In this series, she photographs a number of her close friends and her own children from above, lying on the ground in a Teoh Beng Hock-esque pose, as if they had fallen to their deaths.

She writes that her choice of subjects and “models” denote “a sense of overwhelming danger, a sense that this could happen to anyone, to our children and loved ones — that none of us is safe.”

The title of Chauly’s series is “Killing Time”, and as Henry David Thoreau writes in “Walden”: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

The sentence which directly follows that line is perhaps the one most often quoted from his book: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I share Chauly’s concerns as to the safety and welfare of Malaysians, and I feel that the root of our insecurity is the quiet desperation of a select few.

I do not mean the same type of quiet desperation that Thoreau did, though I feel — like the rest of us — have had my share of such.

The desperation is nonetheless real and over-reaching, and it is quiet in an altogether more dangerous way. It is the desperation of a crumbling regime.

Malaysia’s authorities remind me of Star Trek’s Borg. Borg drones don’t look particularly bright, but your phaser rifle will usually work on one or two of them at the most. Thereafter, they adapt and learn how to resist your attacks.

Our government has had decades to learn what works and what doesn’t. Every 10 years, they come close to being toppled, and yet they somehow emerge in (more or less) one piece, having learnt valuable lessons. In a few ways, they continue to adapt and assimilate — just like the Borg. (In other ways, they appear set on recycling certain salacious scripts).

Assimilation is nowhere clearer than in BN’s adoption of 1 Malaysia and now, this New Economic Model (We started with the NEP, moved to Anwar’s Malaysian Economic Agenda, before reaching the NEM. Next? AEP? NEA? PEA-NUTS?) — both clearly pirated concepts inspired by the success and appeal of Pakatan’s Ketuanan Rakyat and multi-racial formula.

In and of itself, this type of competition is not wholly bad for the rakyat — after all, good ideas should be imitated. Sadly, the story doesn’t stop there.

Judging by the pattern that is now so insidiously forming before our eyes, stealing Pakatan’s ideas has not been enough.

The evidence suggests that there is a systemic, consistent effort to suppress any efforts to break BN’s hegemony on information and power.

When the regimes of Suharto and Marcos faced their dying days, their desperation manifested itself in state-sponsored violence. It appears the “masters” of Malaysia, however, have foregone similar full frontal attacks for orchestrated hit and runs.

Instead of banning books or persecuting authors, the police now harass and intimidate bookstores — businesses at the mercy of the authorities — effectively creating a backdoor ban on the books. Due to this pressure, I believe one can barely find copies of Where is Justice? 1FunnyMalaysia, or Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol. 2 (on the shelves for over a year, mind), in a single Malaysian bookshop anymore, even though it is still 100 per cent legal to sell them.

There seems to be a pattern of leaving alone those who are resistant to pressure, while constantly finding alternative targets who are more susceptible to intimidation.

BN politicians no longer even need to attack their Pakatan counterparts, seeing as they now have a full stable of “independent” representatives to attack Pakatan and Anwar on their behalf (and yet until today, YB Zahrain has yet to answer allegations that he tried to get millions awarded to a RM 2 company).

This is not to say that more direct strategies have been totally abandoned. Pakatan speakers are still regularly prevented from giving ceramahs, the most recent dramatic example being in Kelab Sulaiman — where Anwar spoke at the Malay urban heart of the nation. YB’s Nurul Izzah and Tian Chua get called in for questioning months after a ceramah to have their statements taken – suggesting either a conspiracy or tortoise-like investigative speeds of the police.

The end goals of this low intensity war of attrition appear to be at least three-fold.

Firstly, to distract from the clear failures of the present administration.

Like some bad joke about Europeans, cars and sex, it appears as if the original goal for the current powerful was to be as firm as Mahathir and look as kind as Abdullah. Instead, they are about as firm as Abdullah and as kind as Mahathir.

Despite rhetoric, economic reforms are going nowhere and no change is being felt by the man in the street. MCA is in turmoil, while MIC has totally disappeared from both the news and national relevance.

We must refuse to be quiet, however, when political gimmicks start to risk lives. Surely recent allegations that 1 Malaysia Clinics are staffed by medical assistants (instead of qualified doctors) providing wrong diagnoses and making prescriptions that they are not legally allowed to prescribe, thus putting lives unnecessarily in danger, deserve our fullest attention.

Secondly, to prepare for general elections before too long. With the 1 Malaysia, the NEM, Progam Reforma… sorry, Transformasi Kerajaan, and the 10th Malaysia Plan, we are looking at a major (but ultimately empty?) public relations onslaught. I imagine polls are high on BN’s mind.

Lastly, to make life unbearably inconvenient for those working at change, without doing anything “serious” enough that they think people will care.

After all, who can expect Joe Malaysian to worry if a book is taken off the shelves, or a few YB’s get called in for questioning. Here though, who can not think of Neimoller’s poem, “First They Came” or the Reverend Martin Lughter King’s “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Bernice Chauly captured the spirit of these two gentlemen perfectly, and I hope her work — and everyone else’s — helps us all realise that all these little things happening around us add up; that the heart can be choked by many little arteries, as much as it can be choked by a single big one.

As we resist, we must cultivate our optimism from the fact that the effort put into suppressing the free flow of information and wrongful intimidation of alternative voices indicate more than anything else a crumbling, bankrupt regime. We must be determined that they shall never, ever injure the just, prosperous eternity Malaysians deserve.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Nathaniel Tan
believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at


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