The winners of the Indra Devi Award, organised by the Department of Books and Reading of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, were announced on November 25. The top five entries in two categories, poetry and short stories, were awarded a range of prizes.

Each winner received a certificate of recognition and a cash prize, with the top three in each also receiving trophies of gold, solve and bronze, according to their position.

First prize in the poetry class went to Phirum Dara from Stung Treng province, for his piece, The Merit of Work. He was followed by Oddar Meanchey’s Moeun Sanang, with Teacher on the Border. In third was Chuon Khmao of Preah Sihanouk, with The District Chief.

Fourth place was awarded to Kampot’s Chamroeun Sopheak for The Life Story of Raksmey. He was followed by Kampong Cham’s Sam Sonith, The Moisture of a Peach. Sadly, Sonith’s award was posthumous, as he passed way in October.

Community Complaint by Pursat writer Huy Sarath, was judged the best short story. Second and third were awarded to Phnom Penh’s Sovann Sereyvuth and Pov Makara, for The Sound of Bilani and The Sun is Shining Now, Father, respectively. Fourth place went to Battambang’s Ton Chanrith for his piece Bassac, with the final spot going to Seang Chhunly from Kampong Speu province, for Cedar Hill.

Department director Kok Ros said that the works submitted by this year’s contestants, both short novels and poems, were of educational value, as they reflected the realities of modern society, but he offered some constructive criticism.

“The level of work does not seem to vary much from year to year – there were some interesting angles in some of the short stories, but nothing outstanding. The judging committee had a lot of praise for poets’ grammar and syntax, but felt like their content was formulaic and let them down,” he added.

On behalf of the selection committee and the fine arts ministry, Ros outlined eight key strategies to promote the art of Khmer literature.

He proposed opening more training courses and workshops for those who wished to write, while suggesting that government institutions, NGOs and the private sector should hold frequent Khmer poetry competitions.

He suggested that all media, including social, should be employed to share new work, as it would motivate writers if their work became widely known.

More essay contests ought to be held, as they drew out writers whose work might otherwise go unread.

He also believed that national book fairs encouraged people to take up reading for pleasure, often the first step towards writing.

He suggested that government institutions provide more opportunities for outstanding poets to participate in large recitals.

The seventh strategy was to facilitate the publishing of work, so people could access them more easily.

Finally, he called for the strengthening of the implementation of intellectual property and copyright laws.

The committee are accepting entries for next year’s competition now. Entries close on June 30, 2023.

There is no set topic for next year’s competition. The terms and conditions of entry can be found of the fine arts ministry’s website.