Media Interview For Singapore Writers Festival 2018
1. What do you plan to speak about in Singapore at the festival?
The importance of regional co-operation in literature.Writers should stand together to protect their rights.
2. What do you think of the festival theme of Jie, or world/boundary, especially with regards to the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia? (please elaborate the theme to me).
I suppose it means each country have their own identity. As far as literature or artwork is concerned there should not be restriction . We can appreciate each other. We heard about dispute in sports etc. In literature I hope there is not.
3. What does it mean to you to be the first woman in Malaysia to receive the Sasterawan Negara?
To give a simple answer, anyone would feel happy regardless whether you are a woman or man, to receive awards. What more my name will be in history for being the first woman after 12 men selected to receive it. The Anugerah Sastera Negara which is the highest literary recognition in Malaysia. The award is conferred by the His Magesty the Yang di Pertuan Agong which carry the tittle Sasterawan Negara (SN). The award was initiated in 1981 with the 1st receipients Keris Mas or Kamaluddin Muhammad. Nearly 40 years ago. Since then 13 writers have been conferred the tittle with me being the latest or the 13th. As you can see it is very difficult to obtain, It is not a yearly affair. Of course it give me much encouragement to go on. At the same time a fear that I am not doing enough to carry the tittle. That’s why I feel happy to be invited to this festival. It is something I should do to promote Malaysian literature.
4. What was your first reaction when you heard the news?
To tell the truth, I cannot say the news came as a “surprise” It is not something that you suddenly hear that you are promoted to SN. Not something like that. Actually the discussions as to who should be chosen were all over newspapers, literary magazines and forums held everywhere. My name was mentioned as the potential reciepient as early as 1990’s. So when the minister made the announcement it is just to say that the time has finally arrived for you. Not something you don’t expect at all.
5. How has life changed for you since you became the poet laureate?
Most of the time I feel there is not much changes. I still go on writing at home and feel the time constraints and difficulties as usual. But now I am expected to go out more often to attend literature events. In official events I feel more respected. In Malaysia, the national laureate will go up in the protocol and saluted in ceremonies and events especially literary events by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. You are qualified for better hotel accommodation and business class flight. Otherwise there is not much change. You just go on writing. Whatever problem you faced in the process of writing will be the same. You cannot overcome them with the national laureate tittle.
6. What inspired you to become a writer?
Many things. I do not know which is the more important factor. What I can say the motive of becoming a writer is not a static thing. It changed with your age and time. I started very early. I grew up with grandparents who did not allow me the freedom to move around. So I just sat in the house and listened to the radio. That’s when I listened to songs with poetic and meaningful lyrics. The traditional Malay songs use pantuns (traditional Malay poetry ) as their lyrics. This is how I felt in love with beautiful words. I learned the use of metaphors, similes and other poetic expressions.
I was brought up to think that a girl should not talk a lot. My freedom for oral expression was limited. So the only other thing to do is write down what I felt. I found mental and emotional relief through writing. . This is how I become a writer..
At young age I mainly wanted to write as a past time, I want to become recognized in society. I wanted to do something important for myself first, then to society and nation. As I grew older I feel responsible to voice my opinion on what is rights and wrongs around me.
7. Were your parents writers too? if not, what were their occupations?
My parents were not writers. My father died when I was six months old. My mother was a nurse and she was too occupied that I was left in the care of my aunt (my father’s sister) and my grandfather and grandmother in a remote village in Kedah. I was brought up kampung style, not free to go out. There was no library in the village and suitable books were not available. I was asked to cook rice when I wanted to read . Cooking rice at that time does not mean putting the rice in the rice cooker. It may involve going out to look for fire woods. There was no electricity in the village.
8. How have the themes of your poetry changed over the years?
The themes change over the years as you developed and according to changes in environments and issues around you.
As I have said, I began early at the age of 12. I sent little poems about love for my family, the beauty of my village.
Approaching the age of 20 and about ten years I wrote about social problems particularly poverty as I experienced in the live of farmers and villagers around me. I was influenced by writers like Usman Awang and Kassim Ahmad who said that writers should be the voice of their society .
I was searching for the meaning of life.
In my late twenties (around 1980’s) I wrote about love, the meaning of relationships especially between husband and wife, parents and children.
1990s and up to now I am very concern about my people ( The Malays ). What is their future and how can they compete with other races. They seem to be inferior economically. Will we loose our political power too? This is the only place we have. .
9. Where do you look to for inspiration?
I write quite a lot from reading the historical and legendary stories. Old tales and folk tales like Sejarah Melayu, Hikayat Hang Tuah and other legendary stories give many things to think about and develop into poems and short stories. I get new meaning from old stories.
10. How many books have you published to date?
22 (not much considering that I am almost 70 and have been this long in writing) . How I wish I have produced more.
11. What is your favourite of all the poems you have written, and why?.
Very difficult to point in specific. But there are poems I consider more successful than others. There are few poems that people talk about read and quoted in important speeches.
12. What are some examples of the challenges you faced as a woman writer in Malaysia?
I have written a book with this issue in focus. The book is A JOURNEY THROUGH PROSE AND POETRY , co published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and Islamic International University Press in 2018.
13. How do you juggle your writing with your family life?
It is difficult and can make you desperate. When my children were small I almost cannot write anything. Read about this in the book if you are interested.
14. What are your thoughts on the drastic changes in Malaysia today after the elections, and what do you hope to see in the future?
Malaysia is full of shocks and surprises so much so nothing surprises you any more. Anyway there are a lot to write about. I really don’t know what is going to happen. So unpredictable that I cant say whether it is positive or negative. As a human being I can only hope and pray for better things to come, especially for the future generations, including my children and grand children. I am worried about them most of the time.
15. What direction do you think the Malaysian literary scene needs to head in, and what pitfalls must it avoid?
Everything must be towards moulding and strengthening our identity as Malaysian that is bangsa Malaysia. We allow diversity but all races must be aware that they are rakyat Malaysia and should identity as one.
16. What are you working on now?
There is a collection of poems that I want to get published quickly .But I feel I need to add more and still improve on what I already have. But my creative process is always interrupted with calls to seminars and talks for which I have to prepare papers. (answering these questions for examples) Not to mention other social and family commitments.