Monday, June 05, 2017

When A Nation Loses Its Literature and creating a Southeast Asian American literary renaissance

A year ago, LitHub had an interesting article concerning the growth and development of the modern Cambodian literature scene. It's interesting to see how much of a shift in the Khmer literary infrastructure has taken place in just 12 months, and I do believe there are applicable lessons for the Lao community to keep abreast of as we continue our own development both in Laos and abroad. It's definitely something I'd add in to required reading for any conversations on building a Southeast Asian American literary movement. It's nice to see emerging writers like Sokunthary Svay, Sok Chanphal, and the Mekong Review getting some press coverage.

In the meantime, I find myself intrigued by the success of Indian literary festivals over recent years and how sustainable that might be for the Lao and Southeast Asians in diaspora. To me, the National Lao American Writers Summit isn't a festival, but a prelude to such events, of preparing our collective infrastructure so that as many of our emerging and established artists and writers have an opportunity to come together with enough notice to bring their best to community events.

I'd encourage many of our community members to take a look at events like the Latino Comic Expo that began with just 12 artists in collaboration with the Museum of Latin American Art for inspiration. What will be the next major project to organize in the years ahead? I'm intrigued by the Latino Comic Expo because of its grassroots approach to building community and how it intersected with their cultural institutions while still challenging our expectations of what our cultural artists can and should produce.

This goes back to my interest in a modified variation of the Creative Cities Network concept of UNESCO. I believe it's possible, but it's also going to be our life's work to make it happen. Ah, well. There could be worse fates to commit to.

In the end, can the Lao point to a sustainable and significant number of quality publishing houses with excellent editors and a diversity of opinions reflected? Do we have a wide range of educational programs focusing on domestic and foreign literature in primary and secondary schools as well as our universities? Do we have an environment in which literature, drama and/or poetry play an integral role?

Do we have experience in hosting literary events and festivals aiming at promoting domestic and foreign literature? Are our libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres dedicated to the preservation, promotion and dissemination of domestic and foreign literature?

Is there an active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature? Is there an active involvement of media, including new media, in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products?

Presently, I don't believe we're fully there yet. But we can make progress.

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