The 5th Khmer Literature Festival will be held in Pursat province on the grounds of Pursat High School over October 21-23, 2022, with the addition this year of short story and poetry writing competitions. This year’s theme is “Bringing Literature to all generations”.

At the same time, the festival also plans to feature a presentation on the works of poets dating back to 1975, who were robbed of the opportunity to publish or have their works read back then due to the Khmer Rouge takeover.

According to the latest information posted at the official website of the festival on July 27, 2022, the organisers plan to hold a competition for short stories and poems with general, modern and creative themes such as philosophy, life, education and culture, as well as discussion, and boob exhibition.

For the short story competition, the stories must be between five and eight A4 size pages using 12 point Khmer OS Siem Reap font in length and each candidate can submit up to two of their stories for consideration.

For the poetry competition, each work must not exceed three A4 size pages using 12 point Khmer OS Siem Reap font in length and each candidate can submit up to two poems.

“Candidates must submit works that have never been submitted in the previous competitions. They should be written in the modern style and proofread and the authors should attach their personal phone numbers and email addresses.

“The winning candidates will be invited to participate in the fifth Khmer Literature Festival in Pursat this October. The first place winner will receive one million riel, second place will receive 800,000 riel and the third place winner will receive 400,000 riel,” the managing director of the Khmer Literature Festival, Khut Sokhoeun, told The Post.

The history of Khmer literature goes back to ancient times and was flourishing up until the 1970s, after which it had to recover from the destruction of the Khmer Rouge era.

At present, according to Sokhoeun, writing opportunities and the value of the publishing industry in Cambodia have grown significantly in recent years, but the field requires constant support, predominantly through book fairs, conferences and seminars or festivals like this one.

“For this year’s Khmer Literature Festival, we also plan to collect the works of Khmer writers who had no opportunities to publish their work and no opportunity to join a competition like this one, from 1975 up to the present. We’re doing this because we want to encourage and recognise them because the value of their work was overlooked in many cases due to the prevailing circumstances,” he said.

Students look at books on sale at the Khmer Literature Festival in 2019 in Battambang. SUPPLIED

Sokhoeun said the main purpose of organising the festival was firstly in order to cultivate a love of Cambodian literature; secondly, to promote and honour the value of works by Khmer writers and thirdly, to create opportunities for authors to network and communicate with others in the industry.

“While Phnom Penh has an established arts, literature and culture scene, other provinces may have writers who we aren’t as aware of. Therefore the team decided to hold this event in all 25 provinces on a rotating basis year-to-year in order to cultivate artistic innovation and love of the arts and culture by attracting young people across the nation.

“Our vision for Khmer literature is that we want to see it play a role in contributing to the development of the country – just as much as other sectors do like agriculture, tourism, industry, imports and exports.

“We want to create a forum for communication between writers and readers and between writers and publishers and promote the value of authors by cultivating a culture that loves writing and to promote local art in each province by holding the Khmer Literature Festival in a different location annually,” Sokhoeun said.

Sokhoeun noted that the momentum and the level of participation in the Khmer Literature Festival has increased year-on-year due to better awareness of the festival’s mission and through the cooperation of the various media outlets who have reported on it.

The first Khmer Literature Festival in 2017 was initiated by author and poet So Phina in collaboration with a group of other writers who wanted to contribute to the promotion of Khmer literature. After leading the festival four times, Phina passed on those duties to Sokhoeun as the new managing director for this year’s event.

Phina, who remains on the board of directors for the Khmer Literature Festival, said she got the idea after having had the experience of attending literary events abroad with her professional colleagues and writers.

“When attending literature festivals abroad many times, my friends would ask me if there was a literature festival in Cambodia, and later I started thinking about holding a festival and I asked myself, why not? If there are film festivals and arts festivals in Cambodia, why can’t we do a literary festival,” Phina recalled.

The first Khmer Literature Festival was held on October 20-22, 2017, in Siem Reap and the second was held on October 21-23, 2018, in Battambang province. The third festival and the last to be held in person prior to this year’s was held on October 11-13, 2019, at the National Library in Phnom Penh.

In 2020, the event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the fourth festival in 2021 was organised in an online-only format.

Tim Many, a veteran writer who has volunteered to help organise the Khmer Literature Festival from the very beginning, serves as a consultant on the entire process of putting together the event.

“Another purpose of the Khmer Literature Festival is to strengthen, enhance and raise awareness of the value of Khmer literature for the next generation. Younger Cambodians should be more attentive to reading, because reading books helps them gain knowledge and improve their formal Khmer-language writing skills according to the rules of the dictionary of Samdech Sang Chuon Nath, as the younger generation often writes less accurately,” Many said.

According Sokhoeun, the most important obstacle to the 5th Khmer Literature Festival is fundraising.

“We only have a limited budget, and if we cannot secure additional sponsorship we may have to cut some activities to ensure the festival goes ahead,” he said.

Because this festival will be held in the province, the overheads will be more expensive. Therefore, he called on supporters to donate whatever they could afford to make sure it ran to its full potential.