Sok Chanphal

October 18, 2013

This time last year, I happened to be in Bangkok for the South East Asian Write Awards, Asia’s biggest and most prestigious literary prize. I got talking to one of the organisers, and she mentioned that Cambodia hadn’t entered anyone for five years. Could I, she asked, perhaps look in to finding someone for this year?

So when I got back to Phnom Penh, I set about finding someone. There aren’t many poets and writers working in this country: most people are too busy trying to get enough to eat, and the publishing industry is tiny and resource-poor.

But I put together a committee, with the head of Cambodian PEN and a professor of Asian Studies from California, and together we decided upon a young Khmer songwriter who has had some fiction published in literary journals. And this week I watched as Sok Chanphal picked up the award from Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. It was quite a proud moment for me.

Chanphal, who seems like a very nice kid, was, I think, fairly bowled over by the whole thing. He got to spend a week at the ultra-deluxe Mandarin Oriental and hang out with the other nominees, fostering literary connections and making new friends. He’s come back to Phnom Penh with a new energy for writing and a determination to write more and better.

Sok Chanphal, second from the right

Sok Chanphal, second from the right

I’m not sure, entirely, that the Mandarin, superb hotel though it is, is quite the right venue for a literary awards – the ceremony itself was an exercise in plush and pointless excess – but I’m happy that Chanphal got to enjoy it, and I’m thrilled that Cambodia is, to some extent, back on the world’s literary map. It’s another step on the road to the recovery that this country so badly needs.

I also think I’ve found another writer for next year’s awards.



2 Responses to “Sok Chanphal”

  1. cool! does he write in khmer or english? that’s awesome! would love to somehow read his work.

  2. Catherine Klingel said

    Wow Rupert…great job!

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