Khmer literature has a history which dates from ancient times. Despite a tragic interruption under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, the age-old art is once again blooming. Writing opportunities and the value of the publishing industry have grown significantly. The field requires constant support, however, predominantly through book fairs, conferences and seminars.
This was the thinking behind the first Khmer Literature Festival in 2017, initiated by author and poet So Phina. Working with the Khmer Collaborative Writers, she gathered many other writers to promote the Kingdom’s literature.
After leading the festival four times, Sophina assigned Khuth Sokhoeun as managing director of the event for 2022-2023 and head of the organising committee. Phina will remain on the committee as an advisory member.
The 5th Khmer Literature Festival 2022 will be held in Pursat province on the grounds of Pursat High School and is planned for three days, October 21 to 23.
Managing director Sokhoeun revealed the main purpose of organising this event. First, they want to cultivate a love of Cambodian literature. Second, they aim to promote the honor and values of Khmer writers. Finally, they aim to create an opportunity for authors to build networks and communicate with others in the industry.
“Our goal is to create a forum between writers and readers, between writers and publishers, and promote the value of authors by cultivating a culture of love for local literature,” he said.
“We believe that literature has a role to play in the development of the country – just as much of a role as agriculture, tourism, industry, exports and imports. Phnom Penh has an established culture of the arts, including literature, whereas there seems to be less interest in the provinces. Therefore, it was decided to hold this event in one of the Kingdom’s 25 provinces. We hope to cultivate new ideas and a love of arts and culture by attracting young people,” he added.
Sokhoeun also briefly described the contents of this year’s festival: “We plan to organise specific programmes, but our overall plan will be to promote literature and hold performances that will inspire people to involve themselves. We will also host several co-events, such as an exhibition of beautiful paintings that were commissioned as cover art for Khmer novels before 1975.”
“We have printed some of these paintings, with a summary of the story alongside each one. This means our visitors will be able to understand the meanings of the images, as they relate to the original tales. Books will also be on sale, although the committee has yet to confirm which sponsorship partners we will be working with. We also plan to invite old and new writers to present their experiences through various workshops,” he added.
Veteran writer Tim Many has written countless novels, including “Khloklech Ambeng Andet”, “Saom Srolanh Khnanch Aneth” and “Domnok Phleang Chamreangsne”. He is widely respected among the newest generation of authors and volunteered to help the festival from its very beginning. As a consultant, he strives to ensure each aspect of the event is a success.
“I am very proud to have been part of the team that organised the first festival in 2017, and have been involved with each one since. Participation in the festival is really beneficial in gaining an understanding of many of the ‘rules’ of writing, such as composition. There are events where well-known experienced authors present their own recommendations. In the past, I made presentations in which my method of composing novels and short stories were distributed to the participants, and then we held a live Q&A,” he said.
“The festival also and raises awareness of the value of Khmer literature to the next generation. Younger Cambodians should be more attentive to reading, because it helps them gain knowledge. It also improves their Khmer writing – the younger generation often writes less accurately,” he added.
The festival was first held in October 2017 in Siem Reap, with discussion forums on important matters, book launches and writing and performance arts workshops. The second was held in
Battambang province, in 2018. It had the theme “The past, present and future of Khmer literature.”
The 2019 festival, held in Phnom Penh, included a two-day book fair and an exhibition at the National library.
In 2020, the event was cancelled due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, while last year’s event was run entirely online.
According to Sokhoeun, participation in the Khmer Literature Festival has increased year on year due to increasing awareness and cooperation from the media.