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The disorganised writers festival


When I first saw in my email that the Kampot Writer Festival had invited me to be a guest speaker to talk about my book – A Proper Woman – I felt very excited, and I kept telling people that I was going to speak at the festival. I felt my work was seen as valuable and I was honoured to be invited.

Time passed, on the fourth evening, I had not yet heard anything from the organiser about their promise to arrange transportation and accommodation for me. I called my other writer friends, and they told me they had decided to cancel and not go, because of the unfairness they faced. They did not inform the organisers. I decided to book transportation by myself. My rule of life is: If I promise to do something, I will do it.

I arrived in Kampot at about 11:30am, I walked towards the park near Psa Kronat. I asked students if they knew where the Kampot Writers Festival was being held. They told me they didn’t know. I saw the big cover roof with the big microphone at the park. I walked towards it, but when I got closer, it was just a wedding party. I got lost.

I called the organiser and they brought me to the festival. I inquired about the schedule, and the time I would speak. They were lost, and they took me from one place to another. I felt like “What is going on?” Finally, they told me that I was with the “New Voices” group. I was to speak at 2pm at Java the Blue.

Making sure I was a little bit early, I arrived at 1:45pm. I finally met the other writers. They arranged for us to sit at the restaurant space of Java the Blue. It was just so unorganised. There were 11 writers, we had so little time to share our work. There were about 10 or so audience members. Thanks to Sharon May who volunteered to coordinate the New Voices panel.

Pen Line, a writer, shares her experience: “My expectation was meeting many famous Khmer writers like Poan Phoung Bopha, who have had successful careers, to come and share. I feel happy that I came, because I met other Khmer writers, but I felt like it is just a very small event.

I have learned very little because 11 writers were to speak at an hour and a half event, meaning less than 10 minutes each to share their experiences and work. Its looks like Cambodia does not have writers. I hope next time they will have proper planning, and let us have some time to rest. When we came we had to find places, and it is more like going on a trip rather than coming for the festival. They made us feel like losing motivation as Khmer young writers.”

I am glad I went, and I met all of the Khmer writers and a few Westerners. I learned what challenges writers face and must overcome. Some writers came all the way from Battamabang, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. It took days of travel to get there, and all they got was 10 minutes to share about their experiences as writers.

I expected that they would be able to share on why they started writing, what techniques they use, where to print their works cheaply, how to get an ISBN or their views on copyright law.

Chanphal Sok, a script writer at Hang Meas Production says: “I expected to meet many Khmer writers in the festival. I feel it’s wonderful to make this in Kampot, a lovely province in Cambodia. I wish other Asian writers (Thai Laos . . .) come to join this event.”

I felt so divided. I felt I was not valuable enough to the festival. I don’t mind paying everything myself, but they were the ones who promised to arrange transportation and accommodation. But I had to do everything myself. I don’t like when people underdeliver on promises.

I would be happy enough if they said: “Please come and join us, this is for the social good. And sorry we don’t have funding to support your travels.” I would have understood. And of course I can cover my own expenses.

Yeng Chheangly, a writer and poet: “It should have involved more Khmer writers, and involving local high school students. Make it more like promoting Khmer literature as on par wtih Westerners. Make a clear venue for speakers/writers. Writers should be properly invited. Make an easy way for them to access the festival. My take-away from this festival is ‘unorganised’.”

When I went to Nataya Resort with other writers, I saw many foreigners sitting near the beach, watching the indigenous show, looking so fancy. This made me feel that the festival was more about them, and more about their own barang clique.

Steven W Palmer, a novelist, says: “The festival should have the best of both worlds – expat and foreign acts and what is happening in Khmer culture (both traditional and contemporary) . . . The [festival] needs either equal input from Khmers . . . or have a Khmer director every second year. This would ensure balance. A Khmer literary festival organised by Khmers where [foreigners] are the invited guests and participants instead of vice versa.”

I did not bother to sit on that performance at that fancy resort. But all of the writers were sitting nearby, sharing our stories. We felt like we were one, and love the same thing. We discovered we face the same challenges – and of course we face the same injustices.

Thun Thavry, author of the forthcoming A Proper Woman



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We are 1's picture

I note that the article has been reposted in the Kampot Notice Board with similar comments expressing the disorganisation of the event and the self serving nature of the organisers. It would appear that the general feeling would be for new organisers next year to ensure that the festival survives and includes more khmers and less "friends" of the organisers.

AL KWRF's picture

Hi, We are very sorry that you could not find either festival hub and sorry your session was moved after a venue pulled out the day before. Java Blue was gracious enough to hold this important Khmer panel for you and the other artists, which was one of the highlights of the festival from what I've heard. We also had another venue cancel which caused more scheduling issues. If you invoice KWRF we will be glad to reimburse your expenses as we had over 75 Khmer artists that we provided for. The festival wasn't as organized this year as last but KWRF is all done on a shoestring budget by a small over-worked staff. We welcome any volunteers for 2017

Thanks again to all that performed, attended, sponsored and volunteered to make this years KWRF 2016 a huge success. We had over 75 Khmer artists and performers this year with over 85 events and the festival is still free to all to attend and participate. Much LOVE and Thanks KWRF 2016

We are 1's picture

why were venues cancelling at the last minute? Would this have been due to the lack of organisation and respect paid towards those who offered their assistance? At no time did the organisers ask the venues what times maybe suitable for their businesses and just expect them to fit in with their schedule without the respect of advising the venues before going to print? The attendance was down on the previous year as there wasn't even a schedule released until a few days prior to the events. It appears that there is more advertising post festival than there was pre festival. Will the finances be released for scrutiny? Its very apparent that there is negative feeling towards the why in which the event was organised from both artists, local businesses that offered to participate and even the local community, as can be seen in the posts on the Kampot Noticeboard. It appears the organisers wish to ignore these feeling and are more intent on bathing in their own glory.

AL KWRF's picture

No so sorry to disappoint you guy. Rescheduling with done with one venue as they didn't think sessions would draw a crowd, which they did at rescheduled venue and other venue only wanted one event. It's sad that one disgruntled ex-pat tries to speak for the entire city as 98% of reviews from KWRF were positive as over 100 plus artists came together for amazing performances, workshops and collaborations but unfortunately some people only focus on negativity even when festival makes them a big profit for their business, is free to all and promotes tourism in Kampot. Thanks for all your concern and contribution though.