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Nou Hach Journal Interview

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

EAS confers on culture with Teri Yamada and Kho Dararith of the Nou Hach Literary Journal, which is having its annual meeting this weekend.

Isn't it an utterly unprofitable idea to publish new writing in Cambodia, one of the least literate countries in Southeast Asia?

Without some contemporary literature to read, why bother reading for pleasure?

Why the name Nou Hach?

A Nou Hach Literary Award was given by the Long Beach Cambodian community once in the 1980s. Nou Hach was an award-winning writer from the pre-revolutionary era and had a strong effect on the growth of modern Khmer literature. He has since passed away. We were fortunate to get authorization from his family.

What does it publish?

The award-winning short stories, poems (in the past songs and essays) for the current year; essays on contemporary poetry and literature; the speeches of the keynote speakers at the annual conference; English translations of some of the short fiction and poetry; French translations for Vol 4 (forthcoming).

How did you get it off the ground?

It was an internet-based journal for the first year. Founder Teri Yamada supported the first yearly conference; Toyota Foundation supported years 2-3 while Ms. Yamada supported the literary prizes and conference; and Toyota Foundation supported Volume 3 publication.

What was the initial response?

We have had a very positive response from the beginning. We usually turn away people due to lack of seating capacity at the yearly conference.

What steps are you taking to develop further?

We are seeking funding to develop a publishing cooperative for writers where they can self-publish, reducing their costs and also supporting the Nou Hach Literary Association. We are going to develop a Cambodia PEN centre through the Nou Hach association. We are developing a project for high-school literature and literacy called The Bulletin of Contemporary Cambodian Literature that would publish high-school student poetry and short stories as well as some award-winning contemporary fables from the Nou Hach Literary Journal.

We are trying to develop book reviews also.

We have developed a collection of English translations to publish in the States, perhaps through University of Washington Press. This is still in planning stages.

Who are some of the established writers (local and international) who have graced the pages and helped along the way?

Khing Hoc Dy (literary researcher and critic), Svay Ken (writer and painter), K.S. Maniam (Malaysian writer) and Geoff Ryman (Canadian writer who frequently writes about Cambodia). Keo Chanbo (U.S.A); Penn Setharin (Japan); Pech Sanwawann (France) are participating as keynote speakers this year. Pech Sanwawann gave a writer's workshop last year and has supported us with funding.

What new discoveries have excited you?

Phine Santel is perhaps the most "creative" of current writers. His short story "The Revolver" is published in French, English, and Italian as well as Khmer.

Contemporary Cambodian writers have distinguished themselves, compared to other Southeast Asian writers; with the genre I call 'contemporary allegory'. They have developed a contemporary form of a socially critical folktale.

How did the radio show come about? Will we get to see some of the poetry reissued on CD?

The radio program was developed by director Kho Dararith. It has been very popular and is still played on radio programs throughout Cambodia. This poetry is recited in various complex metrical patterns (over 100), showing the importance of 'musicality' as an integral part of the aesthetic of Cambodian poetry. These radio performances have been bootlegged (as well as the first issue of the Journal, now out of print) and are sold in various bookstores and book kiosks in Phnom Penh. We hope to issue our own, official CD this year.

Nou Hach has now gone global with a web site, a trip to Scandinavia, visitors from many different countries and reprinting in Japan. What's in store for the future?
'Life of Woman Factory Worker' - another bootleg poetry CD taken from the radio show.
'The Tears of the Elephant' - bootleg poetry CD taken from poetry radio show broadcasts.

We would like to produce a collection of essays, literature, graphics, etc. from the disappearing collection of literary magazines (Neary; Saturday Night, etc.) found in the National Library which appears to have the only collection of those in any library.

Next year we plan to move the annual conference to the School of Pedagogy in Siem Reap to allow for more rural writers to attend. The topic will focus on creativity in writing and the literary philosophy of Cambodian writers. We hope to invite a Scandanavian writer as keynote speaker next year.

And for those who want to get involved?

The Nou Hach Literary Association publishes the only journal of contemporary literature in Cambodia, and we welcome all people who want to help. Volunteers have been essential to keeping us going over the last six years.

It is difficult to support this project if our journal and CDs are being pirated, so we are trying to develop a self-sustainability project which is a publishing business. This will be in the form of a writer's cooperative, where writers can publish their fiction and poetry in a more cost-effective way while being assured that their material is not being pirated by the publisher.

To contribute time or money, please refer to our website

- By EAS staff

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