Festival curator Umapagan Ampikaipakan talks about the importance of reading, the need for discourse and all things literary.
IF there is one thing that we Malaysians are doing less, it is reading. This noble habit seems to be dangerously declining over the years. We are just not reading enough.
Literary critic Umapagan Ampikaipakan shares this sentiment. Not only does he reckon this to be the case, he ardently believes that Malaysians should make reading an imperative in their daily lives.
“I firmly believe that reading, that literature, that the continuous quest for knowledge, is the silver bullet. It is the panacea to all that ails us.
“It’ll make us better informed as a society. It’ll make us more creative. It’ll inspire us to greater heights,” says Umapagan.
This year, Umapagan, the man behind the now two-year-old, mid-year Cooler Lumpur Festival, assumes the role of curator of the annual George Town Literary Festival (GTLF), taking over from author/poet Bernice Chauly.
Launched in 2011, the GTLF acts as a platform for authors, poets, publishers, readers – anyone interested in words, really – to share works, hold discussions, and exchange ideas.
The three-day festival, beginning on Friday and running until Sunday, will take place in the Whiteaways Arcade in George Town and takes on the theme “Capital” this time around.
“I think ‘capital’ is an incredible word. It describes everything we’re aspiring to, not just as a nation, but as human beings. Human capital. Historical capital,” points out Umapagan.
“But most of all, it is a word that is defined by the progressive. Capital is all about looking to the future. And that’s precisely what we’re doing at GTLF.
“We’re asking the important questions: What is the future of Malaysian literature? Where are we going? And, more importantly, how are we going to get there?” he asserts.
Umapagan says that, while he is building on the tremendous work done by Chauly, he will also be experimenting as GTLF’s curator. As such, the festival will hold workshops for the first time ever.
“This is something I’ve learned from The Cooler Lumpur Festival, that Malaysians are starved for that sort of interaction. We seem to enjoy acquiring new skills but lack the avenues to do so,” he shares.
He goes on to say that festivals such as this should serve a dual purpose: besides promoting interaction between readers and writers, they should also have “a developmental component”.
Umapagan believes that the panel discussions, exchange of ideas and debates are crucial.
“We crave debate. And we’ve been doing it a lot more of late. However, the level of our discourse, both public and private, leaves a lot to be desired.
“For that to change, people need to realise that it’s OK to speak. That it’s OK to think. That words aren’t moral or immoral. Actions are,” says Umapagan.
The three days of the fest are packed with literary events set to prick the curiosity of even those who have not picked up a book in their lives.
One such event is a lecture by Kassim Ahmad, one of Malaysia’s leading Islamic intellectuals. Entitled “Tuah, Jebat And The Battle For The Malay Soul”, Kassim will scrutinise traditional interpretations of Malay mythology.
There will also be several panel discussions and lectures featuring prominent authors from around the world such as Miguel Syjuco, Filipino author and winner of the 2008 Asian Literary Prize (formerly the Man Asian Literary Prize 2007-2012) for his novel, Ilustrado; British author Susan Barker who penned Sayonara Bar, The Orientalist And The Ghost and The Incarnations; Malaysian poet Wong Phui Nam; and Indonesian journalist and novelist Leila S. Chudori.
The George Town Literary Festival 2014 will take place at The Whiteaways Arcade, Lebuh Pantai, George Town, from Nov 28 to Nov 30. For more information, visit georgetownlitfest.com, call 04-264 3456 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.