Traditional, modern very much on the mind at Kampot literary fest

07 Nov 2017  103 | Cambodia Travel News

Theanchhay Bun is only 21 years old, but he has always been attracted to things from a bygone era.

His winning short story for the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival’s Cambodian Emerging Writers competition, inspired by the scenes around him in Phnom Penh, tells the story of a cyclo driver who turns to alcoholism after his 7-year-old daughter dies of malaria.

It is a story inspired in part by Bun’s own feelings of loneliness this year, but is also a requiem to a once-iconic and now fading mode of transportation.

“Those kinds of things, they’re dying out,” said Bun, at the second day of the writer’s festival. “It’s dying, and nobody is learning it anymore.”

As the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival wrapped up yesterday after four and a half days of readings, workshops and performances, the themes of old and new, traditional and modern, and what can be revived or restored were very much on the minds of both the presenters and attendees.

Despite attracting a number of high-profile international authors, the festival highlighted the challenges still remaining for hopeful young Cambodian writers who said they yearn for homegrown inspiration.

Seavling Lim (left) and Theanchhay Bun, co-winners of the Emerging Writers Competition.

They are writers like 36-year-old Sokun Puthy, a Khmer tutor and author from Pursat, who travelled for six hours to reach the festival.

Her novels and short stories are inspired by the traditional lifestyles and customs of her father, a retired teacher, and her mother, a farmer and vegetable seller, Puthy said.

“Writing is very important,” Puthy said. “The writer can write about achievements to keep for the next generation, to teach them about the culture in the past, to educate young people to do something good in their life.”

Despite gaining inspiration from foreigners at writing workshops and readings over the weekend, Puthy said she remains attached to the small selection of Cambodian writers, including Mao Samnang, You Sophea and Kong Bungchhoeun.

“A lot of writers died in the Pol Pot regime,” Puthy said. “And I feel so much regret.”

Cambodia’s once-rich literary tradition, which peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, was systematically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, according to Sharon May, a writer and researcher who co-edited In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia, an anthology of modern Cambodian literature.

“Many of the writers at that time were reading other things, but what they created was a literature that was uniquely Khmer,” said May, who is working on another book that covers an even wider range of Cambodian literary history from Angkorian times to the present.

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