Khmer literature festival was great. Why did few people hear about it?

Khmer language books for sale at a street-side vendor in Phnom Penh.
Khmer language books for sale at a street-side vendor in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

I am one of the writers who attended the Khmer literature festival in Siem Reap last weekend. Even though the festival seems small, there were at least 30 writers involved. It was well-organised. Most of us were travelling from Phnom Penh. The organisers worked very hard to put all the pieces together, arranging logistics, accommodation, and managing the whole festival.

I felt a sense of unity and happy to be able to spend three days with other writers. We have the same common goal that we want to see Cambodia start to value reading and seeing its benefits to the nation. By being united, we want to see more valuing of writers. They really need the support and encouragement to keep moving forward and producing more books.

The festival took place at Wat Damnak for the first two days, and the last day was at Wat Bo. I was presenting in the session of Snadai Thmei – “New writing and Publishing”. There were 13 writers who presented their books, some of them were already published, and some are going to publish in the coming months or early next year.

A favourite moment was watching the women’s drum group Medha. Their performance was stunning, and I shed tears without knowing it when during the finale they shouted “be brave, persist, courage!” Master artist Peak Chapech also performed solo Bassak storytelling. It was an impressive one-hour recital of the tale.

The festival’s programme on philosophy focused on the writer Khun Srun, who perished during the Khmer Rouge regime at the age of 33. His work is not very well known, but is celebrated for its social criticism that still has relevance today.

I never really knew about Khun Srun’s work until attending the festival, and realised his work is really amazing. There are lot of positive thoughts and philosophy in his book. After the festival, I now want to do more research and read more of his work.

I could see that the festival still lacked media outreach. It was a great festival, and I wish there were more people who knew about it.

Thon Thavry
Phnom Penh
Author of
A Proper Woman