The city of Kampot in Southern Cambodia is located a few km away from the Gulf of Siam. The charming colonial city is hosting since 2016 a literature festival which aims to become a major event in the revival of the tradition of storytelling in the Kingdom. The literature scene in Cambodia was decimated by the dark years of the Khmer Rouge criminal dictatorship.
Kampot Readers and Writers Festival is an initiative to promote literacy and champion new ideas celebrating Cambodia’s vibrant arts and culture scene and is in fact a “sister event” to Southeast Asia most famous literature festival in Ubud, in Bali. The initiative was taken by Julien Poulson, head with Cambodian singing lady Channthy Kak of a famous band in Cambodia, The Cambodian Space Project (CSP).
In an interview, Poulson explains the background for KRWF: “The Kampot Readers and Writers Festival (KRWF) takes place in and around Kampot’s so-called French Quarter with its wonderfully dilapidated French colonial–style buildings. These ingredients make Kampot town conducive for artists and is indeed, appealing as a writer’s retreat—there is even a Kipling Street! Our 5-day carnival of words, art and song brings together diverse punters of all backgrounds within the setting of a tight-knit community that has a strong sense of kinship. The festival might not have been possible, or as effective, in a bigger and more impersonal city such as Phnom Penh. Kampot is an inspirational place and a great setting for a festival here in Cambodia, based around writers, singers, artists and storytellers”.
There is also a strong sense of education and a need of bringing back an old tradition behind the festival. Adds Poulson: “we strive to create an appealing international program, while also producing events and indeed an entire festival that is free and accessible to our local community. A huge challenge that we face is finding a programming balance that is unique to our community and environment. Cambodia still lags behind on a global level and has the lowest literacy levels in the South-East Asian region, while the culture of reading for knowledge and, indeed, pleasure, is something that is still developing. These challenges make the KRWF program unique and sets our festival apart from similar writers festivals that have mushroomed around the world”.
The 2017 festival will take place from November 1 to November 5 with some opening events being hosted in Phnom Penh. Some 60 writers, dancers, musicians and artists coming from all over the world will be present. Among the highlights are two world known authors, Madeleine Thien and bestselling author Jung Chang (Chang’s Wild Swans has sold over 12 million copies). A delegation led by the Ottawa International Writers Festival includes also some of Canada’s best authors, such as Esi Edugyan, Rawi Hage and David O’Meara. Many of the writers, artists and performers come from South-East Asia and from the various Cambodian diaspora communities living in Australia, Europe and USA. The festival is also complemented by the projection of a series of movies.
Information about one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting art events and true melting pot of ideas and stories can be followed under www.kampotwritersfestival.com. “Courage” is the theme of this year… A strong word for an out-of-the-ordinary event!