2 days to Singapore Writers Festival

Iconic Malaysian writer A Samad Said goes to social media for younger audience

A. Samad Said will read his poetry at the festival while his son Az Samad accompanies him on the guitar.
A. Samad Said will read his poetry at the festival while his son Az Samad accompanies him on the guitar.PHOTO: COURTESY OF A. SAMAD SAID

Malaysian writer A. Samad Said, who will perform with his son Az Samad, stays with the times by putting his writing on Facebook and Twitter

Eighty-three-year-old Malaysian laureate A. Samad Said is rather active online.

He is the author of iconic Malay books such as the 1961 classic novel Salina, about a woman driven by poverty into prostitution.

He posts regularly on Facebook and Twitter, publishing poems that serve as social commentary on Malaysian current affairs. This exposes him to a bigger and younger audience.

  • Other Malay authors at the festival

  • GOENAWAN MOHAMAD

    Indonesian writer-activist Goenawan Mohamad is the founder of Indonesian news magazine Tempo, serving as its editor-in-chief for 23 years. He also writes poetry and is a prolific essayist.

    Catch him at: When Meaning Is Managed: The Fate Of Literature, a lecture exploring the Indonesian literary scene in relation to the state. The session is in English and is curated by The Arts House as part of the SWF Country Focus: Indonesia.

    Where: The Arts House, Chamber

    When: Saturday, 4 to 5pm

    Admission: $15 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

  • SURATMAN MARKASAN

    Poet and novelist Suratman Markasan is a pioneer in the Malay language and literary scene here. He has been writing since 1954. He received the Cultural Medallion in 2010.

    Catch him at: Tun Sri Lanang Lecture Series, where the 1999 recipient of the Tun Sri Lanang Award will talk about the Malay literary scene in Singapore. The session is in Malay and is co-organised with the Malay Language Council of Singapore.

    Where: The Arts House, Kumon Blue Room

    When: Saturday, 10am to 12.30pm

    Admission: Festival pass ($20)

He will again bridge the generational divide at the Singapore Writers Festival on Saturday, by teaming up with his son, musician and composer Az Samad.

During the performance titled Like Father, Like Son: The Music Of Verse, Pak Samad, as he is known to many, will be reading his poetry as Az accompanies him on the guitar.

A seminal figure in the Malaysian literary scene since the 1960s, Pak Samad will also talk about the role of writers vis-a-vis their nation on Sunday in a session titled Scripting A Nation.

While Pak Samad's social media presence makes him more accessible to a bigger and younger audience, it also makes him vulnerable to criticism.

Recently, he made some remarks about how the Malay martial art form of silat is losing relevance as a form of defence today.

A quick scan on his Facebook page, which has about 230,000 fans, reveals nasty comments from detractors, denouncing him as

"senile" and "a traitor to the Malays".

"I don't care if people curse me. I write what I feel is the truth," says Pak Samad, speaking to Life on the telephone from his home in Kuala Lumpur.

His son Az, one of the moderators of his father's Facebook page, is similarly unfazed by the online vitriol. "When you create art, you must be provocative in some way. He's always been very current and topical about the issues he feels strongly about," says the 35-year-old, who is one of Pak Samad's five children.

Az grew up seeing his father surrounded by books and writing, and "always scribbling notes on index cards". He dabbled in poetry and short story writing in his youth, but the influence of 1990s grunge band Nirvana in his teens got him interested in the guitar.

Since then, the bachelor, who graduated from Boston's Berklee College of Music, has performed around the world. Most recently, he performed at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival in South Korea.

But his father, too, has a music connection.

"I once joined Malay singing competition Bintang Radio Singapore, but I lost to M. Bakri," he says, referring to the popular crooner from the 1960s and 1970s.

"I tried learning with Az, but I had to drop out. He's much better than me. I prefer writing and reading," he says, chuckling softly.

But Pak Samad is not a writer to rest on his laurels.

  • BOOKIT/LIKEFATHER, LIKE SON:THEMUSICOFVERSE

    WHERE: The Arts House, Chamber

    WHEN: Saturday,8pm

    ADMISSION: Festival pass ($20) from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

  • A.SAMADSAID: SCRIPTINGA NATION

    WHERE: The Arts House, Play Den

    WHEN: Sunday, 10am

    ADMISSION: Festival pass ($20)

    The sessions are in Malay.

"The role of the writer is not just to write," he says. And he is walking the talk. He joined Malaysia's secular opposition Democratic Action Party in June, again to much criticism from members of the Malay community who accused him of being used to forward the agenda of the Chinese majority in the party.

Pak Samad was also the co-chair of the Bersih 2.0 rally in 2011, which called for free and fair elections in Malaysia.

He says: "As a writer, if you think something is not right in the society, you must write about that in the best way you can."

And he urges writers, as "recorders of what a nation goes through", to not fear criticism.

"Criticism to me is like salt and pepper, adding flavour to what I write. I just chew on it and swallow what I feel is correct."

•The Straits Times is the official media partner of the Singapore Writers Festival. For more stories on the festival, go to www.straitstimes.com/tags/singapore-writers-festival-2015

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Writing online for bigger audience'. Print Edition | Subscribe