Prob­lems with pub­lish­ing

While sur­viv­ing, the pub­lish­ing scene in Sabah and Sarawak is be­set with chal­lenges.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads -

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-

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Ra­man: ‘ East Malaysia is a spe­cific prob­lem be­cause it costs money to bring books from there to ( the penin­sula).’

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