Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Anwar Ridhwan : Short Biography


ANWAR RIDHWAN is new Malaysia Literary Laureate. He received this highest literary prize in Malaysia (Anugerah Sastera Negara) on 20th October 2009 from the Government of Malaysia. Since Malaysia independence in 1957, only 10 writers received the prize.


Born : August 5th, 1949 at Parit Satu Timur, Sungai Besar, Selangor, Malaysia.
Anwar Ridhwan is the youngest child in a family of six children. His father, a farmer, came from Ayer Hitam, Penang ( then he moved south to Bagan Serai, Perak). His mother, Habshah is a midwife who came from Kuala Kangsar, Perak. After they got married, the couple lives in Sungai Besar, Selangor.
Anwar receives his primary education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Besar (1956-1962); secondary education at Sekolah Menengah Sabak Bernam (now Sekolah Ungku Aziz, Sabak Bernam, 1963-1967); pre-university education at Sekolah Alam Shah, Kuala Lumpur (1968-1969). In 1970 he was accepted as a student of the Malay Studies Department at University Malaya. It was as a student at University Malaya that Anwar pioneered the establishment of ISUM, Ikatan Sastera Universiti Malaya, Literary Association of University Malaya. Anwar was also involved with the culture column of the campus newspaper, the Mahasiswa Negara. He also actively participated in study tour to Indonesia, Hong Kong and Thailand. In 1973, he graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1983 and 1998, he received his Master of Arts and PhD degrees respectively, from University Malaya.
A few days after leaving University Malaya in 1973, Anwar was accepted as a temporary officer at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka or DBP (Institute of Language and Literature, Malaysia). He works at this post for three months. On 1st May 1973, he was accepted as a permanent Literary Research Officer at the same organization. His career at DBP saw him on the Editorial Board of Dewan Bahasa (monthly National Language magazine), Dewan Sastera (monthly literary magazine), and Dewan Budaya (monthly cultural magazine).
During the fall semester of 1982, Anwar had the opportunity to follow management and book publishing courses at New York University, Manhattan, USA. In September 1986, Anwar had the opportunity of participating for four months in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, USA. He also participated in the World Poetry Meet at Struga, Yugoslavia, in August 1988. He then travelled to Russia as guest of the Association of Soviet Writers in September/October 1988.
Anwar later became Head of the Literary Development and Expansion at DBP. Anwar was also a Visiting Professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan, from April 1997 until March 2000. In 2001, he became Director of Publication, DBP until his retirement on 4th August 2005. From July 2008, Anwar was appointed Dean, Faculty of Creative Writing, Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan Malaysia, National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Malaysia, the newest public university.
Anwar Ridhwan’s emergence in the world of creative writing can be traced back to 1970, when he was in his first year at University of Malaya. He first wrote short stories in the early 70’s. When one of his short stories “Perjalanan Terakhir” (The Last Journey) won the Hadiah Sastera Malaysia (Malaysian Literary Prize) in 1971, Anwar became the youngest writer to have garnered such prestigious award. He exhibiting new styles of fiction writing hitherto unexplored and also by renewing literary conventions. He also delved deeper into the psychology of his characters, making them more complex and multi-tiered beings. From this first early fiction, Anwar continues to demonstrate his talent and creative endeavors, which continues to be analyzed and highlighted.
He writes mostly poems and short stories, the two genres in which he is most prolific. He also writes essays and critical writing. In the mid 1970’s, Anwar temporarily stopped writing poems, essays and other critical writing to devote completely to writing short stories. It is in this genre that literary scholars acknowledge Anwar’s exceptional talent and strength before he ventures into yet another genre : that of writing novel.
In the world of creative writing, his first collection of short stories, Parasit, Parasite (1976) reveals not only a new style of writing but also a very innovative, poetic language usage. In his second collection of short stories, Sesudah Perang, After The War (1978), Anwar adopted a theme where he delineated the “luck” of characters caught within a cultural tradition even as they face a new form of culture, which is more aggressive, materialistic and individualistic. This is a theme which is much favored by Anwar as proven by his many works including a major portion of his third collection of short stories, Sangkar, The Cage. Throughout his short story writing career, Anwar has won the Hadiah Karya Sastera Malaysia (Malaysian Literary Award) for four times for his short stories “Perjalanan Terakhir”, The Last Journey (1973), “Sesudah Perang”, After The War (1976), “Sasaran”, Target, “Sahabat”, Friend, and “Menjadi Tua”, Becoming Old (1982/83).
His propensity to creative new conventions has resulted in his writing short stories in a style which rather different from that of his contemporaries. His new creative technique, coupled with his ability to delve deep into the psyche of his characters, have resulted in a myriad number of short stories like “Dunia Adalah Sebuah Apartmen”(The World in An Apartment), “Sahabat” (Friend), “Menjadi Tua” (Becoming Old), “Dari Kiev ke Moskova” (From Kiev to Moscow) and “Tik! Tik! Tik! (Tick! Tick! Tick!).
Whilst other short story writers remain manacled within the Malaysian context and milieu, Anwar sees the background, as but, a secondary element. He is more concerned with the message of his short stories, with social issues and issues of humanity without being manacled within geographical and others spatial limitations. Thus when the reader encounters his short stories, they not only experience an invigorating aesthetic experience but also a widening and deepening of their experiences to encompass an international, even global background.
Anwar’s first novel, Hari-hari Terakhir Seorang Seniman, The Last Days of An Artist (1979) won the first prize in a Novel Writing Conmpetition organized by the Sabah Foundation and GAPENA (Federation of National Writers Association, Malaysia). On the whole, the novel delineates the life of an artist, a soothsayer, whose art form and ideals are threatened. At the same time the novel also delves into the lives of villagers who are not only isolated but worry about the effects of Second World War. This novel exhibits Anwar’s innate craftsmanship where content, form and technique become further empowered through a highly sophisticated exploitation of language. It is not surprising therefore that his novel is highly acclaimed by literary scholars and critic alike.
The novel has been translated into English by Harry Aveling, into Japanese by Tatsuo Hoshino, and also into French by Monique Zaini Lajoubert. Johan Jaaffar, amongst others a critique and playwright, had adapted and transformed it into theatre, which was staged for 14 times in Kuala Lumpur, and taken on a stage performance tour to Kota Kinabalu(Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak) and to Singapore Drama Festival.
Anwar produced his second novel Arus, The Current (1985). Arus centers on the current issue in contemporary Malaysian society. It deals with the conflicts and scandals of a banking community and the issue of heresy amongst the Muslim community of his country. The novel won the Hadiah Sastera Malaysia, Malaysia Literary Prize. Arus was translated into French by Francois-Rene Daillie (Federop, 1989) and later into Thai.
Although Anwar concentrates on primarily writing short stories, he also writes poems and play. His impetus to write plays started when he was in Manhattan in 1982 for four months during the fall season. As Anwar said, “the whole milieu, the whole atmosphere, the fact that I was in Manhattan, seemed to provoke me into opening my creative endeavors even wider.” Anwar’s play, Orang-orang Kecil (Little People) published in 1990, and Yang Menjelma dan Menghilang (Those Who Appear and Those Who Disappear) published in 1990, both has been translated into English by Solehah Ishak. Yang Menjelma dan Menghilang won the first prize in a Drama Writing Competition organized by Yayasan Seni (The Art Foundation) and Malay daily Berita Harian. Anwar not only writes play but he also a very capable and talented director who has shown his directorial skills in transforming Wole Soyinka’s (winner Nobel Prize for Literature, 1986) The Swamp Dwellers into theatre in December 1991. He also directed his own play Pulang (Return) in December 1995, and Yang Menjelma dan Menghilang, in June 2001.
Anwar also produced a collection of poems, Tercipta dari Tanah (1985). His collection of short stories, Sesudah Perang, has been translated into English by Adibah Amin, one of the best translator and writer in Malaysia, entitle After The War . In 1992 his story “Dari Kiev ke Moskova” (“From Kiev to Moscow”), based on his visit to USSR and his criticism on socialism, won the first prize in a short story writing competition organized by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and Maybank.
One of Malaysia’s National Laureate, Muhammad Haji Salleh is of the opinion that Anwar creates his short stories with such minute detail and neatness of presentation. This could be attributed to the fact that for many years Anwar was the literary editor for Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Those years must surely have contributed to Anwar’s unique trait and personality in producing his works, which are aesthetically beautiful, detailed and effective.
The issues in almost all of his short stories can be divided into two aspects : Firstly, characters that must confront new value and culture. These new values and cultures, although new and in the formative stage are seen to be better, more sophisticated, more internationally acclaimed. These values are always in conflict with the old values, norms and culture. This innate theme is exhibited in for instance “Sahabat” (Friend) and “Menjadi Tua” (Becoming Old). Second, the value of humanity itself and the concept of democracy, both of which have become rather relatively unimportant in the postmodern context. This thematic concern can be seen in his short story “Dunia Adalah Sebuah Apartmen” (The World Is An Apartment) and his novel Naratif Ogonshoto (Tales of Ogonshoto).
In the Naratif Ogonshoto, but of Anwar’s primary concerns, which are innately universal in nature, seem to overcome the stereotype familiarity and concern with background-cum- milieu and characters with real and concrete names. This work exemplify Anwar’s unique exfoliation of characters, their psychological innuendoes, so explicit yet so implicitly difficult to fathom their varied milieu and the multi-facetted challenges they have to encounter and finally overcome or be defeated by it/them. Conflicts of belief, the meaning of democracy and the challenges of new cultural values become dominant and universal in a borderless village although the stories are located in a fictional republic somewhere in the Pacific region. This work encapsulates what Harry Aveling wrote about Anwar namely that “Anwar’s world is more that of urban intellectual : more precise, more restrained, at once Malay and international.” This is indeed not surprising for Anwar himself as an urban, Malay individual who is very much part and parcel of the Malay world but he is also one who has traversed other worlds and seen peoples from other continents. The value of Anwar’s fictive characters are therefore universal proving yet again that we are inhabitants of a global village.

On 20th October 2009 he was awarded Anugerah Sastera Negara (Malaysia Literary Laureate), the highest literary prize in Malaysia, by the Government of Malaysia.


(Credit : Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Publication on Anwar Ridhwan as the recipient of SEA Write Award, Southeast Asia Write Award, Bangkok, Thailand, 2002).

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