With the launch of the book ‘Readings from Readings’, SH Lim attends a reading and tracks down the event’s authors
Seksan Gallery on a Saturday afternoon: Sharon Bakar stands right beneath the tile-sized skylight of clear Perspex. She stands in the soft glow of the spotlight. She’s the host, introducing the afternoon’s program: readings by a handful of writers whose works have been recently published in an anthology. With flying pigs (in a painting) looking over her shoulders as if trying to sneak a peek at her notes, Sharon smilingly announces that ‘Readings from Readings’, which she and Bernice Chauly edited made top ten sales in one of the bookstores. The appreciative crowd of about a couple of dozen applauds as the ceiling fans stir the warm afternoon air around.
This reading event has a history that dates back to January 2005. Then Bernice, a writer, photographer and occasional actor, together with Malaysian painter Yusof Majid organised a poetry reading in a gallery in Pantai Hills. Bernice confesses, ‘Personally, I felt that there was a need for live words in KL as literary festivals in KL were few and far in between. As someone who loved to listen to writers and poets read from their work, I thought it necessary to create such an event. I was surprised at how well attended it was, and how audiences continued to come back again and again.’
When the Pantai Hill space ‘became impossible to use’, landscape designer Ng Seksan volunteered his office-and-gallery in Lucky Garden. ‘As Readings was birthed in a gallery space and the marriage of words and arts was inspiring, I wanted to continue the synergy,’ writes Bernice in the introduction to ‘Readings from Readings’. And the space has soaked up, like a silent scribe, the words and voices of established and emerging word smiths, international and local ones.
Readings at Seksan isn’t the only literary event where writers get to read their own works. There are pockets of people who have organised similar word-related happenings – Silverfish Books, Annexe Gallery, Ceritaku, Live and Inspire, Poetry Underground and Poet Passport. All at different levels of formality and regularity, but all giving voice to the written word.
These readings of original works – both published and unpublished – differ significantly from ones organised by bookstores in conjunction with book launches or a promotion of a writer during her tour. At these less commercial readings, the audience is as interested in hearing the author’s voice as it is to understand the writer’s process. The curiosity here rises beyond a nosiness about the narrative, the what-happens-next in the tale that is being read. It’s an inquisitiveness that launches the audience to probe into the writer’s creative process, to learn how an idea germinates, takes root and then flowers into a published work. These readings are often intimate affairs. The solitary voice of the writer-reader in a lover’s discourse with a score or so of people.
And so the Seksan reading, like its other sister literary events in the Klang Valley, continues quietly its understated mission. Sharon, who took over the reins organising these readings when Bernice stepped away on account of a family emergency, says, ‘I think that as the event has gone on, we’ve come to recognise the very positive things that the event does achieve. It has indeed encouraged authors with works in progress. One good example of that is Kam Raslan, who read several extracts from “Confessions of an Old Boy” while he was working on the manuscript. He says that he found the audience response and the feedback he subsequently received very useful. Jit Murad also read autobiographical pieces which he later used as the basis of his live show, after he saw how well it was received.’
Bernice’s second collection of poems came out of these readings. She says, ‘I’d like to think that writers garnered enough confidence and discipline to complete works that they had started. It gave writers a sense of community, as writing is isolating enough as it is. Readings provided a sense of solidarity, it provided support for people who write and people who love to read.’
And you can never tell who’s going to be in the audience. Sharon tells about Brian Gomez finding his Italian publisher at a Seksan reading. And what a story this is, as confirmed by Brian himself. It so happened that he was scheduled to read at Seksan but he got the dates mixed up and so missed his appointed audience. He says, ‘However Sharon being Sharon invited me to read at the following month’s event.’ At this next reading, unplanned and unanticipated, an Italian publisher was sitting in the gallery. He was in the country looking for appropriate Malaysian works to translate and publish into Italian. Brian’s ‘Devil’s Place’ has found a road to Italy via a live reading. ‘I think there is a need for more Malaysian voices, and if Readings helps in any way, Sharon and I have done our part,’ Bernice points out.
The voices of Pey Pey Oh, Preeta Samarasan, Chiew-Siah Tei, Tash Aw, Tin Ling Choong, and Tan Twan Eng, all writers with connections to this country, have resonated within the gallery. As also a host of authors and poets from overseas, including award-winning short story writer Claire Wigfall, Australian champion performance poet Omar Musa, and Sri Lankan novelist Elmo Jayawardena.
Seksan Gallery later in the same warm afternoon: A young man from Botswana takes the floor as I step under a fan. The ice in my carbonated drink has melted; bubbles rise lethargically to the top. His performance ‘Dear Grandma’, an original poem, is received with whistles and whoops of approval.
Check thebookaholic.blogspot.com for information on upcoming Readings.