Friday, February 28, 2014

Silverfish Public Talk -- March 2014

Topic: Uneasy Alliances, Writers and the University: A Report from Both Sides of the (Diasporic) Border by Shirley Lim
Venue: Silverfish Books Sdn Bhd, 28-1, Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-22844837
Date & time: Saturday, 15 March, 2014 at 5.30pm

An abstract by Ms Lim says: "While writing is often constructed as a solitary endeavour undertaken by an individual talent, works of literature, particularly contemporary fiction and poetry, achieve their reputation and after-life through the circuits of public reception, often with academics and scholars as gatekeepers. This talk looks at the cognitive dissonance, complicity and negotiations undertaken in that relationship in the U.S., and asks what and why is the state of that relationship in Malaysia."

Okay. If that was a mouthful, Shirley clarifies: This will NOT be an academic paper with endless citations, but an Alice through the Looking Glass, let's go down that rabbit hole together evening ...

As Malaysians, we like to claim Shirley Lim as our own. Universities teach her books, she continues to sell steadily in our bookshops, and she has lots of friends and relatives here. If Lin Yutang was right when he said, "What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?" then she is thoroughly Malaysian. Yet, by citizenship she's American, and a proud one at that.

Her biodata is a mile long, so we shall simply highlight a few points.(If you want to know more, look here.) She was born in 1944 in Malacca, Malaysia, and describes herself as "a wild girl who ran with the boys and alone through the streets" (Among the White Moon Faces, 49). In interviews, she has talked about her "stubborn spirit" that she utilized in school, making her a leader as well as an outcast. She has reportedly said, "Growing up when I did, there weren't many other recreational alternatives, and I had a pretty unhappy childhood ... Reading was a huge solace, retreat, escape. I was a really obsessive reader. Somewhere along the line, I had a sense I should write about things I knew rather than read about things I didn't know. I wanted to write my own voice, my own community."

Her early education was at a Catholic convent school under the British colonial education system. She won a federal scholarship to the University of Malaya which she attended from 1964 to 1969, earning a BA with First Class Honors in English. In 1969, at the age of twenty-four, she entered graduate school at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, earning her Ph.D. in English and American Literature in 1973.

She says that poetry is her driving passion. "That was my first form of literary expression and is the most primal for me." Her first poem was written and then published in the Malacca Times when she was ten. Her first book of poetry, Crossing the Peninsula and Other Poems, won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1980. She was the first woman and the first Asian to receive the award.

Shirley Lim is disarming, articulate, intelligent and a wonderful human being. So, come, let's go down that rabbit hole together with a glass of red -- bring a bottle  if you can! -- or tea, or water (plain or sugared).

Admission is free, but do RSVP by replying this email, or call Phek Chin at the number above. (We need to know how many chairs we need to put out.)