This interview has been originally conducted in Malay, and edited and translated into English. If there is any inconsistency or ambiguity between the English version and the Malay version, the Malay version shall prevail. The original text can be read here.
Tell us a bit more about the background of Dewan Sastera.
Dewan Sastera is the Malaysia’s national literature magazine, published in Malay and has been around for five decades. It is also the one and only Southeast Asia-based literature magazine that is still available in the region. It started in 1971 and has been helmed by a few Malaysian literature connoisseurs such as Keris Mas
, Usman Awang
, Baha Zain
, Johan Jaaffar
, and Suhaimi Haji Muhammad
. It is not only meant to platform fine, fresh literary masterpieces but also serves as a medium of expression to unite the multicultural society in echoing their intellectuality and creativity via our national language.
How do you plan the content strategy for every issue of the magazine?
We would come up with an annual plan together with the editorial board, which also weigh in the direction of the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka (DBP)’s research and policy department, together with DBP overall’s direction in steering the annual literature development. Usually, it will revolve around current affairs, for example, the hottest issues aside from COVID-19, changes in the political climate and government’s administration are the impact of technology’s evolution on humanity. This would be the usual school of thought, aside from the annual or biannual movements and events, such as seminars on selected writers’ thinking and Grand Literature Prize.
Although bureaucratically speaking my job scope is tied with other departments for publishing purposes such as Southeast Asian Literary Council (MASTERA
), I fondly welcome collaborations with Southeast Asian literary players, MASTERA’s country members, and ASEAN members in general, especially related to their national literary developments, future directions, and literary pieces in progress.
Dewan Sastera celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. From your perspective, what are among the most significant achievements of Dewan Sastera, and what are the challenges awaiting ahead?
I will be transparent about the challenges - which are the digitalisation and national literature policy, and both are universal challenges experienced worldwide. We should be certain and cautious in facing them, one step at a time. However, understanding society and civilisation still require the upholding of literature, as long it dives into the soul of the society for a better understanding of the world and the sociocultural change. For the past five decades, Dewan Sastera has achieved a lot of milestones, and it is now one of the prime references in language centres and Malay research centres across the globe. But I rather not look back too often as accomplishments are best to be spoken by those who have been observing the changes since its inception.
As Dewan Sastera is also now available in digital format, what are your strategies to embrace the constantly changing media landscape, and what are the expectations that should be set for the magazine?
Philosophically speaking, yes, the magazine should embrace the changes and demands of the present. If there are demands for Dewan Sastera to be on social media, then so be it. I am indeed waiting for the management to produce an actual online magazine, just like The New Yorker
or Paris Review
that operates in both print and digital format. However, few factors should be weighed in for such strategies such as human capital, finance, expertise, and skills. I really believe that the magazine and its literary masterpieces are evergreen and consistently being referred to, so there are a commodity and commercial value for the magazine. The plan has been in place since a decade ago and all I can do is gathering society’s feedback. The magazine is now available for free in the name of DBP’s corporate social responsibilities, but I have executed a survey on its commercial value, and we receive positive feedback on the request for the magazine to enter the commerce and e-commerce platforms.
COVID-19 has impacted the dynamic of the media industry. In your opinion, how would arts and literature make an impact today’s society?
A lot of bookstores online make better sales in COVID-19 era, and there are a lot more International Standard Book Number requests to the national library, which shows that there is an active rate of book production is taking place throughout the pandemic. There is also more time to read or at least, reflecting on the outside world, through our window. Reflection helps us to foster ideas and form opinions.
How may media and PR boost the efforts of upholding literature at the national level?
Media and PR play pivotal roles, especially when it comes to encapsulating the network of organisations in literature and publishing industries. I believe the PR and media industries offer new ways of working. This sparks freshness, especially in sharing knowledge this also teaches us that in literature, there is no contest but togetherness. If any of our literature pieces, magazine, or writer find their success, the credit goes towards all of us. Look at Tan Twan Eng
and Hanna Alkaf
in the international leagues, or the success story of our National Laureate, Prof. Emeritus Muhammad Haji Salleh in publishing the English trans-literature of Sejarah Melayu
with Penguin Books, these are the examples of our mutual success. That is something we should be proud of.