Last year’s Kampot Writers and Readers Festival (KWRF) – the first – was a surprise hit. But the organisers had just 10 weeks to put it together.
For this year’s festival – which takes place in November – they’ve had all 52. Festival director Julien Poulson, who hosted a launch event in Phnom Penh on Wednesday night, describes last year’s edition as an on-the-fly success, and a learning experience for all involved.
Ultimately, the organisers hope the event – “broadly a festival of ideas” – will be bigger and better this time. Poulson notes the low literacy rate of Cambodia compared to other countries hosting festivals in the region. “But it’s a place that is rich in stories,” he says.
This year, it will at the very least have more diversity and more opportunities for a local audience, including a four-day media lab for young Cambodians. Last year’s festival had a dearth of Khmer writers on stage. That’s not because they aren’t around, says Poulson, it’s due to a lack of funding. “Getting them there – that is difficult,” he says.
For now, the stage line-up – 20 per cent of which was announced this week – is varied: a group of Bunong tribal elders making the trip for the first time; former Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin; and Khmer-American spoken-word artist Kosal Khiev (plus a daily slam contest).
The KWRF is strategically placed between two high-powered regional festivals: the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, in October, and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which stretches across November. For the remainder of the line-up, Poulson says, “we’re trying to catch big fish”.
This year’s KWRF will run from November 3 through November 7. Its theme is ‘Peace, Freedom and Prosperity’.