Bangkok Conference 2013 — What Happened.
‘Reaching the World 2013’ was Asia Pacific Writers' and Translators’ most successful annual gathering to date, held this year with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, in conjunction with UNESCO's 'Bangkok World Book Capital 2013' and the 35th South East Asian Writers' Award.
The success of this year's meeting was due not only to more than 150 writers from 22 countries joining us, many of them funding themselves, but also to the generosity of Bangkok, spearheaded by its Governor Mom Rajawongse Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who hosted a glittering gala dinner for us in the ballroom of one of the world's best hotel's the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
We billed this year’s gathering as an international conference on the teaching and practice of creative writing and literary translation, but it was much more than that.
In conjunction with the conference we held a one-day free literary festival featuring Thai and visiting poets and writers, made possible again by the generosity of the Bangkok Administration which gave us the use for a day of an auditorium in the impressive Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
We also held around half a dozen creative writing workshops and, with the help of resident Bangkok poets Colin Cheney and Zakariya Amataya, organised evening readings around the city – at a local poets’ haunt called the WFT Café, at Hemingways, and our closing party at Overground.
Diplomatic representatives from five nations came to the conference opening at Chulalongkorn University. The university’s President, Professor Pirom Kamolratanakul, and the Dean of the Faulty of Arts, Assistant Professor Dr. Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, our host, were there to welcome Australia’s Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise; Deputy Ambassador for the Netherlands in Thailand, Doris Voorbraak; Singapore’s Ambassador, Chua Siew San; India’s Ambassador Anil Wadhwa; Cultural Attaché at the US Embassy, Michael Honnold; and the Deputy Director of the British Council in Thailand, Steve Bates.
‘We need literature as an art form, as a means to convey and transfer knowledge, ideas and emotions, but foremost we need (it) to feed imagination,’ said Ms Voorbraak, whose nation funded airfares for five writers from emerging countries through the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Her speech set the tone for our meeting. ‘We need imagination to challenge set norms, to push boundaries and help us progress as humankind,’ she said.
Yet tradition marked some of our meeting. Speaking after a show of traditional Thai dancing and music at the great banquet that Bangkok hosted for us in the ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental, the Governor, who is also the Chairman of the South East Asian Writers Award (known as SEA Write), regretted his inability to deliver a speech in rhyming couplets. He noted that as a politician he was nonetheless familiar with double-speak.
Later, to thank the Governor in the tradition of Thai poets who write verse to their King, AP Writers penned a verse to our host, himself related to Thai Royalty. We did this with the assistance of one of our distinguished members, the Editor-in-Chief of Asia Literary Review, Martin Alexander. It went:
Dear Governor …
Your speech at the dinner you gave Friday night/ was widely admired, to the writers' delight:/You lamented your failure with couplets and rhyme,/And admitted that double-speak's heard all the time/In political life where, as Orwell proclaimed,/Manipulation's the name of the game./You belied that description, and claiming no art/With artistry wittily showed us your heart./Double-speak put to good use, not deception,/Showed a lover of literature, and proved the exception.
Other highlights during the four days included:
Harvey Hix’s provocative keynote (‘Against Translation and Literary Translation), delivered thanks to his sponsorship by the Fulbright Travel Program;
Krys Lee’s talk on the importance of community for writers. Lee was AP Writers’ special guest and her accommodation at one of the best hotels in the world, the Mandarin Oriental, was covered by the SEA Write Award Committee in celebration of the Award’s 35th anniversary;
An interview by Dr Katy Shaw, director of the new Centre for Research in 21st Century Writings in the UK, with one Sunjeev Sahota, listed by Granta magazine as among 2013’s Best of Young British Novelists. Both were supported by the British Council.
A presentation by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit on their translation of a Thai classic, The Tale of Khun Chang & Khun Phaen;
Participation by indigenous Australian author Philip McLaren, whose participation was made possible by Griffith University in Australia, and who was elected to chair AP Writers’ new ‘Festival Liaison’ Committee;
Poetry readings at the WTF Café, organised by Bangkok resident Colin Cheney (and sponsored by Tiger Crystal Light Beer!)
Hemingways’ book launches by five members, with thanks to one of our Bangkok resident members Bhavna Khemlani for finding such a perfect venue in the centre of the city;
Verses sung, or intoned, in dedication to the King, delivered at the opening of our free Sunday literary festival by Witchnee Kuptawathin, and Anothai Jinaporn with Siriworn Kaewkan, Glen Chatelier, and a more modern poem by Tipsuda Chichana.
The announcement by AP Writers’ Chair Nury Vittachi that Penguin Random House has signed up as a publishing partner, through its North Asian operation, of the new World Readers Award. Nury will release further details of this award in due course.
AP Writers acknowledges with great gratitude the energy and support of Associate Professor Surapeepan Chatraporn, Deputy Dean of International Affairs, and Director of the BA in Language and Culture in the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University, without whom we would not have been able to hold our meeting in Thailand. We thank her also for her generous support of a delegation of Vietnamese writers and scholars to attend our conference.
A huge thanks also to the delegation from the Philippines, lead by Dr Isagani Cruz and Professor Jose Dalisay, who encouraged almost 30 Filipinos to join us. Jose Dalisay (‘Butch’), who is already Chair of AP Writers’ Academic Committee, has been elected to the Board of AP Writers.
Others we thank for their support include Kate Griffin, Programme Director for the British Centre for Literary Translation; ‘vagrant literary diviner’ Gioia Guerzoni who joined us from Italy and spoke of being an international literary scout and translator; Thai writer Prabda Yoon for participating with enthusiasm and generosity before flying out to the Frankfurt Bookfair; Sarah Bower, David Carlin, Colin Cheney, Francesca Rendle-Short, and Tim Tomlinson for giving their time and energy to conduct wonderful writing workshops; Chiang Mai-based writer Andrew Bond, who has masterminded our new website; and everyone else, from Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Chiang Mai and around other parts of our region who found the time, the money and enthusiasm to join this year’s event.
Next year we’ll be in Singapore! Mark 17-19 July in your calendar and follow us for details. If you are a member, you will have received the Call for Expressions of Interest in your email.
Media reports about 'Reaching the World 2013' include a feature by Butch Dalisay entitled 'Towards a Regional Literary Community' in The Philippine Star and this full page article below by Khun Nanthaphorn, published in Komchadlouk, the newspaper from Nation group.