George Town Literary Fest – A fertile ground for convergence of writers and poets

 |Nov 30, 2016
The 2016 D. K. Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence winner runner up, Sumitra Selvaraj, Sakinah Alhabsi, Runner Up Ling Low, Sharon Bakar, Esther Soh, Tilon Sagulu and Sharmilla Ganesan read excerpts from their stories at the George Town Literary Festival 2016 ... Photo Doris Lim.
The 2016 D. K. Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence winner runner up, Sumitra Selvaraj, Sakinah Alhabsi, Runner Up Ling Low, Sharon Bakar, Esther Soh, Tilon Sagulu and Sharmilla Ganesan read excerpts from their stories at the George Town Literary Festival 2016 … Photo Doris Lim.

Launched in 2011, the George Town Literary Fest 2016 (GTLF) acts as a platform for authors, poets, publishers and readers to share works, exchange ideas and hold discussions.

George Town has always been a fertile ground for the convergence of writers and poets.

The spirit of creativity fostered by this gathering is both enriching and inspiring.

The annual festival is a timely reminder of the importance of reading and the need for discourse.

The camaraderie of creative writers in hot pursuit of their craft is an addictive atmosphere.

Tempered with the grace of beautiful crafted words spoken, it was a dream workshop for many aspirants.

Feminist activist, writer Zainah Anwar delivered the keynote address on the festival’s theme – Hiraeth which means the longing for a homeland that is no longer there.

New College of the Humanities founder, British philosopher A.C. Grayling’s opening lecture capped off a secret film screening at Black Kettle café.

The festival continues with a series of workshops at Wisma Yeap Chor Ee.

The second day’s highlight was the performance by legendary Malaysian poets, Samad Said and Cecil Rajendra with their sons playing accompanying music as the poets recited poetry.

The final day’s event concluded with an evening of performances by the festival writers and The Canteen at ChinaHouse.

Writers and journalists

It was easy to be awed by the presence of great writers and performers of the spoken word.

Writers are a curious lot.

They move quietly and are intensely observant.

Writers and journalists are two different species.

Both have a flair for words and an interest in the world around them.

Essentially both love to write.

The similarity ends here.

The journalist takes over the public arena, moving from story to story.

The need to produce a concise, readable prose is mandatory.

Most journalist live life at full throttle; collect, verify and analyse information, scurrying away to file and, a gregarious personality and an ability to get people to talk helps.

Most writers labour away quietly in private.

They have the luxury of time, are able to produce elaborate and stylised prose unlimited by word count or genre.

After listening to the authors and performers at the workshops, many participants are encouraged to, simply write.

Literary festivals should serve a dual purpose; to promote an interaction between readers and writers; and to encourage exchange of ideas and debates.

It was noted that the sessions were accorded with some esteemed speakers sharing valuable ideas; however the time allocated was too short to allow for a Q&A.

Many participants echo Gerak Budaya bookshop’s director, Gareth Richards’ sentiments that the missing link is a lively discourse and a time for interaction between participants and speakers.

An exchange of ideas and debates is critical to the growth of Malaysian literature.


The D.K. Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence established in 2015 is a Malaysian literary award for sports writing, to reward the spirit of creative thinking and respect for sportsmanship fostered by this renowned Malaysian educator.

Delip Kumar Dutt (1929-2015) was foremost a teacher at heart and a sportsman.

He taught at St. Paul’s Institution (Seremban) and was the principal of CYMA College (Penang) and served as the president of the Schools Sports Council of Malaysia.

The award in honour of D.K. Dutt was mooted by his daughter-in-law, Dipika Mukherjee to celebrate celebrated his zest for life.

His son Prasanta Dutt has suggested that this become a sports writing award.

Editor, author and poet Mukherjee together with editor and writer, British Sharon Bakar pored over many well written entries and judge the winners.

Malaysian writers, both new and established, write about this year’s competition theme, ‘Knowledge and Education’.

The writers were allowed to interpret that in any way that they saw fit.

The 2016 shortlist is dominated by female writers, the two runner ups are Ling Low and S. Sumitra who read excerpts from their stories.

The winner is Bathma loshanee, a Malaysian living in UAE and was unable to attend.

Executive producer/writer, S. Sumitra, 39, her formative memories were that of watching her father cook.

Her winning entry ‘Appa’s Mutton Curry’ even has recipe in the story.

Sabahan student, Tilon Sagulu, 26, who is pursuing M.A. in English literature at University Malaya, is the only male writer on the shortlist.

Sagulu recalls that as a young boy he used to study hard to please his parents.

A professor once challenged him, “What matters the most, your grades or understanding, learning or growth?

“What is knowledge? Can you be certain about the truthfulness of what you’re learning as there is always a possibility that you could be wrong?

These probing questions burn in Sagulu and inspired his story, “The Blue of Nothingness”

The story explored how knowledge and information shape humans today both constructively or destructively.

Lawyer Syamsuriatina Ishak who writes under her pseudonym Tina Isaacs was at the GTLF to encourage the new writers.

Tina Isaacs’s short story “Dash” was conferred the runner-up prize of the 2015 D.K. Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence.

She founded the #MYWriters FB Group on Facebook with weekly poetry and writing prompt to encourage many writers who pursue writing for pleasure and for their career.

“GTLF is the perfect place to mingle with the ‘Who’s Who of Malaysian and Regional Literature’. It’s such a pleasure to be here!” said Tina.

Malaysian Poets Society member and poet Joe Dagoe performed with other festival writers and poets marked the closing at The Canteen at China House.

Dagoe said that the festival brought gems together and he had a great time performing his poems in George Town.

Doris Lim is a Malaysia Outlook contributor with a keen eye for details developed form her background in architecture and design. Her affable personality and passion to celebrate life is captured in her stories of the community. Doris’ love for all things beautiful and quirky is tempered by her love for writing, photography, food, art and travel.