Georgetown Literature Festival Forewords, Afterword: Hear the Malaysian Writers Out

Georgetown Literature Festival is an international literary festival gathering world literature writers to celebrate their literary works. This festival was organized by Pauline Fan, Sharaad Kuttan, and Shankar R. Santhiram from 21st to 24th November 2019. The notion of the theme, “Forewords, Afterwords” is to put a strong emphasis on history and to discuss the profound changes in the realm of culture and ideas after the First World War, May Fourth Movement, and May 13th incident. Due to the limitations, I will only cover five types of events in Georgetown Literature Festival.

GTLF Conversations: Tee Kim Tong

This one-to-one conversation took place in Black Kettle cafe. Tee Kim Tong just promoted his Mandarin book Geeko in which tackles the May Thirteen incident. When asked about how he finds narrative voices in his books, he answered:

Metafiction is a good technique for the writer. To tell an interesting story, I think we need to put an emphasis on how to write a story. In Geeko, I wrote about May 13th indirectly.

He also mentioned that Malaysian Chinese writers have the uniqueness, in terms of having different voices in writings.

Food Narratives: Penang Peranakan & Chinese Food Stories

This event provided a glimpse of Penang Peranakan and Chinese Food… and guess what…We got FREE FOOD from Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery. The owner and her son Beh Gaik Lean and Adrian Tan were invited to talk about their Baba Nyonya food. Besides the restaurant in Penang, they have opened a restaurant, named ‘Long Table’ in Kuala Lumpur. According to Lean, ‘Long Table’ carries the meaning of bringing the family together such as the reunion of wedding. Next, the Chairman of Ghee Hiang talked about the stories of ‘Tau Sah Piah’ and sesame oil.

The GTLF co-organiser introduced Lean and her son.

Lean holds on to her Food Belief:

There is no food that I can do it at home and can’t do it in restaurants.

Dato Ooi Ghee Hiang talked about Ghee Hiang’s Tau Sah Piah.

Meanwhile, Dato Ooi Ghee Hiang ended his sharing:

Be faithful. Be true with what you do.

Discussion: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (It Will Be Spoken)

This discussion was moderated by Tehmina Kaoosji. Six speakers were discussing the power of spoken words and how their arts break the silence on controversial topics for a radical change. Preetipls as a social media influencer said: “I realised that I can help or speak an actual change via Youtube.”. Next, Subhas emphasised that poetry can change things. Mwaffaq Hajjar and Jack Malik shared similar views of poetry as they mentioned “every poem is political” and “political poetry opens hope” respectively. Two of my favourite poets, Dhinesha Kartigesu and Nana stated their reasons for writing spoken words poetry.

Dhinesha: I write because I do. I represent the minority (the LGBTQ and Indian males).

Nana: Only I can write what I like.

To sum up, spoken words poetry is a form to represent yourself and open mic is a safe thing to say what could not be said. 

Book Launch: ‘Ronggeng-Ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories”

This was the most looking-forward book launch as our lecturer Professor Malachi Edwin Vethamani had edited and published a collection of six decades of Malaysian Short Stories. He dedicated ‘Ronggeng-ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories’ to Lloyd Fernando. In his speech, he thanked his two former students, Michelle Beth Chong and Yee Heng Yeh (also the emcee of the book launch) who helped him throughout his book publication. During this session, the writers took turn to read excerpts from their short stories. My personal favourite stories are Haunting the Tiger by KS Maniam and Mr Petronas by Tunku Halim.

Reading: Readings from the Master’s Writing Workshops of LASALLE College of the Arts ft. UNM students

It was a great honour that University of Nottingham Malaysia students were given the opportunity to perform their poetry with LASALLE College of Arts students. Their poems were quite emotional and relatable as most of the poets set their works in Singapore or Malaysia. Indeed, it was a great exposure to see how the writers construct and recite their poems differently by using Malaysian or Singaporean accent.

As UNM School of English students, we were thankful that School of English had sponsored the transportation fees and some of the final-year students were given the chance to recite the poems in the last event. Overall, Georgetown Literature festival was LIT!!

Photographed by Joann Chua Rou En

Written by Joann Chua Rou En

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