Campus: CSU Long Beach -- August 29, 2005

CSULB Professor Directs Nou Hach Literary Project to Promote Cambodian Writers, Literary Scholars

Teri Yamada, an associate professor in the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), made a visit to Cambodia this summer, but this was no vacation. In fact, it was pretty much all work.

"It was a great trip. For the first time, four writers from the Nou Hach Literary Project and I went on a five-day road trip to promote modern Cambodian literature and literacy," said Yamada, who directs the CSULB-based Nou Hach Literary Project. "We held two seminars with about 125 future teachers and writers -- one at the School of Pedagogy in Battambang and one in Siem Reap -- and we participated in several FM talk-radio shows."

Yamada also attended the third annual Nou Hach Literary Awards, which are sponsored by the Nou Hach Literary Journal based in Phnom Penh and are meant to recognize a new generation of Cambodian writers, translators and literary scholars. It was standing-room only at the Buddhist Institute, and the keynote speaker for the event was Prof. Khing Hoc-dy, the world's foremost authority on Cambodian literature.

The Journal, which saw its first volume in 2004, is supported by the Nou Hach Literary Project, an international organization of academics in support of the development of Cambodian literature, writers and academics. Funded for its first two years by the Toyota Foundation and now seeking support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Journal is a collection of fiction and essays selected from Khmer writers both in Cambodia and France with most of the selections awarded prizes at the 2003 and 2004 Nou Hach Literary Competitions.

In collaboration with the international Cambodian community and an editorial board of scholars and writers, the CSULB Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics co-sponsors the Journal, to be published in part on the World Wide Web with a complete print edition for Cambodia.

The Journal has been named after the great modern Khmer writer, Nou Hach, who helped to establish a high standard of literature in Cambodia during the 1950s. Cambodian writers in Cambodian, English and French established the Nou Hach Literary Journal to promote the production of literature, scholarly work as well as Cambodian arts and popular culture. It also strives to explore the Cambodian Diaspora and welcomes translations of short fiction and poetry by Khmer writers.

"People have been extremely impressed with the Journal," Yamada pointed out. "I've had lots of positive feedback, not only for the content, but because the journal looks terrific and only costs $5 in Cambodia. People usually Xerox everything there but not with such a low price tag. I'm especially pleased with the Journal because it is the first Cambodian publication to promote modern literature."

By the late 1950s, Cambodia was well on its way to developing a modern literary tradition. There were popular novels, literary journals and an emerging discourse in literary criticism centered in the capital city of Phnom Penh. But, all this creative innovation slowed down during the politically tumultuous times of the late 1960s and was nearly crushed during the Khmer Rouge era of 1975-1979.

Since then, the rebuilding of a modern literature has been difficult. Even today, writers have few venues or events where they can gather to discuss their craft. They have no central distribution system to ensure that their novels or poetry collections are displayed in bookstalls throughout the country.

The Journal is a positive step in improving the situation. However, one of the most meaningful things about the project to her so far was her escort of several Cambodian-American students as her research assistants for what became their first look at their ancestral homeland.

"One of these students was a comparative literature student who went on to Amherst on a full scholarship after graduating from CSULB," Yamada explained. "After presenting a paper in Khmer on the short story genre at the Nou Hach Literary Awards ceremony, he had an incredibly meaningful experience in another way when he met relatives for the first time.

"A few years earlier, I brought along a student who met his father again after being separated from him as an infant," she continued. "Typically, the students upon their return become more engaged with the local Cambodian community. They realize how lucky they are."

Media Contacts:
Rick Gloady, 562/985-5454, rgloady@csulb.edu
Shayne Schroeder, 562/985-1727, schroede@csulb.edu


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