Winners of open Central Asia Literature Festival in Almaty announced

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ALMATY – The third Open Central Asia Book Forum and Literary Festival was held in Almaty from Nov. 14 to 17, featuring contests, film screenings, book launches, panel discussions and presentations by authors from the region and around the world.

A $17,000 prize goes toward the publication of the winning work in the literature category. There are also illustration, translation and filmmaking contests.

The event aims to popularise literature within Central Asia and promote local authors abroad, a Nov. 12 press release by the organisers noted.

This year’s first prize winner for literary work was Davlat Tolibšohi of Tajikistan, with Bubajša Arstanbekova of Kyrgyzstan and Lilya Kalaus and Zira Naurzbaeva of Kazakhstan coming in second and third place. Tolibšohi’s book will be published by Hertfordshire Press in 2016 and presented at the 2016 London Book Fair.

Alexey Ulko of Uzbekistan, Kateryna Myasnikova of Russia and Dilya of Kazakhstan won in the translation category, Vitaly Bondar of Belarus, Tatyana Davydova of Germany and Lolly of Ukraine won for illustration and Jasur Turaev and Euphrates Sharipov of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Ashot Danielyan of Uzbekistan and Eldar Nasyrov of Kazakhstan won in the new experimental film category, with Turaev and Sharipov taking home the new $10,000 Nemat Kelimbetov Award for film.

Lenifer Mambetova from Crimea took home the new Marzieh Zakirânovoj prize of $5,000 for the best work by a woman.

More than 450 authors from 20 countries took part in this year’s competition.

Asked about the event’s mission at a reception in Almaty on Nov. 14, participant Alexey Ulko of Uzbekistan, winner in the translation category, said, “I think it’s a great effort because I think all writers and all artists from Central Asia suffer from an inferiority complex. I would put it like this – that other, non-European, non-American, non-white cultures, including China and sub-Saharan Africa and everything else, have already successfully positioned themselves to the outside world as ‘the other.’ And we are the ‘other-other,’ the ultimate other, which is still unknown. And we are hoping, we’ve been hoping for the last 25 years, that the time will come when our uniqueness will be recognised by the world, but so far it comes only in, like, ‘Borat,’ or ‘Ambassadors,’ [a 2013 British TV series].”

Those depictions are oversimplifications and grotesques, Ulko said, but they’re not worth worrying about. “I think we need to stop worrying about it … we sometimes try to sell our identity as the other, but we don’t know what kind of identity we want to sell – do we want to be modern, do we want to be traditional? Post-Soviet, post-colonial? … before developing a content, we are ready to sell it. … I think we should stop worrying about how we’re perceived by the West and just do something. And I’m sure if that amount of interesting stuff grows, then recognition will come. Because nobody’s going to pay attention to Central Asia if we’re just offering something that’s obviously meant to interest the ‘ignorant West.’”

Poet David Parry of the U.K. and other Western writers commented that Central Asia is, in fact, much more central to world culture than is now recognised. “Central Asia is the world in some ways, isn’t it? Everything seems to either come from here or pass through here. … I thought the whole notion of celebrating Central Asian writing in all its immensely sophisticated forms – I don’t find it lacking in any respect – was a thoroughly good idea. And yes, maybe Britain, maybe Western Europe needs a bit of a memory jog about where most of its heritage comes from, or at least has passed through at some point.”

Paul Wilson, author of guidebooks to Central Asia and the new novel, “The Alphabet Game,” set in Central Asia, said, “The great oral narrative tradition – the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz – they are the classic storytellers … I really enjoy a good story. And I think some of the best stories have either come from here or come through here. And storytelling, the oral tradition of the bard, very much comes from this area.”

The Open Central Asia festival is organised by the National State Book Chamber of Kazakhstan, the Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Kazakhstan and the Elena Bezrukova Centre of Training and Consulting, and in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Sport of Kazakhstan, the Akimat (city administration) of Almaty city and the Kazakh Academy of Sport and Tourism.

By Michelle Witte in Society on 18 November 2014.

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