Homegrown indie publishers, lit festivals and bookstores play an integral role in the promotion of new generation literature.
Truly, they level the playing field for local writers, poets and playwrights who may have to compete, arguably, with their more well-known international counterparts in the major bookstores.
These niche and indie publishers operate on a smaller scale and offer a much-needed platform for emerging writers to try out things and be experimental.
Commercial success, arguably, is not a top priority.
One such publisher is Shah Alam-based Moka Mocha Ink (Moka), co-founded by playwright/novelist/director Ridhwan Saidi and author Nurul Aizam in 2011.
What began as a publication of novels, novellas and short story anthologies expanded into essays, poetry and theatre. The recent arts event called Pesta Playlet in KL, which offered workshops, forums and showcases, is part of Moka’s portfolio.
“We started Moka Mocha Ink with the intent of offering an alternative in Malay fiction publication. We wanted to extend our interest with our capabilities in providing contemporary stories and narratives by local writers,” says Nurul, 34, in a recent interview.
To date, Moka has published 18 titles, including three novels, five novellas, four short story anthology/collection, two essay books, two poetry books and two photography book. Some of their bestsellers include Stereo Genmai and Babyrina by Ridhwan, Rebel by Saat Omar and Insta by Syahmi Fadzil.
Besides novels and short stories, Moka also publishes zines under its Kerja Tangan series.
“Kerja Tangan is a litzine series, featuring interviews with local (arts) personalities and works contributed by local writers and artists.
“In the early days, we produced and sold physical copies of the zines and also uploaded the digital version online. At present, Kerja Tangan is free online,” says Ridhwan, 35, who shares that physical copies of the Kerja Tangan litzines had been exhibited at the Do You Zine exhibition (2016) at Penang’s (now defunct) Run Amok Gallery.
He adds that with zines, the market is still a niche one. But the fanzine scene nationwide is growing steadily.
“We usually produce a zine in a limited run and all of them will be sold out within a certain time. We have sold our zines at the KL Alternative Bookfest, Arts For Grabs and the KL Zine Fest,” says Ridhwan.
In late 2016, Zikri Rahman, Ridhwan and Nurul worked together on the LiteraCity project – supported by Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia, Goethe Institut and Moka Mocha Ink – to compile photo essays and interviews that were later published in the book LiteraCity.
The project also developed the live performing arts and culture tour around KL that they called LiteraTour involving culture mapping and the networking of performing arts.
Moka also plays a role in the promotion of new theatre work through its Teater Modular and Teater Normcore series.
Teater Modular started in 2017 and the stage productions received funding from Inxo Arts Fund and Krishen Jit Astro Fund.
“Teater Modular is a series of offbeat playlets written by Ridhwan and gives the opportunity to young directors to collaborate and work with new scripts. So far, 13 playlets have been staged in various venues such as Revolution Stage, KongsiKL and Singapore’s Aliwal Art Centre,” explains Nurul, an editor by trade.
The Teater Modular Box Set, published by Moka Mocha Ink, was launched at Pesta Playlet at KongsiKL on May 4.
It features a box of 13 contemporary theatre scripts, written by Ridhwan, published in Bahasa Malaysia and English. Singaporean writer, poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at translated the Bahasa Malaysia works into English.
This is an effort to make these playlets available to the masses, with Moka’s project costs supported by the Inxo Arts Fund 2018. Edited by Nurul, the box set also features a booklet with essay notes and photos.
The box set comes in a limited run of 300 copies, priced at RM120.
“We would like to introduce and disseminate the publication to local readers, theatre enthusiasts and theatre faculties in universities nationwide,” says Ridhwan, adding that Moka has plans of bringing the box set “tour” to Indonesia and Singapore.
On July 26, Ridhwan will appear at the Asian Playwrights Meeting 2019 in Jogjakarta, where he will be reading and discussing his work Mautopia, originally a novel turned into a play last year.
“Teater Normcore is a series of full length plays written and directed by Ridhwan, with the intent to illuminate poetry and heighten appreciation towards deadpan humour,” says Nurul.
A double bill staging of Teater Normcore (its third) will be part of the upcoming George Town Festival 2019. It consists of Ridhwan’s Retak Menanti Belah (Crackling, Splitting) and Matinya Seorang Birokrat (Death Of A Bureaucrat), which coincidentally was part of Teater Normcore’s very first double bill staging.
The Bahasa Malaysia performance, featuring actors Ani Aziz, Mia Sabrina Mahadhir, Tasha K. and Rashid Akhmal, will take place at Bangunan UAB in George Town on July 23 and 24.
“Matinya Seorang Birokrat is an enlightening comedy on the misunderstanding between an actor and a visiting bureaucrat while Retak Menanti Belah is an existential conversation between two separating sides of a wall named Retak and Belah,” explains Ridhwan.
The fourth installation of Teater Normcore, called Hamlet Fansuri, is an adaptation and translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet married to Hamzah Fansuri’s poetry. This will be staged next month in collaboration with Port25 and Kicau Bilau at the Port Commune space in Petaling Jaya.
Moka’s two-pronged – youthful – focus on novels and zines and theatre has been an inspired move.
“The close links between literature and DIY culture must not be overlooked. Most people associate theatre with performing arts but tend to forget that theatre is also part of literature, in the form of drama scripts,” says Ridhwan.
“By choosing DIY methods, we can get things done. In a sense, it means that you can express yourself and produce moving, thoughtful and serious works with limited means. Zines and theatre works are some forms of output that we’re currently exploring. Other than that, we also make short films and ambient music via experimental musician Joni Atari,” he adds.
Ridhwan says Moka does not want to be restricted by a certain rules and convention, often seen in theatre.
“Our aim is to be open and inclusive when it comes to diverse modern art forms and traditional craft. When you have a thirst for knowledge, value the historical understanding and have a sense of humour, things will fall into place,” he concludes.
Teater Normcore, a double bill of Ridhwan Saidi’s works, is on at Bangunan UAB, China Street Ghaut, George Town, Penang on July 23 and 24. It features Matinya Seorang Birokrat (Death Of A Bureaucrat) and Retak Menanti Belah (Cracking, Splitting), a brand new play. More info: georgetownfestival.com. FB: Moka Mocha Ink.