Yesterday I attended the press conference for the Singapore Writers Festival 2009. Present were representatives from the National Arts Council of Singapore, the Arts House (the old parliament house where the SWF's events are held) and Malaysian authors Anwar Ridhwan (the latest national laureate), K.S. Maniam and Wong Phui Nam, all of whom will be speaking at the event.
During the press briefing, Wong drew attention to his and Maniam's age. According to him, the mature years of the Malaysian authors participating in the festival reflect the dearth of young Malaysian writers, especially those writing in English.
In my opinion, the fact that there are no young Malaysian writers featured at the SWF speaks more about the organisers' ignorance of the Malaysian literary scene than the lack of actual writers.
Or, perhaps, the organisers are aware of our new generation of writers but do not think them worthy of their recognition.
Similarly, I wonder if Mr Wong is familiar with fiction and poetry published (in English as well as Bahasa Malaysia) by emerging Malaysian writers. It sounded like he isn't, or perhaps he just doesn't rate what he has come across.
Also, his interest seems to be in writers who write in English whereas I feel that it's the writing that matters, not the language used.
The representatives from the NAC and The Arts House spoke of how young Singaporean writers would appreciate the opportunity to meet and consult with and learn from experienced writers like Wong, Maniam and Anwar. Young Malaysian writers would also benefit. There simply needs to be a platform on which such meetings can take place.
Wong spoke about how Malaysian wrtiting (in English) is stillborn, a result of our education system. Having identified this problem, I should think Wong has his own theories about how the deadening effect of our schooling can be countered and/or reversed. Does he and others like him have a part to play in helping aspiring authors produce writing that has a chance to grow in effectiveness and beauty? Perhaps Wong just does not think it is his battle to fight.