The George Town Literary Festival (GTLF), Malaysia’s largest international literary event, returns this November with the theme “forewords/afterwords”.
This year’s festival will revolve around new beginnings and transitions, with a strong emphasis on history, and feature timely discussions on the ecological crisis and the future of the planet.
GTLF 2019 will be led by co-directors Pauline Fan and Sharaad Kuttan, with Mahen Bala, Mahi Ramakrishnan and Shankar Santhiram as festival co-curators. The people behind this year’s festival come from diverse fields such as arts and culture, filmmaking, photography and media circles.
This also marks the fourth year GTLF will be produced by the Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB).
The festival’s final line-up, sprinkled generously with gold dust, will comprise about 60 writers and thinkers from around 20 countries, with headliners including 2019 Man Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi, 2019 EBRD Literature Prize winner Hamid Ismailov, prominent Japanese poet Hiromi Ito, acclaimed essayist and intellectual Eliot Weinberger, Indonesian literary legend Goenawan Mohamad, Djibouti-French author Abdourahman Waberi, contemporary Chinese poet Xi Chuan and Rebecca E. Karl, historian on modern China.
There is an increasingly obvious rock festival feel to this literary event, notably with a name like Jokha, who become the first Arabic author to win the prestigious Man Booker International prize for her novel Celestial Bodies, which details her Omani homeland’s post-colonial evolution.
British-based Ismailov’s The Devils’ Dance, “an Uzbek Game of Thrones” initially published on Facebook, became the first Uzbek novel translated into English. It made waves when it won the EBRD literature prize in March.
Goenawan, who will appear at the Edinburgh Book Festival 2019 next month, is another big name to give GLTF its prominent South-East Asian literary icon. He is the founder of Tempo magazine in Indonesia.
On the Malaysian front, the festival will feature 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner of the Asian region Saras Manickam, Taiwan-based Malaysian author and educator Ng Kim Chew, eminent filmmaker and writer Nam Ron, rising star of young adult fiction Hanna Alkaf, Penang-based novelist Fahmi Mustaffa, and Bernice Chauly, celebrated Malaysian author and former GTLF director of seven years.
My Mother Pattu, a mother/daughter story set in the 1960s written by Saras, was the Asian pick in the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize in May.
The festival will feature conversations, panel discussions (in English and Bahasa Malaysia), readings, performances, screenings, workshops and many more activities. All events will be free for all members of the public, with the exception of writing workshops by festival headliners.
This year, the festival also extends its reach beyond George Town. Its first ever schools programme in October will bring writers and storytellers to public libraries all over Penang to share their skills with local students. Pop-up performances will take place on the ferry from Butterworth to George Town.
Also, building upon the success of the Fay Khoo Award, the festival will include conversations on food narratives, which uncover the stories and values which drive the makers of some of Penang’s best-known foods. The award was set up in 2017 in tribute to the memory of Khoo, a writer, food critic, publisher and TV/radio personality.
There will also be a calendar of pre-festival events comprising literary programmes across Penang, which will contribute to the #MalaysiaMembaca campaign and the nationwide Dekad Membaca Kebangsaan (DMK) initiative.
This will result in working partnerships with programmes such as the Penang International Kids Storytelling Festival (PINKS) and the Asean Australia Education Dialogue (AAED), which will lead up to this year’s festival.
Supported by the Penang state government, GTLF is held annually in the Unesco World Heritage Site of George Town.
It is one of the most prominent platforms for free speech in Malaysia with a specific focus on world literature. In 2018, it was bestowed the Literary Festival Award at the London Book Fair, becoming the only literary festival in South-East Asia to date to receive this honour.
GTLF 2019 takes place all across George Town from Nov 21-24.