Kampot Writers Festival Returns With Emphasis on Listening

As it opens for its second year today, the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival will try to dig its roots into the sleepy riverside town, divine its culture and expand its impact on Cambodia’s literary scene.

The series of events, running through Sunday in Kampot, differentiates itself from writers’ festivals in Indonesia and Hong Kong that bookend the event with its casual atmosphere and inclusion of music and spoken works, said musician Julien Poulson, a founding organizer.

Last year’s event, he said, attracted attention for the participation of Australian singer and songwriter Paul Kelly.

“Some people said to us, ‘Oh, we thought it was about books, and you’ve got this singer guy there,’” Mr. Poulson said earlier this week. “But we’re in a place where we recognize, as festival programmers, the literature of Cambodia is spoken—it’s oral tradition.”

“We see the character of Kampot Writers and Readers Festival as being distinctly different to our sister festivals,” he said.

Lyrics and songs, poetry, spoken storytelling and creative discussions are as central to the festival as printed literary works, Mr. Poulson said, and this year’s 68 events—across 36 venues—would be expanding that budding tradition with “a lot more depth.”

Events range from storytelling by 91-year-old Bunong chief Lok Tak, of Mondolkiri, to rap workshops with Australian hip-hop artist and spoken word performer Morganics.

Also in the mix: a street art workshop, an exhibition by award-winning photographer Tim Page and live music performances including Battambang province rock band Batbangers and the acoustic tunes of U.K.-based songwriter Phousa.

The festival concludes on Monday with a final party and concert in Phnom Penh.

By “equipping people to be better storytellers, better writers, better readers and better listeners, we create something that is strong,” Mr. Poulson said. “And those ideas and those conversations become literature.”

More traditional literary events include a “Power of Story” discussion; a variety of writing workshops and author talks, and the launch of multiple books—including a Khmer language translation of the children’s classic Pippi Longstocking.

Owing to the diversity of activities, Mr. Poulson said he was “not certain what we’ll discover and learn.”

What the 1,200 registered attendees are guaranteed, however, is a “downhome-y, beer-budget Kampot Writers and Readers Festival Mardi Gras” rather than “the kind of more stuffy, snooty literati that is expected typically at a writers and readers festival,” he said. “We’re proud of that.”

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