Georgetown Literary Festival

Speech by Chief Minister of Penang at The Georgetown Literary Festival

Good evening.

First of all, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you to Penang. Today, Penang is proud to host the fifth edition of the Georgetown Literary Festival.

Since its inaugural edition in 2011, the Georgetown Literary Festival has gone a long way in establishing itself as the platform for authors, poets, publishers, readers, and book lovers to share their works, exchange ideas, and discuss literary works.

This three-day festival strives to cultivate creativity and appreciation of literature, encourage freedom of expression, and promote reading habit among Penangites and Malaysians in general.

Once a year, the Georgetown Literary Festival transforms Penang into a global city of ideas, where readers, writers, and book lovers from different parts of the world gather at the heart of Georgetown to engage in deep conversations about their common passion that is literature. The Georgetown Literary Festival is the biggest literary event in northern Malaysia and is an annual literary haven and meeting place for the like-minded.

The theme of this year’s festival, “We Are Who We Are/Are We Who We Are?” couldn’t be more appropriate. Malaysia is at a critical crossroad. As we seek to resolve the current crises and shape a new future, we have to contemplate who we are as a nation, and what we want to become in the future.

We arrive at the idea for the future through our understanding and reflection of the past. We achieve this not by some dictation or submission to the will of the authority, but through careful deliberation and acceptance.

Only in a free and vibrant society, that we can truly achieve such an understanding and arrive at the idea of who we are and who we want to be as a nation and as a people. It is a dangerous thing to ignore our history and identity to the point that they are twisted to fit the interests of the powerful in the present moment. As George Orwell says, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Speaking of George Orwell, we are once again reminded of the power of words contained between the pages of a book. A great book of literature can convey a powerful message which is not possible in other medium of expression.

Maybe it is time for us to read and reread George Orwell’s books. At a time of crackdown on political dissent, strict media control, and manipulation of state machinery, Animal Farm and Nineteen-Eighty-Four are such an accurate depiction of our society and who the Big Brother is. To all those who continue to brave against the tyranny of the authority, including our very own cartoonist Zunar who is slapped with multiple charges for sedition, the words of George Orwell couldn’t be more accurate: “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Penang has always been a vibrant place for intellectual discussions, cultural melting pot, and exchange of ideas. For over the past two centuries, Penang has been a cosmopolitan city that attracts and inspires creative intellectuals, artists, and scholars. It was a place of refuge for Dr Sun Yat-Sen, a fertile ground for the Muslim reformist movement known as Kaum Muda, and the birthplace of modern printing presses in Malaysia. In fact, William Roff, a prominent scholar of Southeast Asian history, mentioned that Penang once had more printing presses than the rest of the Malay Peninsular combined!

The state government is committed to revive Penang’s reputation as the birthplace of the intellectuals and a premier literary scene in Asia. We will strive to make literature accessible and enjoyable to the people, and will continue to support this festival for as long as we can.

In this spirit, I would like us to ponder this question, “Are Malaysians reading enough books?” I’m not just talking about reading textbooks or revision books to pass the exams or reading the newspapers. We ought to encourage people to read real books, fiction and non-fiction. We can learn from the experts here today. And do not forget the book stores.

Books are fundamental engines of advancement. Reading is fundamental. It fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination of a child and even adults. Reading is therefore transformative.

That is why the Penang State Government is proud to support the Georgetown Literary Festival. We actively provide a platform and support to both local and international writers, as well as independent publishers and bookstores. In fact, the official bookstore of this festival is Penang Gerak Budaya, an independent bookstore which is situated along Jalan Masjid Kapitan and operated by a handful of dedicated staff and volunteers.

It is important to appreciate our creative talents and pave a way for their success. I hope that this festival sends a loud and clear message that Penang will always be at the forefront of encouraging and supporting creative talents. To all artists, writers, and performers, you have a place here in Penang!

I’m pleased to hear that we have more than 30 writers and 5 special performances throughout the festival. I would also like to thank and congratulate the team behind this festival for putting together such a wonderful literary festival. To all our sponsors, especially Penang Global Tourism, thank you for your generous contribution to ensure the success of this festival.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me end with a quote from A Game of Thrones, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” And if I may add, “a brave man dies but once, a coward dies a thousand deaths – so don’t be a coward, just read.

Last but not least, to all our guests, authors, and performers from Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, United States, Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, and Australia, welcome to Penang!

Thank you.