The State of Malaysian Literature in the 21st Century: An ASIATIC Symposium

The School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) played host to a symposium on Malaysian literature in the 21st century, held in partnership with ASIATIC, a key journal on Asian literatures and cultures. Prof. Mohammad A. Quayum of the  International Islamic University Malaysia, the editor of the journal, was instrumental in initiating this academic forum with Assoc. Prof. Andrew Ng, the Deputy Heard (Research) of SASS. This symposium held on 3rd November sought to assess the state of Malaysian literary writings in the present century and update its scholarship by charting out new directions and developments.

ASIATIC Group Photo

Transnationalism was one of themes that came up during discussions, whereby writers like Shirley Lim, Tash Aw, Preeta Samarasan and Tan Twan Eng became evident focuses of deliberation. The multiple locations mapped out by these authors and their texts span the U.S., Taiwan, Indonesia, and China, whose bustling metropolitans emerge as potential new sites of the émigré’s desire and dreams. The Australian connection was also very much in sight, with the examination of the works by Malaysian-born writers, Ee Tiang Hoong and Beth Yahp, both whom have since become PRs down under.

An important outcome of the seminar was the conception of new interpretative approaches and avenues. Prof. Chitra Sankaran from the National University of Singapore offered an eco-feminist reading of Yahp’s novel, Crocodile Fury., while Malaysia’s sixth Sasterawan Negara (National Literary Laureate), Prof. Muhammad Haji Salleh, brought attention to several leading indigenous writers whose publications are pushing ideological boundaries in terms of language use and content. The symposium was capped by the Head of University Malaya’s English department Prof. Sharmani Patricia Gabriel’s call to rethink Malaysian literature beyond the confines of the local. The other scholars participating in this symposium’s proceeding included the distinguished Singaporean poet, Assoc. Prof Boey Kim Cheng (NTU), Assoc. Prof.  Walter Lim (NUS), Assoc. Prof. Bernard Wilson of Rikkyo University, Japan, Assoc. Prof. Mary Susan Philip (UM), and Dr. Angus Whitehead (NTU), thus making it a truly transnational affair itself.

ASIATIC Symposium