Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sasterawan Negara Zurinah Hassan

It was last friday that I interviewed  Dr Zurinah Hassan who has won the title of National Laureate. This friday theSun published my story. Here is the full story..... 

Headline: Making Literary History 
By Bissme S

Writer and poet Datuk Dr Zurinah Hassan was recently named Malaysia’s 13th Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate). With that, the 66-year-old born in Bakar Bata in Alor Star, Kedah, created literary history by becoming the first female author to be conferred this prestigious award.
The award came with a cash prize of RM60,000 as well as a RM500,000 advance to publish 50,000 copies of her books which will then be distributed to schools, libraries and government departments and agencies.
This honour is a culmination of a lifetime of writings that have earned her numerous awards including the 1984 Putera Poetry Award, the 2004 SEA Write Award, the 2013 Asean Poetry Award (Sunthorn Phu Poet Laureate) and the Perdana Literary Award from 1971 to 2003. Zurinah, who goes by the pen name Haniruz, talks to theSun about her life and works.

*Tell us about your childhood.

Girls are to be seen and not heard – this was often drummed into me when I was a young girl. Naively, I thought it was given to me with good intentions, [to] teach me good manners and etiquette. But as I grew older, I understood the real meaning behind it – it simply means that if you are a female, please shut up because
nobody is interested in your opinion!
I went to a village school [at a time when my family was debating if it was] worthwhile to send daughters to school.When I finished primary school, my relatives had another intense debate whether I should continue my studies in a secondary school.
This was partially because secondary schools were only located in big towns. Luckily, after much discussion, I was allowed to further my studies. I commuted daily to a school which was 12km away. It was not easy for a 12-year-old girl to get up early to catch the 6am bus, and later walk under the hot afternoon sun, looking for a 
bus home.

*What other challenges have you faced as a woman?

I remembered one incident where a relative advised my grandmother: You are getting old and sick. It’s better if you stop Zurinah from schooling. She should stay home and look after you.’
Luckily, my grandmother did not listen to her. Years later, I wrote a short story based on this experience entitled Nenek, and the story won the National Literary Prize. 
There was another incident which involved my grandmother. I loved writing poetry. I liked to sit alone under the trees and compose poems.
One day, I overheard my grandmother telling some family members that I had been acting strange and, maybe, I was possessed by some spirits calling me to the trees in the late evenings.
My grandmother’s worry over my roaming outside the house only highlighted the fact that she thought girls should not be left alone.
She gave clear instructions that I should be accompanied at all times, and thereafter, I lost my privacy. My habit of spending too much time with books did not make my relatives happy either. They said I should be cooking and sewing like the other girls my age.

*What started your interest in writing?

There was a radio in my house that offered me a respite from boredom.I loved to listen to songs. In those days, songs had beautiful and meaningful lyrics. I learned to appreciate the beauty of words and the poetic value in my language.
I began writing poetry and sending them to newspapers and magazines. They published my works.My late uncle, Ahmad Aris Eckhardt who was himself a writer, bought me a typewriter so that I could type my work and send them to newspapers and magazines.
When I was in Form Four, the Sultan of Kedah came to our school on our speech day. The school held an exhibition to highlight works by the students, from poetry to painting.The next day, my teacher told me that the Sultan had praised my poetry, and his praise gave me the encouragement to continue writing.

*What is the biggest change you would like to see taking place in our literary scene?

I would like to see our society giving more value and respect to serious literature. But sad to say, our society is more interested in entertainment.A writer spent half of his lifetime churning out good works and towards the end of his career, he might receive the title of Sasterawan Negara and his prize money is RM60,000.
But some entertainment reality shows like Maharaja Lawak and Penyanyi Kilauan Emas offer far more attractive prizes. This shows literature is given low priority. I believe serious literature should be encouraged and supported, because serious literature helps us to be a thinking society.

*The world is reading the works of Japanese writers like Haruki Murakami and Yoko Agawa. Why do you think it is
not reading the works of Malay authors?

I hope one day the world will come to know about our literature. Translation plays an important role if we want to achieve this aim. I’m pinning my hopes on Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia (which translates most  national literature). So far, I find they are doing a good job in translating our works into other languages. 

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