Problems with publishing
While surviving, the publishing scene in Sabah and Sarawak is beset with challenges.
THERE has been Sarawakian literature in English since the 1960s, mainly beginning after the Borneo Literature Bureau was established in 1958 to encourage writing in English in Sabah and Sarawak. And in the later years of the last century and the early years of the new millennium, “there have been several notable new publications in English from Sarawak,” says Kuching- based academic Patrick Yeoh.
However, it has not always been easy to give books from the two states the audience they deserve.
Problems with publishing, distribution and marketing have plagued the book industry there for years. Many great titles from Sabah and Sarawak remain where they were published, never even making their way to Peninsular Malaysia much less the rest of the world.
According to Yeoh, a researcher of Borneo literature in English, there are pockets of active creative writers in English in some parts of Sarawak. The problem most of these writers face, however, is a lack of publishing opportunities.
“Many people write but few know how to go about getting published and Peninsular Malaysian publishers do not seem to be interested in listbuilding for manuscripts from East Malaysia,” Yeoh says in an e- mail interview.
Yeoh, a playwright, author and lecturer currently working on a PhD, previously taught in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Universiti Putra Malaysia. While at UPM, he introduced Sarawak Literature in English ( SLIE) to students studying Malaysian Literature in English ( MLIE), an area that has since spawned at least six academic works.
“SLIE is distinctly different from mainstream Malaysian Literature in English in terms of the themes that concern the writers. Most if not all of the traditional MLIE authors studied over the past few decades have been from the peninsula and they have mostly concerned themselves with themes of nation- building, patriarchy, post- colonialism and feminism, to mention the most obvious,” Yeoh says.
“Authors writing in English from Sarawak have other concerns: they tell stories of life in Sarawak, deal with the theme of love and attachment among families and community, of daily survival, preservation of their culture and of socioeconomic development.”
Sarawak writers, he says, tend to be happy to be read and known only at home, and make little effort to promote their works outside the region. There are exceptions to this rule, of course; he mentions writers like Angela Yong, who has managed to get her works published in the United States with some help from her children based there.
The main reason he feels most Sabah and Sarawak works are unknown even in Peninsular Malaysia, however, is the selective nature of texts in the Malaysian Literature in English courses in Malaysian universities.
“The same half dozen or so pen-
Raman: ‘ East Malaysia is a specific problem because it costs money to bring books from there to ( the peninsula).’