KL Alternative Bookfest returns with indie literary buzz, author encounters


With nearly 50 exhibitors (indie, specialist and mainstream publishers), the KL Alternative Bookfest 2024 is set to offer book lovers a glimpse of the contemporary literature scene in the country. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

The Kuala Lumpur Alternative Bookfest (KLAB) 2024 is set to return to Central Market in Kuala Lumpur from Feb 22-25, with 49 booksellers, independent publishing companies, distributors and niche bookshops joining this year's edition.

In a landscape dominated by mainstream publishing, this festival - organised by Malaysian Book Publishers Association with support from Fixi and The Patriots - aims to carve out a niche for the Malaysian literary and publishing communities which embrace the spirit of independence in the written word.

Central Market – as a venue – also seems to be a big hit with the KLAB following, which turned out in force last year with 50,000 visitors. KLAB is a book fair that has been held in various locations the capital since 2008.

As a four-day programme, the masses will have plenty to keep them busy throughout the upcoming KLAB, now in its 15th edition.

The KL Alternative Bookfest, which as a 15-year history, has emerged as a testament to the resilience and creativity inherent in the world of independent publishing in Malaysia. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong  The KL Alternative Bookfest, which as a 15-year history, has emerged as a testament to the resilience and creativity inherent in the world of independent publishing in Malaysia. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

"The last two years have seen the biggest crowds ever (for KLAB), in the tens of thousands while previously we never managed get close to 10,000. This is because Central Market has revitalised itself as a hub for domestic and international tourism. Although not all would have specifically come for KLAB, this is a good thing as its a chance to get new readers instead of relying on existing ones," says Amir Muhammad, the managing director of Buku Fixi, one of the regular participants/organisers at KLAB through the years.

This year, KLAB is expecting a bigger crowd. The festival will also be divided into three zones, namely the Atrium Indoor, Bridge Indoor (first floor) and Artlane Outdoor, to ensure different experiences for the visitor.

The book events, including launches, talks and discussions, will be the main highlight of the festival. For added fun, there will also be live performances and Insta-worthy activities such as the "Snake & Ladder" game, acoustic performances and a balloonist clown to be discovered at the Artlane Outdoor activity room.

At the heart of the KLAB is the list of exhibitors, which include FIXI, The Patriots, IBDE, Iman, Rabak-Lit, PTS, Karangkraf, Pelangi, Pak Latip & Keluarge, Biblio Press, Manes, RA Arts Haven, Must Read, SAFIY Art & Publishing, RC Publication, Hikayat Fandom, Riwayat, Tokosue, Tarbiah Sentap, Pelita Dhihin, Working Desk Publishing, Geng Buku, Dua Penulis, Whitecoat, Tentang Kita, Penerbitan Hayrat, Ramlee Awang Murshid, and Kedai Dr Mazlee.

Amir (left), from Buku Fixi and one of the festival's organisational supporters, is expecting the crowd at this year's KLAB at Central Market to surpass last year's figures, which stood at 50,000 visitors. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong Amir (left), from Buku Fixi and one of the festival's organisational supporters, is expecting the crowd at this year's KLAB at Central Market to surpass last year's figures, which stood at 50,000 visitors. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

"We can say the 49 vendors represent a fair selection of the type of companies that applied. We have unfortunately seen a decline in the kind of 'indie publishing' that thrived in the 2013-2017 era, as most of those years had the Baucar Buku 1Malaysia stimulus. Maybe the landscape now looks more mainstream, with big companies like Karangkraf and PTS joining in, but we still have some small-scale and individualistic work; people just have to be curious enough to look," said Amir.

With the focus mainly on contemporary Bahasa Malaysia books and a growing number of English titles, visitors to KLAB can expect a diverse range of genres, from fiction to graphic novels, biographies and journals.

The local poetry and fanzine scene will also be well-represented along with children's book publishers in the line-up to introduce the next generation to the world of KLAB.

KLAB is a free admission festival, which will run daily from 10am to 10pm.

More info here.

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