Literary Trends in Thailand

Thai Publishing circles nowadays have broadly expanded as new titles of journals, magazines and newspapers, including those for specific career and interest groups, issued daily, weekly and monthly, have sprung up on the market. The growth of other kinds of media such as films and video cassettes have made an impact on book publishing circles but by no means brought them to a halt. Some interesting phenomena worth looking at are:

1. The interaction between literature and other kinds of media

a. Fiction in the media

One of the notable phenomena in literary circles is the transformation of works of fiction, especially novels, into television drama series. It can be guaranteed, almost without a doubt, that a novel will become successful marketwise after it has been transformed into a television series, as the audience of the story will expand to a national scale. Novels by several famous novelists have been adapted for television and film, though in many cases not without drastic modifications and transformations.

A related and not less interesting - phenomenon is the publication of the scripts of these television series in daily newspapers, which has generated a large group of readers. This phenomenon clearly indicated the influence that literature and other kinds of media, namely periodicals and television have on one another. However some scholars and writters look at it as a threat of the visual tradition which have brought on by modern technology. But there is a brighter side of this phenomenon. Having watched television dramas based on popular novels, many viewers who may or may not have read the novels before turn to the original text. As for those who have read the novels before and notice the distortion in the television, it is exciting for them to go back to the novels and find the discrepancies between the two versions. At any rate the readership of the novels that have been made into television dramas has markedly increased, and the book-renting bussiness flourishes. This phenomenon can be turned to our advantage after all.

b. Bestsellers by Celebrities

Celebrities such as actors/actresses, performers, singers or beauty queens, specialists in different professions such as autopsy practitioners or famous faces in the media, habe ventured into writing and their books have become bestsellers. These works are semi-autobiographical, mainly, if not exclusively, relating the authors' career experiences. This kind of writings is another sign of the influence of the media on literary creation.
2. Global literature and global readers

Translated works, both from Eastern and Western authors and countries, have multiplied in numbers. Translation of globally famous works of fiction is prompt, as in the case of the translation of the Harry Potter children's fiction series. There are publishing houses for special interests and topic areas such as the 'Phi Sua' publishing house for children's literature or 'Nanmi Books' for Chinese related works. However, it can be observed that among these renderings, literary pieces from the neighboring or ASEAN countries are in desperately small numbers. Those that exist are usually second-degree translations - translations from the English or already translated - versions. This is a curious fact if we consider that the countries in this region have a lot in common in terms of cultures and social experiences.

3. Literary Critiques

Eventhough periodicals have emerged abundantly, but on the other hand the space for literary critiques is still limited. Most of the so called columns of literary critiques in periodicals are book reviews or advertisements rather than actual literary criticism. It can be said that in Thailand literary creation or reading activities when compared to film criticism, with regards to whether column numbers or the influence on readers and moviegoers. There are only a handful of literary critics, most of whom, moreover are not given enough support or opportunities from periodicals.

4. Fiction in Book From

At present almost all weekly and bi-weekly magazines have seriallized novels as their main features. This phenomenon clearly illustrates that there is a great demand for this kind of writing, but it does not guarantee the quality of the works produced. As for novels and short stories in book form are usually published in fairly small numbers, ranging from 3,000 - 5,000 copies, except works by famous authors, which might be published several times. Poetry has less share of the market, as a collection of poems might be printed in only about 1,000 copies each time. The exception is in the case of S.E.A. Write Award winning works, such as Chiranan Phitpricha's collection of poems, Bai Mai Thi Hai Pai (The Missing Leaf), more than 100,000 copies of which have been sold, or Chat Kopshitti's awarded novel, Kamphiphaksa (The Judgement) which have been published in over 30 editions.


The granting of literary prizes has always been on the literary scene throughout the entire history of Thai literature. International organizations, government agencies, foundations and certain individuals had their share in promoting the literary climate in Thailand. Award giving seems to be the most recognizable way of promoting and stimulating Thai literary circles. Important national awards in this regard are:

1. By Government Agencies

In 1968, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) initiated literary prize to promote literary activities among member countries. Annual literary awards were given to the best writers of fiction, prose and poetry of each country. During the four years of its existence. Thailand SEATO literary awards were given to poets, novelists and essayists, most notably were the three women novelists, Kristsana Asoksin, Suwanni Sukhontha and Botan.
The first two novelists were already established writers by the time they received the awards. As for Botan, her prize winning novel Cotmai Cak Muang Tahi (Letters from Thailand) immediately placed her on literary stage alongside of Kritsana Asoksin and Suwanni Sukhontha.
Since 1972, the National Book Development Committee of the Ministry of Education has organized The Annual National Book Awards for outstanding works in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children literature. Unfortunately, reading public and mass media have not been very enthusiastic about this award. The awards thought given on a national level and having a direct role or promoting reading and literature, receive less attention from the media and from publishers, as seen from the fewer number of books submitted for competition, than the S.E.A. Write awards.
In 1985, the National Culture Commission, the Ministry of Education initiated The National Artists Awards the main objective is to recognize and honor artists in three different fields, namely, literature, visual arts, and performing arts. Each year artists have been selected and honored with the title "National Artists". The National Artists Project is rather different from other literary prizes in that it recognizes the artists lif long accomplishments, and in order to enable the artists to continue working with relative ease. Financial assistance and medical care have also been provided for them. These are also another means by which writers are rewarded on a national scale for their contribution to Thai literature.

2. By Private Sectors

In 1972, Wannakam Thai Bualuang (Lotus Literary Award) was initiated by the Bangkok Bank. This annual literary prize's objective is to preserve traditional literary convention, the awards for poetry were given to poetic compositions which best preserve literary convention.
This literary award does not received much response from the reading public because of the conservative nature of the award.
The P.E.N literary Prize, establish in 1977, aims at promoting and encouraging the writing of Thai literary works, particularly the writing of short story and short poem.
Rawi Domphracan literary prize established by Rawi Domphracan Fund in memory of the late Rawi Domphracan, a former student activist whose poem Wake-up Free Men became an inspiration to students during the uprising of 1973. The prize has been given annually to newly written novel and poem.
The Cho Karaket literary Prize initiated by the editor of Cho Karaket Magazine, Suchart Sawatsi is given to writers of short stories whose works have been selected and published in Cho Karaket Magazine. The objective of Cho Karaket magazine is to provide a venue for writers to try their hands at writing short story.
The S.E.A. Write Award or Southeast Asian Writers Awards is the most controversial literary prize. The main objektive is to honor leading poets and writers in the ASEAN region. The 10 countries which comprise the ASEAN region are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philipines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In Thailand, Thai P.E.N. Center and the Writers' Association have been responsible for the selection of the works to be awarded annually. The S.E.A. Write Awards have been given for over 20 years and have contributed greatly to the promotion of literature in Thailand and in the 10 ASEAN nations.

Although their supporters are in the private sectors, the roles of the S.E.A Write awards and their significance to Thai literary circles are widely acknowledged. The awards have generated lively movements and activities in both literary creation and literary criticism. However, some "shortcomings" of the awards might yet be discerned:

a. The awards are given for only 4 categories or genres of writing: novel, short story and poetry Nevertheless, attention should also be paid to other genres, such as documentary and play, which will help promote literature in a wider and more comprehensives scope.

b. The fact that the award in each category must in whatever circumstances be given every year might incur questions about the quality of the award-winning piece, which might not be quite on a par with its last years counterpart in quality. This situation can cause criticism, which may be leveled either at the quality of the work or at the judges criteria.

c. The awarding of only one work in each year may prevent other works which in fact are comparable in quality to the award winning one from getting the attention they deserve. Ways should be found therefore, to promote interesting literary works that do not with the prize.
With everything taken into account, however, it might be said that the S.E.A. Write awards have played the most remarkable role in promoting quality writings, supporting new writers who dare to make literary innovations which enrich Thai literary circles, and stimulating lively discussion among literary circle, and stimulating lively discussion among literary critics.

In 1991, M. L. Boonlua Thepyasuwan Literary Critique Prize is a prize for literary critique initiated by the M. L. Boonlua Thepyasuwan Fund in order to encourage the writing of literary critique.
A question can be raised as to whether the granting of literary prizes has enhanced literary creation. Most writers may feel that literary prizes might have enhanced the literary atmosphere and reading public, but they could not have been tthesources of inspiration for literary creation. However, the literary prize such as the S.E.A. Write Award has definitely created an impact on the literary development of the countries. Some say that this award increases the sale of the award winner's works by twenty fold.

Finally, it can be concluded that inspite of many obstacles and critiques the attempt to promote contemporary literature has not been in vain. The literary atmosphere nowadays is much more congenial to literary creation than it has been in the past.

© Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia. SEMUA HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA 2002
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