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Cambodia retakes place on the world literary stage

Sok Chanphal (second from right) with Chen Songsomphan (centre), president of the Writers’ Association of Thailand
Sok Chanphal (second from right) with Chen Songsomphan (centre), president of the Writers’ Association of Thailand. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Cambodia retakes place on the world literary stage

Cambodian writer Sok Chanphal was presented this week with the SEA Write Award for Cambodia, the first time in five years a Khmer writer has won the award.

Chanphal joined winners from the nine other ASEAN nations at a glittering ceremony in Bangkok to accept the award from Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The SEA Write Awards honour the best in Southeast Asian writing. With the inclusion of writers from Cambodia and Myanmar, this is the first time in 11 years that every ASEAN nation has been represented.

The awards, which have been running since 1979, coincide with Bangkok being recognised as the “2013 Book Capital of the World” by UNESCO.

The last Cambodian entry was Sin Touch in 2008, while Chanphal was the 11th in the award’s history.

After receiving the award, Chanphal, 29, seemed a little overwhelmed by the scale of the celebrations. “It is hard to describe, as this award is an honour and meaningful recognition for me to show the success of my . . . long writing career.

Especially, it is a very great honour and a beautiful experience in my life to be the first Cambodian for five years to win a SEA Write award, and also I’m the youngest awardee this year,” he said.

He continued: “Everything is the first time for me, but it’s a wonderful week, to feel part of the celebrations as an awardee. But I was quite nervous because I have to meet and face many people.”

Chanphal said that despite representing Cambodia, it is the art that is important for him, not his nationality. However, “I was proud of myself when I can stand as a writer from Cambodia, especially when I saw my national flag in the ceremony.”

He said the award is likely to be valuable in terms of experience in the future. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting the other awardees and, as a writer, I feel we have a lot in common. Sure, I am the youngest this year, so I feel a little as if the other writers are my father, mother, brother and sister.

“I’m a quiet person, but during the awards week I tried to talk with the other winners. They will come to visit me in Cambodia, and I’ll go to visit them too. It’s great for me to have many writers as my friends.” Chanphal foresees the award being helpful for all Cambodian writers and poets.

“I’m sure that with this valuable experience I have learned a lot to help other Cambodian writers. I’m also thinking to make a writer’s award here in Cambodia, if it’s possible.”

Chanphal has had three short stories published in English this year in Just a Human Being (Nou Hach, 2013) but has been winning awards since 2006. The SEA Write Committee praised the “existential, reflective quality” of his writing, while Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies at California State University, part of the committee that chose Chanphal for the award called him “the best short fiction writer in Cambodia at this time”.

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