Khmer literature has a history dating back to ancient times. Despite a tragic interruption under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, secular art is flourishing again. The possibilities for writing and the value of the publishing industry have increased dramatically. The field, however, requires constant support, mainly through book fairs, conferences and seminars.
It is with this in mind that the first Khmer Literature Festival took place in 2017, initiated by the author and poet So Phina. Working with the Khmer Collaborative Writers, she brought together many other writers to promote the Kingdom’s literature.
After leading the festival four times, Sophina has appointed Khuth Sokhoeun as general manager of the event for 2022-2023 and head of the organizing committee. Phina will remain on the committee as an advisory member.
The 5th Khmer Literature Festival 2022 will be held in Pursat Province at the grounds of Pursat High School and is scheduled for three days, October 21-23.
General Manager Sokhoeun revealed the main purpose of organizing the 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 network and communicate with other industry players.
“Our goal is to create a forum between writers and readers, between writers and publishers, and to 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 as agriculture, tourism, industry, exports and imports. Phnom Penh has an established culture of the arts, including literature, while there seems to be less interest in the provinces. It was therefore decided to hold this event in one of the 25 provinces of the Kingdom. 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 hold specific programs, but our overall plan will be to promote literature and hold performances that will inspire people to get involved. We will also organize several co-events, such as an exhibition of beautiful paintings that were commissioned as covers for Khmer novels before 1975.”
“We printed some of these paintings, with a summary of the story next to each. This means that our visitors will be able to understand the meaning of the images, in relation 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 new generation of authors and has volunteered to help the festival from its inception. As a consultant, he strives to ensure that every aspect of the event is a success.
“I am very proud to have been part of the team that organized the first festival in 2017, and to have been involved in each of them since. Participating in the festival is really beneficial for understanding many “rules” of writing, such as composition. There are events where well-known experienced authors present their own recommendations. In the past, I have given presentations in which my method of composing novels and short stories was distributed to participants, and then we held a live Q&A,” he said.
“The festival also educates the next generation on the value of Khmer literature. Young Cambodians should pay more attention to reading, as it helps them acquire knowledge. It also improves their Khmer writing – the younger generation often writes with less precision,” he added.
The festival was first held in October 2017 in Siem Reap, with discussion forums on important topics, book launches, and writing and performing arts workshops. The second was held at
Province of Battambang, in 2018. Its theme was “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 canceled due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, while last year’s event was held entirely online.
According to Sokhoeun, attendance at the Khmer Literature Festival has increased year by year due to growing media awareness and cooperation.