Top things to do at George Town Literary Festival 2023

Here’s a spread bound to give visitors a lot to chew on.

The festival will take place across Loft29 at Gat Lebuh Gereja and Mano Plus, Beach Street this year (Photo: GTLF)

Tired of hearing the usual tourist banter and following the same hawker trails in Penang? Try something different: food for thought, mostly free and served by a gathering of people who will guide you beyond the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site and back, promising a great time along the way.

What’s more, you don’t have to wait until the year-end break. The fun begins now, with activities packed around the four days of the George Town Literary Festival (GTLF) from Nov 23 to 26 and an exhibition that runs the whole of this month.

Loft29 at Gat Lebuh Gereja and Mano Plus, Beach Street, are the main venues of this 13th edition of the festival but visitors should let curiosity lead and follow the GTLF theme of “terra incognita” by venturing further afield and being comfortable with the unfamiliar. With the state always welcoming those from near and far, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon activities cut out for those with different interests, literary or otherwise.

If you need more to whet your appetite before deciding which GTLF programme to tuck into, check out these special events.

Writing as Cartography
Speakers: Lieve Joris (pictured), Michelle de Krester, Tuan Phan

If writing about a place is an act of mapping, what tools does a writer have at his disposal? What should he focus on and what can he leave out? Would such a narrative be true to the place?

In this session, a fiction writer recalls childhood memories of his family’s escape from Vietnam to North America in the late 1980s. A non-fiction writer presents despatches from the Middle East and Africa for an audience on another continent. A third writer writes a novel with one title, two different covers and two different stories set in two different countries in two different eras.

Black Kettle, 105 Beach Street. Nov 25, 10.30am to 11.30am.


Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star of Brazilian Literature

In his biography on Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist and short story writer Clarice Lispector, Benjamin Moser refers to her as “that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf”. While Lispector’s beauty intrigued Brazil, her books place her among the greatest women writers of the 20th century. Her short stories shine for their focus on “personal moments of revelation in the everyday lives of the protagonists and the lack of meaningful communication among individuals in a contemporary urban setting”. This exhibition on Lispector is made possible through the collaboration and support of the Embassy of Brazil in Malaysia, Instituto Moreira Salles and Instituto Guimarães Rosa.

Chinahouse, Art Gallery, 155 Beach Street. Nov 20 to Dec 1.


Wu Ming-Yi: From a failed naturalist to an artefact hunter (Session will be conducted in Mandarin with English interpretation)
Speaker: Wu Ming-Yi; Moderator: Dr Florence Kuek

Writer, artist and environmental activist Wu’s debut novel Routes in the Dream (2007) reimagines Taiwan’s complicated history as a Japanese colony and examines the relationship between fathers and sons, memory and dreams. He established his name with The Book of Lost Butterflies (2000) and The Way of Butterflies (2003), in which he contemplates the invisible bond between man and nature. In 2006, when he wanted to quit academia to focus on writing and travelling, Dong Hwa University in Taiwan gave him a year’s sabbatical because it did not want to lose him. At GTLF, Wu will talk about how his writing has transformed over the last decade as he transitioned from failed naturalist to artefact hunter.

Black Kettle, 105 Beach Street. Nov 26, 10.30am to 11.30am.


Translations Across Borders
Speakers: Sawad Hussain (pictured), Chris Andrews, Duong Manh Hung

This panel, working between English and Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese, will share what translation feels like in different languages. What are some nuances and cultural subtleties that translators need to look out for? Does the intimacy of translation pose challenges of its own for translators to do what they do?

Loft29 (Main Hall), 29 Gat Lebuh Gereja. Nov 23, 2pm to 3pm.


Dysfunction as Inspiration? Unravelling Family Conflict in Writing
Speakers: Abdul Rahman Shah, Azrin Fauzi, Rita Robert Rawantas (pictured)

Any family that is not functioning as it should be is considered dysfunctional. But victims could feel inadequate and reluctant to share their stories. In literary works, the tale of family strife frequently serves as the backdrop or central theme. Take a cue from these writers who recognise that the most destructive disputes frequently arise in familiar environments.

Black Kettle, 105 Beach Street. Nov 25, 1.30pm to 2.30pm.


Bingit Redam Dari Kebuk Kelam

Zulhezan x Hafiz Hamzah return to George Town for an evening of anti-entertainment specially put together for small-room audiences after over a year of testing and exploring possibilities. In this set, they focus on the narrative of poetic language, which is conveyed as an uncomfortable experience revealed along with the texture and colour of the hum of sounds. This will be the duo’s first performance since they wrapped up their Indonesia Tour 2023, which took them through six different locations in June.

Loft29, 29 Gat Lebuh Gereja. 8.30pm. Buy tickets here


Speed Pitching with SCLA

Dreaming of being an author but have no idea where to start? Take that first crucial step by fixing a date with literary agents Devina Sivagurunathan and Rosalind Chua (pictured) of Sivagurunathan & Chua Literary Agency. Over two days at GTLF, they will see 24 writers, who will each get five minutes to pitch their book idea. The pair will say no or yes to sending in your manuscript. It’s like speed dating with a literary twist.

The Prestige Hotel (Angier & Borden Hall). 8 Gat Lebuh Gereja. Nov 24, 4.30pm to 5.30pm; Nov 25, 10am to 11am.


This article first appeared on Nov 20, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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