Books · Life

George Town Literary Festival 2016

The sixth George Town Literary Festival (GTLF) was held at Penang Island, Malaysia on the 25th to the 27th of November this year, and it’s the very first literary festival that I’ve ever attended. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have gone there on my own and it wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind if I were at Penang with company (first thought is always sight-seeing, second would be food, glorious food) but since this was a trip organized by a club in my university…I went. I was amazed. I wished I could attend the previous one and would definitely attended the oncoming one.

The bus I was in arrived in the afternoon on the 25th. I was too tired from the six-hour trip so I didn’t go to any of the afternoon events, but I did attend the opening ceremony at Black Kettle.

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Bernice Chauly, Festival Director for five consecutive years, giving her speech.

I stayed until the end of that and also watched ‘Words and Movement’ where Aida Redza and Lee Su-Feh preformed (though I didn’t actually see much of the latter since I had several tall people in front of me and several more people behind me), and had to leave to get dinner.


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From Left to Right: Jérôme Bouchaud, Muhammad Haji Salleh, Pauline Fan, and Bruce Humes

The next day, though, I attended a few sessions. The timings were rather unfortunate because I wanted to go to every session but their times clashed…Especially for ‘Aliens, Birdmen and Other Beings — Bringing Characters to Life on the Stage and Screen’ which featured writers Mahesh Dattani, Nandita Solomon, A.S. Hardy Shafii and Prabda Yoon, and ‘Speaking in Tongues: The Art and Craft of Translation’ which featured Pauline Fan, Jérôme Bouchaud, Bruce Humes and Muhammad Haji Salleh. My friends and I split up so some of us attended the former while the rest (including myself) went for the latter.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the best seat thanks to the pillar blocking most of my view so my shots for this session aren’t great either. That aside, I really enjoyed this panel! The translators talked about how their started their journey into translation, their current/most recent projects and read out a few of their translated words as well. It was entertaining and moderator Gareth Richards was really good at prompting both audience and translators. The only unfortunate thing at this session was that we hadn’t had enough time to ask the translators questions.

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Gareth Richards of the Gerakbudaya Bookshop standing on the right.

Another panel that I attended on this day was ‘The Poet’s Garden’ which featured poets Chiew Ruoh Peng, Olga Martynova, Pablo Jofré and Manal Younus. They spoke about their views on poetry and their ways of crafting it. They answered questions by both the moderator and the audience, providing personal knowledge and experience. They also read/preformed some of their poems.

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Olga Martynova answering a question by moderator Pauline Fan

It was a rather enlightening experience, particularly since I had completed the poetry section of my current university module not long prior to attending the GTLF.

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A. Jessie Michael Talking about her book.

The last session for the day that I attended was a combined book launch—which I suspected was due to timing issues. The books and authors involved here were published by Maya Press. A. Jessie Michael spoke about and read some excerpts from The Mad Man and Other Stories, a collection of short stories she has written over the last 30 years that involves events she remembers during old and contemporary Malaysia. Malachi Edwin Vethamani, on the other hand, invited several poets whose works are involved in his volume on Malaysian poetry titled Malchin Testament: Malaysian PoemsI’d honestly thought that “Malchin” was a play on his name, until he explained what it really meant and that it was a combination of “Malay”, ” Chinese” and “Indian” (the primary races in Malaysia)!

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Malachi Edwin Vethamani introducing his book.

Among the poets whose works are included in Vethamani’s volume are Sheena Baharudin, Melizarani T. Selva, Jamal Raslan, and Wong Phui Name. There are some others whose names I didn’t catch but I especially enjoyed Vethamani’s part of this session, which is mostly due to the fact that I (unfortunately) couldn’t really hear Michael’s part of the book launch session.

(And no, I didn’t buy either of the two books since it started raining and I and my friends had to run back to the inn before it rained any harder. November isn’t really the best season to hold events in Malaysia since there’s usually a lot of rain at this time.)


On the final day of the GTLF, my friends and I first watched a solo performance called ‘How Enid Blyton Changed My Life’ by Robert Dessaix.

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Robert Dessaix preforming for his session

I couldn’t really hear the audio at this session as well, so I only caught a few bits before I had to leave for the ‘Poetry Marathon’ slated at 12.30pm in a different room. The few bits that I had caught were incredibly amusing, though! Dessaix’s humor is very much on point.

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From Left to Right: Chiew Ruoh Peng, Nicholas Wong, Daphne Marlatt, Olga Martynova, Tishani Doshi, Manal Younus, Pablo Jofré, Nathalie Handal, Ghayath Almadhoun, A. Samad Said, Faisal Tehrani, Stephen James Smith, and Stefan Hertmans. (Bernice Chauly is the one at the mike, Melizarani T. Selva is not in the picture.)

Since my university’s bus was leaving at 4.30pm, the final session that I ended for this last day of the GTLF is ‘Readings: UNMC English Students’. If you’ve connected the dots, congratulations! Yes, I am a student of the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) and yes, the students who read their works at this session are my seniors. Regrettably, I have no photos of this session to share since I accidentally deleted them from my camera (I’m so mad but nothing can be done about this, sobs) so I’m really sorry!


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The Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian, translated by Bruce Humes

All in all, it was a wonderful experience! I managed to buy two books from Gerakbudaya as you can see from the following pictures, and I (obviously) had a lot of fun.

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They Call Us Loud and its companion album by William Beale

The only downside was the terrible audio but the brilliant selection of writers, moderators and performers pretty much made up for that (not that I wouldn’t complain about the audio any further! I seriously couldn’t hear most of what was said, especially over the noise of the air blower machine-things).

Nevertheless, I will definitely be attending next year’s GTLF. Although Bernice Chauly has stepped down from being the festival director, I’m sure that the future George Town Literary Festivals will remain at least, good!

DID YOU ATTEND GTLF THIS YEAR? OF HAVE YOU ATTENDED OTHER/SIMILAR FESTIVAL BEFORE? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS ‘CAUSE I’D LOVE TO KNOW!
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