The annual SEA Write Awards marked their 35th anniversary with the gracious presence of Thailand's own literary princess, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen.
HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn with SEA Write awardees and organisers. Front row, from left: Soukhee Norasilp from Laos, Assoc Prof Taweesak Pinthong; Linda Christanty from Indonesia, Rebecca Anonuevo from the Philippines, Chen Songsomphan and Maung Sein Win from Myanmar. Back row, from left: Thai winner Angkarn Chanthathip, Thai Ba Loi from Vietnam, Mohamed Ghozali Abdul Rashid from Malaysia, Amanda Hyndman, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Bangkok Governor and organising committee chairman Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Haji Masri Haji Idris from Brunei Darussalam, Yeng Pway Ngon from Singapore and Cambodia’s Sok Chanphal.
The lunchtime format was introduced for the first time to fit in with the princess's full schedule.
The anniversary milestone coincided with the recognition of Bangkok by Unesco as 2013 World Book Capital, an accolade befitting this regional literary event.
Another remarkable point of this year's awards was the full attendance by winners from all 10 Southeast Asian countries, for the first time in 12 years. These were Haji Masri Haji Idris (Brunei Darussalam), Sok Chanphal (Cambodia), Linda Christanty (Indonesia), Soukhee Norasilp (Laos), Mohamed Ghozali Abdul Rashid (Malaysia), Maung Sein Win (Myanmar), Rebecca Anonuevo (Philippines), Yeng Pway Ngon (Singapore), Angkarn Chanthathip (Thailand) and Thai Ba Loi (Vietnam).
The princess was welcomed on arrival by the SEA Write Award organising committee and then proceeded to the Royal Ballroom where guests were already seated.
An early lunch was served while the Krungthep Light Orchestra entertained. As is customary, the dessert displayed the chef's creativity as he played around with the literary theme. A chocolate quill accompanied a marbled white chocolate and strawberry macaron filled with natural yoghurt sorbet, while drops of chocolate ''ink'' dotted the plate.
After lunch, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, as chairman of the SEA Write Award organising committee, proposed a royal toast, and delivered a speech in which he remarked on the significance of the 35th anniversary and its link with Unesco's accolade for Bangkok as the 2013 World Book Capital. He also outlined the committee's initiatives to tie in with these events, namely the opening of a SEA Write Library at Sudinsaharaat School in Ayutthaya province, the presentation of a special commemorative Swarovski brooch, the publication of Beyond Borders: The 35th Anniversary SEA Write Anthology, compiling translated works by selected past and present SEA Write awardees, and the launch of the Asean Young Writers Award.
The SEA Write laureates were then called on one by one to accept their award from the princess and give an acceptance speech, which they all did in English with the exception of the Thai laureate Angkarn Chanthathip, who gave a poetic tribute to the Oct 14, 1973, people's fight for democracy in his mother tongue.
The keynote speaker, award-winning Irish novelist, playwright, poet and short story writer Edna O'Brien, was then invited to the podium. She regaled the audience with the story of her own literary path, which was not exactly strewn with roses, particularly in her earlier days growing up in the strictly Catholic community of County Clare, Ireland. Quoting various writers and philosophers, she also remarked on the difficulty writers face in defining their mission and raison d'etre, particularly women writers, and urged the laureates to continue contributing to the literary world.