Being Certain with Our Play
A surreal cross-cultural dinner during the George Town Literary Festival with International Booker Prize winners Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell, and Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, where we also celebrated our publisher Kah Gay’s birthday!
Over four days last week, I attended the George Town Literary Festival in Penang with my colleagues. I’d been to Penang before, but visiting for the purpose of a literary festival introduced an entirely different dimension.
Fresh from the Singapore Writers Festival in Singapore, it was fascinating to see how just across the border, the literary scene was thriving with its own distinctive buzz and community. Writers, translators, publishers, agents and readers alike eagerly welcomed the return of a physical festival. After book launches and panel discussions, many lingered to mingle, swap contacts and bask in the atmosphere.
The festival was a warm and inspiring introduction for me to fellow book lovers not just in Malaysia, but across the region. In particular, the conversations had over coffees and meals, and chats snatched between programmes, reminded me that everyone—no matter what part they play in the literary ecosystem—is finding their own way to keep the passion for words, stories and reading alive. It’s a common quest that transcends geographical boundaries and even languages. Seeing and exchanging this fire, fanned my own hope and excitement in playing my part to enjoy and advance the insight, safety, adventure and transformation—just to name a few—that books bring to our lives.
The last panel I attended was titled ‘Poetry as Resistance’, featuring poets from Ukraine, Myanmar and the Philippines, and a moderator from Sabah. While most panels concluded with a Q&A session, this was a special exception. The poets sent us off by reading from their works. Gawani Domogo Gaongen, who is a Kankanaey Igorot from Sagada in the Philippines, read her poem “Terms” in her native Kankanaey, while the English translation projected on the wall next to her. The poem ends with these lines:
How do we measure success?
It is the same as asking
Where do the children play?
That even if the child fails to catch the ball
It doesn’t matter, it’s just a game
One’s loss is the other child’s win
They are friends when the game is over.
A village is uncertain
If the children are not certain
With their play.
Though much remains to be done in forging our literary futures, my hope is that we measure our successes like how children are “certain with their play”—ultimately as collaborators, not competitors, and always with a great sense of fun. One way we at Ethos Books would like to invite you to be our fellow collaborator is through our newly launched membership programme.
I’m also looking forward to more play, conversations and merriment together, at our Festive Sale and Market over this weekend. Do drop by if you can and don’t hesitate to say hi!
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