The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts wrapped up the Indradevi Literary Competition 2023 with an award ceremony, honouring outstanding achievements in Khmer literature.

With a remarkable 114 entries comprising 86 short novels and 28 poems, the competition highlighted the diverse and vibrant talents of the Kingdom’s writers. 

In the 2023 Short Novel Category, The Soul of the Kingdom by Phat Toeuk from Kampong Cham secured the Gold Trophy, delving deep into Cambodia’s cultural and historical ethos.

The Silver Award was presented to Rachana by Thea Sophy from Phnom Penh, offering a poignant narrative on the complexities of modern Cambodian life.

Lbokator Queen by Vong Sopheach from Prey Veng claimed the Bronze Trophy, weaving Cambodia’s martial arts heritage with contemporary societal themes.

In the Poetry Category, Vannak Sneh Prae Por by Chamroeun Sopheak from Kampot earned the top accolade, providing a powerful commentary on social stratification and the quest for equality.

The Silver Award went to Romduol Vatey by Sovan Sereyvath from Phnom Penh, a poetic exploration of the nation’s natural beauty and cultural richness. 

The third prize was awarded to Sambach Neary by Teang Thorn from Prey Veng, a lyrical homage to the strength and grace of Cambodian women.

Addressing the November 20 award event, Londy Sannara, secretary of state for the ministry, underscores the event’s significance as a platform to nurture and recognise emerging literary talent. She emphasises literature’s pivotal role in preserving moral values, culture and national identity.

“These outcomes indicate active contributions from both senior poets and young writers to the creation of novels and poems, which constitute a crucial part of our national literature,” Sannara says.

She notes that annually, the ministry acquires new human resources in the field of composition. While these achievements at a young age may not be as fulfilling as desired, they represent valuable contributions and beneficial activities.

She emphasises that these initiatives play a vital role in training and motivating young people to embrace reading and writing, fostering the creation and publication of books. These endeavours also embody the education of moral values, culture, national identity and innovation.

Positive perspectives

Un Sok Heang from the Novel Committee praises the commendable submissions, acknowledging their grounding in social reality and positive perspectives, notably in promoting women’s values. However, he notes that, among the 86 works, when evaluating their meaning, genre and moral purpose, nearly all fell short in some aspects.

“Some writers should avoid choosing topics that do not benefit society,” he opines.

Heang imparts his short story writing expertise to the candidates, underlining five key points: understanding nuances, effective scene setting, flexible narrative movement, selecting fresh stories and incorporating nationalist themes.

Lim Phanna from the Poetry Committee mentions that this year’s poetry competition had 28 candidates. She notes improvements in meaning, genre and moral purpose in some works but also points out some shortcomings after reviewing the selection criteria.

“Some candidates struggle with their poems’ flow, and although in poetic form, some entries don’t adhere to established conventions,” she says.

“Some candidates employ extensive poetry, but the transition from one poem to another lacks coherence, and certain works even undermine the value of women,” she adds.

Phanna provides four tips for the candidates: understanding composition rules, creating a new piece as a story, ensuring appropriate story length without overusing inactive characters and thorough verification.

Chamroeun Sopheak, from Kampot, the winner of the first prize in the poetry category with Vannak Sneh Prae Por or The Caste System Divides People into Different Social Classes, shares that this was his second attempt in the competition, following an unsuccessful bid in 2022. He expresses his excitement at winning the top prize among 28 poetic entries, some from veteran poets.

Top prize recognition

“Despite securing the top prize, this poem still has areas that require improvement,” he concedes.

Sopheak clarifies that Vannak Sneh Prae Por comprises a blend of hymns with a total of 400 verses. He created this piece to confront and address negative societal perspectives, encompassing issues such as violations of women’s rights, discrimination in relationship care and the consequences of alcohol consumption on driving and family dynamics. The poem underscores the significance of women as equal contributors to family and social development.

“Despite the woman in the poem lacking formal education, her tailoring skills proved to be a vital skill for both her and her family. Through her loyalty and diligence as a garment worker, she ultimately becomes the shop owner’s daughter-in-law,” he points out.

Kok Ros, the director of the Department of Books and Reading at the ministry, asserts that the competition aligns with one of the ministry’s core visions: to promote, protect and preserve national literature.

“This year signifies the 23rd iteration of the Novel and Poetry Writing Competition organised by the ministry and the ninth year of the Indradevi Literary Award, a prestigious title established since 1960,” Ros states.

Established in 1960, the Indradevi Literary Award played a pivotal role in promoting Khmer literature and was initially overseen by the Khmer Writers Association, underscoring its significance in the literary community until 1967.

Despite a prolonged hiatus due to conflicts and war, the competition re-emerged in 2002 under the auspices of the ministry, signifying a crucial step in revitalizing Cambodia’s literary traditions post-conflict.

Cultural safeguard

Following a temporary pause, the competition was reinstated in 2019, reaffirming its dedication to nurturing literary talent and safeguarding Cambodian culture and values. Alongside the Indradevi Award, the ministry has conducted 17 other competitions under various names.

Ros emphasises that winners in the short story and poetry categories are ranked from first to third place, each receiving a trophy and prize money. Additionally, authors securing fourth and fifth places are honoured with certificates of appreciation and cash prizes.

“Seizing this opportunity, I advise writers and poets to cultivate a distinct identity in their work, aligning with the principles of Buddhism, education and aesthetics,” says Sannara.

She describes an author as a magician capable of transforming negativity into positivity, ignorance into wisdom and dreams into reality. The author, according to Sannara, serves as a soul engineer and an eagle, skilfully discerning the wind’s direction and wielding a powerful influence that resonates with readers, listeners and viewers.

Sannara underscores that an author is a unique genius, embodying morality, virtue and a sense of responsibility for their work. She advises writers to reflect on their motivations, whether seeking fame or wealth, emphasising the importance of balancing ethical integrity with financial considerations before embarking on their literary journey.

In 2022, Indradevi Literary Competition attracted 104 applicants, encompassing 76 short stories and 28 poems.