Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Translation Today

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) held its 2023 conference and bookfair at the Seattle Convention Center from March 9 to 11. Among the events was "Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Translation Today," a discussion and reading of the literature that has been recovered as well as the writing of the diaspora: songs, poetry, and folktales in brand-new translations; and nonfiction and poetry by writers of the diaspora.

The destruction of much of Cambodia’s classical and contemporary literature occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Tens of thousands of writers, artists, teachers, and intellectuals were systematically murdered. Unlike other Asian Americans, the parents of Cambodian Americans arrived escaping one of the most horrific genocides in modern history. The Cambodian diaspora was therefore an escape from war, horror, and trauma and an attempt to recapture basic civil rights and personal freedom. Over time, it also became an attempt to recover the old literature and to create a new one.


Sharon May (moderator) researched the Khmer Rouge regime and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University. She guest-edited "In the Shadow of Angkor: New Cambodian Writing," a Cambodian feature for Words without Borders, and In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia, the summer 2004 issue of Mānoa. With Christophe Macquet, Trent Walker, Phina So, and Rinith Taing, she guest-edited Out of the Shadows of Angkor: Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Performance through the Ages, the winter 2021–summer 2022 issue of Mānoa.

Mylo Lam was born in Vietnam and raised in Los Angeles. His work has been published in Barrelhouse, The Coachella Review, AAWW’s The Margins, and elsewhere. His multimedia work won Palette Poetry’s Brush & Lyre Prize, and he was a 2019 Sesame Writers’ Room fellow.

Putsata Reang is a journalist and author of the debut memoir, Ma and Me. She is an alum of Hedgebrook, Kimmel Harding Nelson and Mineral School residencies. Ma and Me was released in May 2022 to multiple "Must Read" lists as well as earning starred reviews in major trade journals.

Greg Santos is a poet, editor, and educator. He is the author of Ghost Face (DC Books, 2020) and other collections, and is the editor-in-chief of carte blanche magazine. An adoptee of Cambodian, Portuguese, and Spanish heritage, he lives in Montreal with his family.

Sokunthary Svay is the author of Apsara in New York. She is based in NYC and has received fellowships from Poets House, American Opera Projects, Willow Books, and the CUNY Graduate Center, where she is a doctoral candidate in English. Her first opera premiered at the Kennedy Center in January 2020. She did a stirring rendition of the Sinn Si Samouth classic "Champa Battambang" at the end of the presentation.





Pictured (left to right): Sokunthary Svay, Sharon May, Greg Santos, Putsata Reang, Mylo Lam.