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LAST Monday, I received an invitation to attend a fellow blogger’s book launch at the Putra World Trade Centre, organised by her publisher Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka (DBP).
Kanser Payudaraku by Dalilah Tamrin was launched together with 200 other titles published by DBP, a statutory body set up in 1956 to propel the use of the Malay language as a language of knowledge, intellect and unity.
Naturally when an invitation is about a book, and nothing to do with anyone getting married, I am drawn to it like a moth all-a-flutter, fuelling my desire to buy books (which always supersedes this writer’s dire economic situation).
As I sat at the PWTC concourse listening to the opening speech by the DBP director-general (DG), Datuk Termuzi Abdul Aziz, I picked up on something: a 10-times-over millionaires’ fund had been set up to aid the national book industry since 2007.
Thus far, only RM3 million – 30 per cent of the allocation – had been appropriated and malangnya, owing to the lacklustre response from Malaysia’s writing fraternity.
To the DG’s disappointment, despite the DBP promoting the fund in its magazine and advertising it in local newspapers annually, the response from the publishing industry and local authors alike have been lukewarm at best.
What happened to the literary society of my country?
Are the writers-publishers sleeping?
Investigate this unhealthy behaviour I must – can’t let any potential Tash Aws or Tan Twan Engs of this nation’s claim to Booker fame stay in hiding forever, can I?
A quick browse of DBP’s website shone some light on the subject.
Ah, eligibility for funding: local publishers must publish non-fiction books and they must be in Malay.
DBP only publishes the following genres: Buku Mewah; Buku Biografi; Buku umum bukan fiksyen; Buku pengetahuan remaja; Buku bergambar kanak-kanak (informatif); Buku pengetahuan kanak-kanak. Okay, now we know one major reason why the fund has not been utilised.
But is it not true that to propel any language to its pinnacle, we must not discriminate against any particular genre?
Are we not supposed to read all kinds of everything for knowledge’s sake?
After all, English fiction authors in the likes of Hemmingway, Camus (translated) and Austen have, in their own ways, been instrumental in setting the benchmark for English literature.
If we dream of seeing Malay as a language of knowledge, we would certainly fare much better by nurturing more Usman Awangs (Tongkat Warrens) and Adibah Amins in our literary scene, no?
On a whim, I randomly clicked on the link titled Ingin Menulis? – which promptly led me to an “object not found” page.
What a letdown.
I say, Datuk, if you want to put the fund to good and full use, you ought to leverage on the new media – the Internet – more effectively.
Simply placing the advertisement in your magazine and in local newspapers alone is no longer sufficient these days.
You can emulate what local publishing house Silverfish does; it vigorously promotes the birth of new authors with its Silverfish New Writing Series and countless other publications – fiction and non. Lastly, Datuk, inviting Raja Lawak to perform at the end of your massive 200 non-fiction books launch?
Given the nature of the event, comedy is stranger than fiction.
● What Elviza Michele Kamal has just written is non-fiction. She blogs at http://www.elviza.wordpress.com