Visionary Future for APWT

APWT's incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the 'Look at Me' t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

APWT’s incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the ‘Look at Me’ t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

Sanaz Fotouhi writes about how her background led to a dynamic vision for the future of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators.

When I was a little girl growing up in Iran, it seemed to me that everyone in the country was glued to their new colour televisions on Saturday nights watching the epic Japanese drama of Oshin, dubbed into Farsi on one of the two state television channels. Sometimes, when the electricity cut out, or when the ‘red alarm’ went off and we had to run to hide in the basement while jet planes bombed our neighbours, Oshin and her far-away land provided solace. She was the topic of conversation amongst adults, and the dream of many children. Many nights I fell asleep dreaming of living in far away places, which to me, then, were indistinguishable.

As I grew older and eventually visited many far far away lands, I learnt that Japan was very different from Hong Kong, from Indonesia and so on.

Aside from living and travelling throughout Asia, it was the literature I picked up from each country that helped me understand the culture, history, social nuances, differences and similarities. Not in my entire lifetime could I master every language to read the literatures in the original. It is only through translations that people like me have access to so many insights into different cultures.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.41.02 PM

Some of the products of Sanaz’s work to date.

My passion for the expression of cultural diversity through literature has pre-occupied most of my adult creative and academic life. So when I had the opportunity to work with Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) I knew I had found a home.

This long-running regional literary network and its now famous annual events are opportunities for people like me to really learn about the culture, history and unique aspects of a particular country and those in the Asia Pacific region in general. Every year, APWT brings together some 200 writers, translators, and others involved in the publishing industries. The result leads to outstanding opportunities to meet peers, exchange ideas, and perhaps gain inspiration for the production of new literary work.

APWT’s annual events are held in a different country in the Asia Pacific every year. It has had multifaceted conferences in Australia, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. This November (2016), we meet in Southern China, with the main conference at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, and follow-on readings and panels in Hong Kong and Macau. Next year (2017), we’ll meet in May in Indonesia in conjunction with the ASEAN Literary Festival. I am taking the lead to organize our Indonesian event.

Providing Keys to Asia Pacific Literatures

APWT offers much more than an annual conference. It feeds the curiosity of people like me. My plan is that by the time everyone arrives at the annual gathering in future years they will already know something more about the literature and culture of that country. I will work towards that.

If, like me, you like to know about the literature of a country, the first question is, but where do I even start? I aim to bring you a start, to ensure that our members receive exclusive information, interviews, reviews, and other material about the key prominent writers, translators, and creative people in the specific country that we will be hosting the conference.

For example, in the next few months, you can look forward to reading lists, interviews, and other material about heavy weights of Chinese literature, and those who are going to be featured and appearing in our gathering in Guangzhou later this year. This will be an additional feature of our literary online publication LEAP+.

I will be travelling to Jakarta to attend the ASEAN and Makassar Literary festivals in May this year, and aim to come back with lists of Indonesian authors, critics, and translators, who we will continue to feature, leading up to our event in Indonesia in 2017. If you are in Jakarta for these festivals, please introduce yourself to me.

I also want to hear from you. If you would love to explore, critique, interview, or write about a certain author, piece of fiction, or any other related material related for now to China or Indonesia, I would love you to drop me a line about yourself and your interests.

APWT Short Story Competitions

As APWT seeks to foster creativity and skills development, one of my aims is to run short story competitions around the themes of the countries where we will be taking the annual event. These stories will be judged by some of the top writers and creative people from the Asia Pacific Region and Australia. This would be a great chance for emerging writers to get their stories out there.

All of this material, including selected short stories from our competitions, will be featured through our exclusive members-only magazine LEAP+. (APWT members will soon have exclusive access to an updated version of this online publication.)

Partnerships and Emerging Writers

APWT seeks to encourage and support emerging readers and writers. To this end we are building partnerships with universities and emerging writers’ groups and festivals. This ensures that we feature not only those voices that are heard already but also lesser heard narratives, those from the margins, and those with less opportunity to find platforms for their writing.

My vision is for APWT’s annual events to become one of the leading literary gatherings of Asia in the next five years. This vision will reach its potential only through your support, and enthusiasm… so that one day, when many other little girls and boys sitting today at home — perhaps in Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Australian outback, or somewhere else in our vast Asia Pacific region — weaving stories and dreaming of writing and travelling to distant places, they will have greater opportunities and audiences to do so.

I encourage you to join us and stay with us in making this dream come true.

Sanaz Fotouhi is a writer, filmmaker, academic, one of the founders of the Persian Film Festival in Australia and APWT’s incoming Executive Director.  She holds a PhD in English literature from UNSW. Her first book The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora: Meaning and Identity since the Islamic Revolution was published in March 2015 (I.B. Tauris). Her stories and creative fiction, published in anthologies and collections are reflective of her multicultural background. 

Mark this Place

Jaipur BookMark: ‘Where South Asia meets the World’

Narain Niwas Palace, Jaipur: BookMark’s venue

Given the massive crowds at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s and the world’s largest free literary event, its sister event BookMark is a relatively sedate. But, for my money, BookMark is a better investment if you’re an emerging writer.

The Jaipur BookMark Festival, organized by the same crowd who organize the main festival, is held on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace. This is an upscale heritage hotel built in the 1920s in an Anglo-Indian style. It’s only a 10-15 drive from the lovely Diggi Palace where the main festival is held, but it’s a world away in atmosphere.

Some people, when they realized this wasn’t where they were going to see the festival’s superstars —Margaret Atwood, Steven Fry and the pantheon of other greats—turned tail and headed away.

But BookMark, which was held only for the second year, is where the who’s who of the worlds publishing industry gathered. This is where you could meet publishers, literary agents, literary event organisers, and other heavy hitters who are the faces behind the books we read.

The event was opened by the chairman of Penguin Random House (new York), John Makinsons, who a couple of nights later hosted a Who’s Who in the Publishing Industry cocktail party, at the fabulous Rambagh Palace, now a super-luxurious Taj hotel. Yes, Jaipur is full of fabulous palaces.

Neeta Gupta

BookMark festival director Neeta Gupta

Because the numbers were relatively low at BookMark, I asked festival director Neeta Gupta whether the event is open for general participation. To me, this is an ideal time and place for the festival to host publisher/agent pitching events, one-on-one consultations with industry professional, and other events that enable emerging authors to take advantage of the talent.

‘BookMark is indeed open for general participation,’ Neeta assured me. ‘But, given the exclusivity of the heritage venue where we host the event, we didn’t see much general footfall this year. I hope to change that in the coming year.’

If you’re thinking of heading to the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival in the future, and if you’re already involved in the publishing industry, you can buy a ticket that includes BookMark, including lunches and dinners. Or you can by a BookMark registration only, which includes lunch on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace and dinner at Clarks Hotel with the other festival delegates. Participation for students and ‘aspiring authors’ is free. Or it was this year.

‘I would love to host a workshop with emerging writers and agents,’ said Neeta.

So, there you have it. Opportunity awaits. Finding a publisher who will give you a profile in the Asian market is the way of the future. Asia boasts the world’s fastest growing middle class. Asia is where tomorrow’s readers will be.


Jane Camens, founder of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Inc (APWT), was hosted to India by the Australia-India Council in her capacity as co-editor of ‘New Asia Now’, issue 49 of Griffith Review. Jane joined a group of Australian publishers and literary festival organisers on an Indian Exploratory hosted by the Australia Council for the Arts.

RISING SPIRITS: Georgetown, Malaysia

Dipika Mukherjee writes that at a time when Malaysian authorities are clamping down on free speech and political dissent on any kind, a free discussion of “Dangerous Ideas” …is timely.

Stirring the brew

The poets stir the brew

It is 10.30 at night at the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple. Built by Chinese immigrants from the Fujian Province almost 165 years ago, the temple is now shrouded in darkness and a drooping angsana tree shivers in the wind as the gentle rain continues to fall.

This ancient place of worship is where the performance of “Pontianak”, by five leading women poets of Malaysia, will take place.

The venue for this performance, which is part of the 2016 Georgetown Literary Festival, is evocative. The Pontianak (a vampire-ghost) looms large in Malay folklore, usually as the avenging spirits of women who died while pregnant. Books and movies abound with this familiar trope setting up a tale of thwarted desire leading to bloodthirsty revenge. This show situates the Pontianak within a Taoist temple, within hallowed ground with spiraling incense smoke and red lacquered doors.

The performance, as the introduction explains, “explores the way women and ‘the feminine’ have been systematically demonized, their stories buried, their collective and individual power taken away from them, their role in society demeaned and diminished and their natural, universal status as goddesses removed, through traditional patriarchal narratives told as myth and legend.”

The audience spills out, too large for the shaded area in the central courtyard. Umbrellas continue to bloom overhead as the five poets approach a cauldron. Part poetry and part theatre, the images are Shakespearean as the women stir a brew and circle, but the waving scarves, in gossamer silk and cotton batik, situate them colorfully in the tropics. Their words are their own, as each invokes a Pontianak as Medusa, a Puteri Duyung, or a Draupadi. The Hantu Tetek, the Breast Ghost of fables, makes a statement about objects of desire becoming the instrument of suffocation.

Sandee Chew, Elaine Foster, Nabila Najwa, Melizarani T.Selva and Sheena Baharudin are the poets who feature in this show, and they represent the many and mixed races of Malaysians. They are all accomplished artistes and dissect the Malay, Chinese and Indian legends of Malaysian childhood, as well Greek mythology. The show starts beautifully, with the discomfort of the rain and dark gloom adding to the ambience. Then the sound system stutters to a stop too often, leaving poetry unheard. An excess of emotion leads to some overwrought lines.

But the concept is brilliant.

Bernice Chauly, festival director, describes the GTLF 2016 as “about taking a serious look at where we are, at what we have become, and where we think we’re going”. The theme is ‘We Are Who We Are/Are We Who We Are?’.

At a time when Malaysian authorities are clamping down on free speech and political dissent on any kind, a free discussion of “Dangerous Ideas” (the title of a panel), is timely indeed. Chauly, the author of five books of poetry and prose and founder/director of the Kuala Lumpur Writers Workshop, spotlights the burgeoning creativity of Malaysian writers and artists along with international voices, without flinching from the controversial in these troubled times.

Musa says it is an act of defiance for him, as a brown Muslim poet, to stand up in front of audiences in Australia and tell “a different story”.

Zunar and the cartoons

Zunar and the cartoons

Zunar, the Malaysian cartoonist facing nine charges under the Sedition Act and 43 years imprisonment was here selling his banned books. Outspoken social activist Marina Mahathir gets into a debate with Australian rapper-poet Omar bin Musa about the virtues of artists leaving their country as opposed to making change. Musa says it is an act of defiance for him, as a brown Muslim poet, to stand up in front of audiences in Australia and tell “a different story”; he urges people in Malaysia to do the same.

There is poetry everyday at lunchtime at the China House, the audience spilling into the corridors and stairs, standing-room only. Other notable poetic events in the evening include a performance by the Dutch artist Jaap Blonk, who uses his ‘cheek synthesizer’ to produce mouth sounds driven by air, creating new sounds in poetry. Melizarani T Selva launches “Taboo”, an exploration of “Indiantity” as a minority in Malaysia among other quests; she is an emerging voice in Spoken Word Poetry to watch out for.

Penang feels like an older, freer Malaysia. There are honest and open discussions; even the politicians inaugurating the festival seem perilously outspoken. There is a space open here for multiplicity and multilingualism in a way that feels very different from the severity of Kuala Lumpur.

While showcasing Malaysian talent, it also put into context how world events affect all our writing. On a panel titled “Fears, Gun and Amerika”, we discussed how American fears are changing the way writers write about geopolitics and terror anywhere in the world. In a rapidly changing Southeast Asia, especially after the sudden clampdown on Ubud Festival last year, having a literary festival that is truly open and “dangerous” has almost become a luxury.

Fears, Gun and Amerika

Fears, Gun and Amerika

Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011) was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize; it is being republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, UK) and distributed by Penguin/Random House worldwide in Summer 2016. Her short story collection Rules of Desire (Fixi, Malaysia) was launched in November 2015. She has two poetry collections: The Third Glass of Wine was published in December 2015 (Kolkata: Writer’s Workshop) and The Palimpsest of Exile, (Canada: Rubicon Press) in 2009. She is Contributing Editor for Chicago Quarterly Review and Jaggery and curates an Asian/American Reading Series in Chicago.

Pictures courtesy Georgetown Literary Festival website


New Asia Now

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 4.32.31 pm‘New Asia Now’, a selection of essays, fiction, poetry, memoir and reportage by some of Asia’s most exciting writers today, will be published in August 2015 by the Australian literary magazine Griffith Review, with a selection of the work also published in the  Asia Literary Review

A special e-book edition of Griffith Review has enabled the editors to include more authors than can appear in the print edition. Both ALR and GR will also publish their regular print and digital editions. 

The authors who appear in these editions are, the editors believe, voices that matter. They are Dewi Anggraeni, Dea Anugrah, Romy Ash, Alice Bishop, Damyanti Biswas, Jarni Blakkarly, Candice Chung, Jessie Cole, Jhoanna Cruz, André Dao, Siddhartha Deb, Glenn Diaz, Romi Grossberg, Eliza Vitri Handayani, Siobhan Harvey, Anjum Hasan, Joshua Ip, Jin-sung Jang, Manan Karki, Elaine Laforteza, Michelle Law, Tammy Law, Michele Lee, Lian Low, Jenn Chan Lyman, Okky Madasari, Ted Mahsun, Majid Maqbool, Laura Jean McKay, Sally McLaren, Shandana Minhas, Cameron Muir, Muron Xuecun Murong, Omar Musa, Mohit Parkih, Sheila Pham, Ploy Pirapokin, Prodita Sabarini, Lavanya Shanbhogue, Sheng Keyi, Kirril Shields, Keane Shum, Danushka Silva, Miguel Syjuco, ko ko thett, Maggie Tiojakin, Ellen Van Neerven, Voranai Vanijaka, Merriden Varrall, Nicholas Wong and Annie Zaidi.

Jane Camens (Co-editor, New Asia Now and LEAP+)




Ubud Writers & Readers Festival: Purpose, people and place

How does one catch five minutes with Janet deNeefe, Founder and Director of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival? Believe it or not, it’s when she’s days away from inaugurating her food festival. Renee Melchert Thorpe spoke to Janet and her International Program Director, Summa Durie, about Ubud’s famous annual literary festival.

Q: Any drama you can share?

Janet-DeNeefeJanet: This is very much a family-run festival and maybe that adds to the charm. We are not held to ransom by publishers so can freely select the writers of our choice. Our funds are terribly limited but we are determined to survive no matter what! Behind the scenes…well there is often a little drama here or there but that adds to the excitement! 

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 3.44.06 pmSumma: Writing the program is a bit like piecing together a giant human jigsaw puzzle. With 165 writers appearing in over 220 sessions and events over 4 full days, making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time is a tricky process. I often write a draft of the main program which is shared with my programming colleagues, we then sift through session by session refining and checking scheduling before the program is handed on to marketing. Marketing will then continue to tweak the copy before it’s all locked down and uploaded to the website or sent off to print. I think we all then take a deep breath and hope no one gets sick or can’t make it, as once you move/change one piece of the puzzle it has a ripple effect to the whole program.  Anyone that works in festivals must be a master of coming up with ingenious quick fix solutions on little sleep. Believe me, it’s a skill. 

Q: With programs in Indonesian and English, yearly themes that are often from Indonesian culture, what are you looking for in terms of writers?

Janet: We select authors based on our theme and also consider those who we think will suit Indonesia and our audience. The young Indonesians are mainly chosen from submitted work and a curatorial team selects about 15. This is a particularly hard job as we now receive more than 600 entries a year and have to trim it right back to a small amount. 

Summa: Each year we work with a central theme and key storylines that are woven throughout the program. The audience is able to follow a specific thread throughout the program if they wish and they can curate their own festival experience. The ideal festival program is a bit like a symphony: big notes, soft notes, light and dark. We try to make sure we have a bit of everything to keep our audiences engaged.

We’re also finding our audiences want more than the ‘talking heads’ experience – they want to engage with big issues or be able to ask questions of the writers. We always create spaces where the audience can participate, ask questions and interact with the writers. Writers and audiences comment that the barriers (invisible or not) are broken down between the audiences and the writers at the UWRF. 

While we’re a writers’ festival at heart we’ve also developed a strong arts program to complement the Main Program. The days are full of big discussion and ideas – the nights full of music, dance and art. We believe storytelling across art form is important to showcase – especially as we’re based in a country with a strong oral storytelling tradition. At UWRF we don’t believe stories belong only in books.

Q: How do you find sponsors?

Janet: Finding sponsors is like a comedy these days, or maybe more like a Shakespearian tragedy! Either way, you need a great sense of humor to deal with it. It doesn’t get any easier either. The fact that we don’t even have core funding is a bit depressing. Winning the lottery is probably the only solution.  
It is generally known amongst writers that we are not able to cover fees, but we make up for it by offering a magical, memorable time in a lovely, fascinating part of the world. Sometimes they, the writers, expect more than we can offer and while we do our best to please, we just can’t meet huge demands.

Q: What awaits the writers who participate?

Summa: Without doubt most writers fall in love with Ubud when they arrive – the UWRF is definitely a destination festival for both the writers and the audience.
Many of our speakers arrive the day before the first public event and are welcomed at a private event for writers and media. Most years this has been held at one of Ubud’s stunning hotels – with an array of delicious Indonesian food, drinks and performances on offer. Writers often exclaim that Bali is overwhelming for the senses, the landscape, the people, the spice of it all. This first event is a bit like the beginning of school camp. Writers mingle and get to know each other and quite often form strong little groups that stick together throughout the week, whether these are formed by genre of writing (e.g. the poets) or by personality, geography, et cetera. It’s wonderful seeing this bonding happen between writers from all over the world and more than once these bonds have extended beyond the Festival – both in ongoing personal and professional relationships. 

Q: What’s the Festival team working on all year?

Janet:  Indonesian program coordinator, Kadek, and her team are masters of logistics and have a timeline that is strongly adhered to. It’s a matter of making an enormous task list and ticking off one by one as completed. This part takes absolutely months of hard work and attention to detail.

I think 2011 was the first time we closed Jalan Gautama for a street party and the team spent many hours chatting with village heads, shop owners, residents and all, for everyone to agree. Of course it was a great success and even better the following year. Then we had to move it to another street because they asked for a street party too. The best part is it’s free for locals.

Summa:  I was at a festivals’ conference last year in Edinburgh and we discussed what makes a successful festival. The key three things were purpose, people and place. Janet created this festival in response to a tragedy. The purpose of the UWRF was to bring writers, thinkers and artists back to Ubud and Bali after the bombings. It has achieved this and now brings in over one million US dollars in economic benefit to the local community over the four days. For people, Janet has assembled a great team who deliver the Festival, but equally as important are the individuals in the local community who support and have a sense of ownership of the Festival. And finally, for place, Bali is one of the most beautiful places in the region it’s a stunning back drop for the Festival and will always be a place that draws artists and big thinkers.

Q: Some special memories you haven’t had a chance to talk about before?

Janet: The special events which revolve around limited admission lunches and dinners. The biggest names usually speak at tables best matched with chefs from a similar background. We did a wonderfully long lunch focusing on Vietnamese writers and a Vietnamese chef’s tasting menu. Another memorable lunch featured writers from the Middle East with Lebanese food.

Summa: Once the Festival has begun the actual program whizzes by in an absolute blur. I think the saddest thing for any curator is that the program you’ve spent 12 months nurturing and carefully crafting you barely get to see, as you’re so busy running around making sure simultaneous sessions are going up without a hitch. I truly relish those sessions I get to catch and I’m oh so thankful the audio from most sessions is recorded so I can relive the conversations later!


Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 3.40.14 pmRenee Melchert Thorpe has been a staff writer for the Ubud Writers Festival since 2003. Her short stories have appeared in Dim Sum and the Asia Literary Review.

By any other name

Melanie Cheng recalls her experiences as a half-Chinese half-Australian emerging writer in Australia.

But you don’t look Chinese. This is the somewhat offensive but not uncommon reaction I get when I meet people for the first time. To be fair, a middle-aged man once said: ‘Nice mix’, as if I were some sort of human cocktail. That was nice of him. I guess.

The confusion arises because my name is Melanie Cheng but I don’t wear glasses or have black hair. I have a mousy brown bob—which I highlight with foils so as to baffle everyone even more—and I wear contact lenses on my double-lidded eyes. “How can this be?” you may well scratch your head and ask.

And the simple explanation is that I am one of those half-Aussie, half-Asian people involuntarily challenging the average Australian’s preconceptions of who is and isn’t Chinese. Or Australian. Or whatever.

I realise now that while I was growing up in Hong Kong I used to search for the one or two blonde heads amidst the sea of black ones. When I moved to Australia, even though I was much older (and supposedly wiser), I did the same thing, only in reverse. I chose, and continue to choose, to affiliate with whatever part of me is in the minority. I don’t think I am alone in this. My dad recently took delight in discovering that the daughter of Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd is married to a Chinese man. He didn’t say so but I could tell that that he was thinking: Look, he’s one of us!

When you are a writer, especially an emerging one, your name is your face. Your moniker at the bottom of that article, or—if you’re lucky—on the front page of that book, is the only clue readers have to picture you.

This has some advantages. I just finished writing a short story about a Hong Kong student visiting his friend in rural Australia. Rightly or wrongly, I know that, on this occasion at least, my name will give my story credence. Should it get published I can picture the editor thinking: she has a right to tell this story. But the corollary of this is that my credibility might be questioned if I decide to write from the perspective of an Arab woman, or an African-American man, or a Burmese refugee.

For a long time, writers have been adapting their names to make their books more publishable, more saleable. One of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards, the Miles Franklin, is named after one such female writer. Even now, one wonders if the Harry Potter series would have sold quite as many copies, at least initially, if it had been written by Joanne instead of J.K. Rowling.

When I started reading Australian fiction—and, even more so, when I started writing short fiction—I found myself searching for the Chans and the Yangs and the Wus. I guess I wanted to know if the Australian literary scene was fertile ground for Chinese writers. I’m pleased to say that I found some great ones and that now Alice Pung sits next Ouyang Yu and Benjamin Law on my bookshelf.

It seems only fitting then, that my first paid publication should have been in Peril, an online arts and culture magazine which gives space to Asian-Australian voices.

But I am also mindful of my hypocrisy. On the one hand, I resent being pigeon-holed by my surname and on the other hand, I admit to doing just that. Perhaps this is because race and racial stereotypes remain vexed issues: like many, I wish they didn’t matter but—for the moment at least—I know they still do.

Cheng_Melanie.BWMelanie Cheng grew up in Hong Kong but now lives in Melbourne. She writes short fiction and non-fiction and her writing has appeared in Overland, Griffith REVIEW, the Victorian Writer, Visible Ink and Peril. She has a new short story forthcoming in the final issue of Sleepers Almanac.

Are We Writing for the Wrong Audience?

THE WORLD’S AUTHORS are creating work for the wrong audience, according to research carried out for a new World Readers’ Award. Every week, tens of thousands of manuscripts and screenplays arrive on desks in the US and the UK. But that’s not where the readers are.

Three out of five members of humanity lives in Asia. By 2050, 75 percent of the human race will be in Asia and Africa. If you want to succeed in the creative industries, simply write for the world’s readers.

That’s the view of the organizers of a new writing prize, the World Readers’ Award, which draws attention to the fact that the majority of the world’s consumers are not swamped by material, as is the conventional belief, but are actually under-served by the creative industries.

‘There will be 9.5 billion people on Earth in 2050. But the total number of Europeans will be less than one billion and the total number of North Americans less than half a billion,’ says organizer Nury Vittachi, a Sri Lankan novelist. ‘If you write for a small, swamped minority, you’ll be rejected.’

The new World Readers’ Award celebrates narratives with a global perspective—and provides an incentive to create more. The best published book set in a town or place where few if any other writers have set their work before will receive an award at the end of this year. Next year (2016), an unpublished manuscript will be identified for an award. Winners will receive a golden trophy inspired by the extraordinary giant golden egg auditorium in Hong Kong where the presentation will be held.

The prize is backed by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, which runs ‘smart city’ hubs for innovative and creative projects, including game designers and digital book producers.

The prize came from discussions among members of Asia-Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT), an association of authors and literary translators across the region. The prize is chaired by Vittachi, who is also APWT’s Chair and was instrumental in setting up the former Man Asian Literary Prize. The World Readers’ Award will be managed by PPP, a high-technology educational publishing group based in Hong Kong.

While the first award will go to a published book, organizers encourage experienced and emerging authors to write for the new global audience—so the prize runs in two parts, with the award this year going to a published work, and next year going to an unpublished manuscript. The winning author will receive help towards finding a publisher who will sign a contract for print, e-book, movie and game rights.

The printed book business may be suffering in the West, but it’s still growing in the East, and the need for great narratives is expanding worldwide as the markets for modern fiction formats grow, from e-books to movies to games to graphic novels.

‘We want to highlight how technology enables the spark of innovation, and facilitates reaching out to people beyond boundaries,’ says Allen Ma, CEO of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. ‘Online multi-media platforms have truly enabled great works to reach people across the globe.’

The global entertainment and media industry will become a US$2 trillion industry in 2016, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers research.

‘People talk about book authors as being in a sunset industry,’ says Vittachi. ‘But it’s not true. Writers of narratives power the entertainment industry and will continue to do so. The biggest movie franchises, from The Hunger Games to The Fault in Our Stars, come from books. The most eagerly awaited computer game of modern times is Batman Arkham Knights, which comes from a printed graphic narrative.’

The Science Park’s Allen Ma agrees. ‘Humanity’s greatest scientific resources are not test tubes and silicon chips, but the incredible power of the human mind. As Einstein loved to say, imagination is more important than knowledge.’

Research data backing the project is generated by the Creativity and Education Research Lab of the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The call for submissions for the World Readers’ Award has not yet been made.


For more information, go to the World Readers’ Award.