New breed of Southeast Asian writers picked

Tamil writer J.M. Sali receiving the S.E.A. Write Award from Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand at a function in Bangkok on 14 December 2015.
PHOTO: S.E.A. Write Award

SEA Write cultivates the next generation with the first ASEAN Young Writers Awards

EIGHTEEN ASPIRING Southeast Asian writers - culled from nearly 1,460 entrants - pocketed US$1,000 (S$1,405) each on Monday as winners of the inaugural ASEAN Young Writers Awards.

The cash prizes and commemorative plaques were their rewards for outstanding short stories composed in English and their native languages as the region heralds the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community.

All of the winning short stories are to be published together in book form.

Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who also chairs the SEA Write Awards organising committee, presented the ASEAN awards at Baan Phraya Noi at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Mahidol University's Faculty of Liberal Arts co-supported the competition, which is aimed at instilling a love of reading and writing among young people and was introduced last year to mark the SEA Write Awards' 35th anniversary. The contest also celebrates Bangkok having been designated World Book Capital by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2013.

"The ASEAN Young Writers Award is a tremendous initiative," says 1979 SEA Write winner Edwin Thumboo, one of the judges. "While it contributes directly to the engendering and promotion of reading and writing at the regional level, it simultaneously offers challenging opportunities for nations to use the initiative to encourage fictional creativity."

In a bid to forge better understanding among the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia, the competition has categories for stories written in both English and the entrant's native tongue.

And the Thai language did very well for Woraphol Thawornwaranon, who won the prize for his story "Prakai Dok Mai Fai" ("The Fireworks"), while Choentawan Suwanpanich's entry, "Daliyah Everlasting", won in the English segment.

National Artist Chamaiporn Bangkombang, who chaired the judging panel assessing the Thai entries, says Woraphol's story "cleverly reflects the violence in modern society through various human actions told in a well-balanced plot. Parts of the story vividly describe the inner selves of the characters, building up to be a very powerful story with highly emotional language."

Associate Professor Surapeepan Chatraporn of Chulalongkorn University, who headed the panel reviewing the English submissions, calls Choentawan's story "remarkable for its eloquent language, vivid descriptive passages and natural flow of narration and poetic touches".

The two Thai winners will be treated to a tour of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. They and 30 other Thai finalists also honed their skills at a writing workshop in Bangkok with national artists and SEA Write awardees.

Other winners in the national language category: "Berubahnya Aku" by Abdul Hadi bin Mohamed (Brunei), "The Kingdom of Cricket" by Ma Chanpanha (Cambodia), "Jangan Tanya Tentang Mereka Yang Memotong Lidahku" by Faisal Oddang (Indonesia), "Make a Date with a New Lover" by Phonephiloun Kham-inxou (Laos), "Di Hamparan Perada" by Mohamad Shamsul Amin bin Md Yusof (Malaysia), "Daily Ignorance" by Saw Yu Nwe (Myanmar), "Bisita" by Lenin Carlos Macaraig Mirasol (the Philippines), "Risalah Ikan Paus" by Muhammad Khairool Haque bin Abdul Kadir (Singapore) and "Ca Lao Cham Xanh" by Ha Trang Van (Vietnam).

Other winners in the English category: "Through Thick and Thin" by Nicole Chong Ming Jia (Brunei), "I Repeat A Level" by Oudom Heng (Cambodia), "The Boy Who Reached for the Sun" by Zafirah Amalina binti Zulkipli (Malaysia), "Welcome to Joe's" by Tint Tint Sandi (Myanmar), "Hatchlings and Lourd" by Kyra Camille Castro Ballesteros (the Philippines), "Idling" by Samuel Ng Aik Siong (Singapore) and "The Strangers" by Nguyen Thia Ngoc Mai (Vietnam).