February 16, 2012 00:00 By The Nation 6,706 Viewed
Southeast Asia's best writers are in Bangkok tonight to polish the praise they've earned
Postponed from November because of the flooding, tonight’s SEA Write Awards presentation dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok will have Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana presiding and acclaimed Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo as keynote speaker.
But the main focus, and the glory, will belong to the award-winning writers of 2011 from eight Southeast Asian nations. Here are profiles of each one.
Mohd Zefri Ariff bin Mohd Zain Ariff is actively involved in the arts and culture, languages, the mass media and a youth movement, on top of participating in community services and non-governmental organisations. Zefri Ariff’s poetry recitals and theatrical performances have been seen across the region, and his book “Rapat” won the Mastera Prize in 2003.
A farmer’s son from eastern Java, D Zawawi Imron began writing poetry while still in school in the early 1980s, and he continues to write today in the remote village where he teaches school, far from any cultural association.
Imron’s poetry is imbued with a sense of the sea and maritime folk. It is hailed for its strong imagery and imaginative expression. His SEA Write award is based on the 2007 collection “Kelenjar Laut” (“The Glands of the Sea”).
Bounthanong Xomxayphol writes novels, short stories and poetry under the name Sahaifai, chronicling his country’s turbulent history since the mid-1970s. He is outspoken in his social and political criticism, insisting that his aim is to appeal to the social conscience and overcome injustice.
His win this year was for a story titled “American Bones”, about rights, freedom and the need to replace war with love and forgiveness.
Kelantan native Mohd Zakir Syed bin Syed Othman worked in the news media before becoming a full-time writer in 1990. He has earned much acclaim and many awards with his five short stories, two poetry collections, a biography, film criticism, philosophical essays and political commentary.
A columnist for several magazines, he also owns a publishing company, and is secretary-general of the Malaysian National Writers Association.
Romulo P Baquiran Jr is an assistant professor in arts and letters at the University of the Philippines. He has published two collections of poetry – “Journey Poems” and “Onyx” – and a collection of personal essays titled “Felt to the Bones”. He has garnered a slew of awards, primarily from his homeland’s prestigious Palanca competition.
The editor of “Aseano: An Anthology of Poems from Southeast Asia”, Baquiran also writes film reviews for national dailies and has translated Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” and Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo” for the Filipino stage.
A pioneer in penning Singaporean drama in English, Robert Yeo Cheng Chuan teaches creative writing at university. He has published three poetry collections – “Coming Home, Baby” (1971), “And Napalm Does Not Help” (1977), and “A Part of Three” (1989) – and written six plays. His “Singapore Trilogy” dramatised the tension between individual freedom and government constraints, as well as the cost of friendship.
Believing Singaporean theatre is neglected, Yeo turned to writing libretti for opera, and with American composer John Sharpley produced “Kannagi”, based on an ancient Indian epic, and “Fences”, about the 1965 secession from Malaysia. His only novel, “The Adventures of Holden Heng”, was reissued last year, along with “Routes”, his memoir.
Jadet Kamjorndej is the pen name of Sathaporn Jorndit, a 36-year-old native of Surat Thani and prot