It’s a wrap!

KRWF 2017 has been an incredible event and while it’s now time to reflect upon and reconcile this year’s festival, it’s also a moment to send out our love and thanks to each and all of you who have joined in and helped to make 2017 the best festival yet.

Personal highlights have been many but a few that stand out right now include the young girl (I don’t know her name but will follow up) who jumped up on stage with Arn Chorn Pond’s Khmer Magic Music Bus and sang her heart out – what courage and power! Another highlight was Arn’s Keynote talk opening our first Youth Literature Festival – Arn was moved to tears to see all the young Cambodian’s from Liger group pulling up front row seats and by the end of his address on festival theme ‘courage’ we were all moved to tears.

Madeleine’s conversation with Sharon May on her novel Dogs at the Perimeter was also profound and compelling as was her Phnom Penh literary luncheon session with the most charming celebrity guest Jung Chang. Needless to say…I was awestruck by Jung Chang and her huge impact on contemporary literature; more so, I’m proud to see that KRWF 2017 featured and was characterised by a strong program, Asian diasporic women authors and migrant writers. Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie opening KRWF by speaking on her country’s literary heritage and her personal connection Cambodian literature while welcoming to KRWF an exceptional delegation of Canadian writers and festival managers. Then there was Ghanian Canadian Author Esi Edugyan reading from one of my favourite books of the past few years, her Giller Prize winning novel Half Blood Blues.

Later, that same evening, I got to perform with Kak Channthy (vocals), Dan Davies (Double bass), Gleny Rae (accordion) and our poetry curator Scott Bywater reading the words of Walt Whitman across Channthy’s The Boat song. Arriving rather late back in Kampot, the overcast skies threatening rain looked ominous, perhaps we’d be washed out before we even launched… needless to say, the weather cleared up and has been good to us… opening night was a blast and our new venue The Lotus Pond Villa really set the scene and the stage for an excellent 4 day program. Highlight that night was most certainly Master Kong Nay but also members of the Kampot Playboys, playing a spacious sounding acoustic set, atmosphere…atmosphere… atmosphere… all set against Chris Hancock’s wonderful stage design and murals of Cambodian icons Sinn Sisamouth and Poev Vannary.

Meanwhile, down the way at KAMA, the night branched out into multiple events not least brilliant poetry and readings by David O’Meara setting the tone and pace of KRWF’s poetry program. Discovery of the festival has to be our Emerging Cambodian Writers Prize winners Lim Seavling and Bun Theanchhay who both attended the entire festival and gave audiences readings of their winning stories. Behind the scenes Kek Soon’s Taste of Kampot tours gave some of our visitors the chance to talk and walk through the markets, fishing villages and farmlands before sitting down to a delicious feast of Soon’s Sino-Khmer cuisine. Chinese House were also on hand to bring great food and wine to festival hub at the villa.

Erudite author, traveller Rawi Hage gave excellent talks on his journey from migrant taxi driver to award winning novelist while also describing his own life of books at Sunday morning “What a library means to me” alongside Khmer American Poet Kosal Khiev and pioneering librarian Margaret Bywater.

      

Stand out spoken word performances go to Kosal Khiev and to Stephen House – brilliant work and raised the bar (and the roof) for the festival – emphasising the quality of KRWF’s oral literature programming.

Andrew Leavold’s “Bai Cha” film program has been a great success for KRWF and not least because our audience got to see Andrew’s The Search for Weng Weng alongside a full program of Cambodian and South East Asian cinema. Writers’ workshops lead by British poet Andy Conner as well as Youth Literature with Patricia Bernhard have been popular sessions and bring strength to our program of workshops and writer mentor sessions.

The visual art and imagery generated through this year’s festival has been exceptional. Helen Hopcroft’s collaborative mural “Stories of the Sea” at KAMA brought together a team of assistant painters and collaborations and is ongoing, meanwhile Erick Gonzalez’ homage to Cambodian literary icon Soth Polin is absolutely stunning! and will feature as the design image for next year’s KRWF.

Finally, veteran lensman Mark Roy’s photography has been excellent and likewise for his spoken word performance at last night’s finale the “Golden Rat” poetry slam. Unfortunately, there has been not verdict on a slam winner and the prestigious Golden Rat trophy is resting on the shelf until a decision is made.

My only disappointment is seeing the support for arts & culture initiatives such at KRWF fast disappearing and the sponsors that are usually able to assist – dropping off the radar, especially at a difficult time when ‘the conversation’ in Cambodia is under threat. These are tough times and it takes commitment, conviction and courage to keep going. To this end, our third festival has attracted and exceptional team of volunteers – too many to name here but again thanks to Jane, Rob, Lizzy, Poramy, Mayada, Soon, Camha, Tony, Jas, Gilli, Dan, Heath and Chris, Scoddy, Magnus, KAMA staff and more.

I’m also very happy to say that we were able to present our two co-winners of KRWF’s Cambodian Emerging Writers Prize at this year’s festival and what’s more, talented young writers Seavling Lim and Theanchhay Bun are both planning trips to attend Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne, Australian thanks to the support of a very generous sponsor making this possible. You can read Seavling and Theanchhay’s short stories here on our website.

So it’s officially time to put KRWF 2017 to bed. Done and dusted! and on this note, I must express my heartfelt thanks to all of our festival friends and particularly the generous individuals who’ve helped us get through tough times and who have made our third annual Kampot Readers & Writers Festival a HUGE success.

– Julien Poulson
Director KRWF | 2017