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Cambodian wordsmiths to receive Mekong River Literature Awards

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Moeun Samnang (centre), who is well known for his poetry, has been selected for the best poem award at the 10th Mekong River Literature Awards in Myanmar. Photo supplied

Cambodian wordsmiths to receive Mekong River Literature Awards

Two Cambodian wordsmiths – a short story writer and a poet – have been selected for honours at the 10th Mekong River Literature Awards in Myanmar.

This year’s topic was Life and Mekong River Sustainability, and after a strict selection process, Dr Setharin Penn, a professor of Khmer literature at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), won the short story competition.

Best poem went to Siem Reap province’s Moeun Samnang, who is well known for his poetry.

Using the traditional Khmer verse style, his poem Love Along the River beautifully tells the story of a fisherman who braves the weather and harsh conditions to catch fish for his wife to sell.

Penn and Samnang will travel to Myanmar for the 10th Mekong River Literature Awards and share centre stage with winners from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China and Myanmar at the ceremony, which runs from October 11-14.

Penn, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, won with her short story Kongkear Chivit – Water of Life.

The piece reflects her experiences of travelling across Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The 12-page short story, which took her only three weeks to write, portrays the love and struggles of a couple who live along the Mekong River.

“My actual profession is research as I’m an anthropologist, but I love writing. I am excited whenever I meet people and hear their stories. This instantly ignites my passion for writing. When a story sparks my interest, when a life inspires me, I want to share it with other people through writing.

“When I start writing, I don’t see it as work. I do it because I love spreading ideas and messages to my readers,” says the Cambodian-Japanese professor who taught at the University of Tokyo for some years.

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Dr Setharin Penn, a professor of Khmer literature at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, won the short story competition. Photo supplied

Lek Chumnor, the director of operations at Khmer Book Publishing and vice-president of the Khmer Writers Association, told The Post that each member country selects its winners for best short story and poem on the theme. They can be no more than 15 pages long.

“We wanted to see our short story writer and poet produce work based on both the good and bad sides of human activities while people live and depend on the biodiversity of the Mekong River.

“What they express in their pieces will be great additions to the body of stories set along the Mekong,” Chumnor says.

The Mekong River Literature Awards were started by the heads of writers’ associations from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, where people’s lifestyles and culture are shared through the flow of the mighty river.

The awards were established in October 2006 to honour writers from member countries after the leaders of the three writers’ associations met in Ho Chi Minh City.

The first awards were held in Hanoi in 2007, with 15 writers from the three founding nations honoured.

With the hosting of the Mekong River Literature Awards rotated, this year will see Myanmar, the sixth country to join the group, host them for the first time.

Two winners from each member state will be honoured.

“Next year, Cambodia will host the 2020 Mekong River Literature Awards,” Chumnor says proudly.