Khmer writer Un Sok Heang said that the purchase of poetry books and people’s interest in writing poetry has spiked in recent years. He has always been fascinated by it and has spent decades contemplating Khmer literature and producing it himself.
Born in Phnom Penh, Sok Heang resided there until 1975 when he was evacuated to the countryside along with the rest of the city’s population by the Khmer Rouge and then forced to reside in Prey Veng province until the regime fell in 1979.
Fortunately, he survived the Khmer Rouge period and returned to city life once again. After finishing high school in 1988 he was awarded with a scholarship to pursue his studies in Vietnam and he learned to speak the Vietnamese language.
Then in 1989 he studied political theory at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and in Hanoi before graduating from the Polytechnic University in Ho Chi Minh City.
After graduation in Vietnam, from 1993-1995 he studied at the Institute of Technology in Cambodia. Today he is a senior technical official at the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology & Innovation and also a member of the Khmer Writer’s Association.
Sok Heang has written many books in his four decades as a writer in Cambodia and from 1984-1994 he also wrote many smaller works in the form of short poems, puzzles and jokes that were published in many Cambodia newspapers.
In 1985, he took first place in the essay competition in Phnom Penh out of 60 candidates and in 1986 he took second place in the same competition out of 54 candidates
Also in 1986, he took first place at the literary awards for Phnom Penh youths for his novel Deep in the Heart, which was published the following year by the Phnom Penh Youth Association Bulletin.
In 1989, he took third place for his novel “Sea Waves” at the Literary Composition Festival’s Phnom Penh Literary Awards.
In 1995, he took 5th place out of 96 candidates for his novel Quiet Night at the National Literary Festival for the Preah Sihanouk Raja award and then he placed highly at the festival again in 1997 for his novel Days Do Not Fall Apart.
In 2015, he was awarded for a short novel titled Precious Mother’s Milk at the sixth Mekong River Festival, which celebrated arts and culture from Cambodia, Laos, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam and took place in Vientiane, Laos.
“The field of writing provides great value for society now and in the future because peaceful and prosperous countries must develop people’s mindsets before the country can become as modern and civilized as fully developed nations,” Sok Heang said.
He added that if anyone wants to be a good writer or a professional poet, it is necessary for them to read at least 1,000 books and practice writing innumerable short stories, short essays and short poems before tackling longer works.
He advised young writers to expand the horizon of their ideas on a regular basis and learn to observe and understand things within their proper social context while paying attention to daily life in order to achieve the wisdom necessary for writing.
“I think that if readers want to buy good books, they should choose books written by or selected by famous authors with at least 10 years of writing experience. They must also take the time to think deeply about the contents of any book they read, whether it’s a novel, poetry or a book of philosophy,” he said.