Wait for ‘big’ announcement on Sasterawan Negara, says Maszlee

Education Minister Maszlee Malik.

KUALA LUMPUR: Education Minister Maszlee Malik has promised a surprise in the announcement of the next Sasterawan Negara, the country’s highest literary award, fuelling speculation that the recipient this time will be someone from among non-mainstream players in literary circles.

“The update is that we are going to have the next big thing with Sasterawan Negara, you can believe me,” Maszlee told FMT today when pressed on speculation that he had rejected names proposed by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), which is tasked with shortlisting the candidates.

Maszlee however avoided a question on whether he was unhappy with DBP’s list.

“Don’t trust rumours,” he said when met at an event to launch the 2018 report of the 2013-2025 Malaysian Education Blueprint at Bank Negara Malaysia.

On July 19, FMT quoted sources as saying that a list of Sasterawan candidates prepared by DBP – seen as the “guardian” of the national language – had not gone down well with Maszlee, who is supposed to present the final names to the Agong for royal consent.

The Sasterawan Negara title was last announced in 2015, when poet Zurinah Hassan was named the first female national laureate since its inception in 1981.

Past recipients of the title include the late Shahnon Ahmad and Usman Awang, and activist-poet A Samad Said.

There has been speculation that Faisal Tehrani, the pen name of academic Dr Faizal Musa whose seven books have been banned by the government, is among names being seriously considered amid resistance from DBP as well as mainstream literary circles.

Faisal has written more than 20 widely read academic papers on the subject of Malay history, as well as plays, short stories and novels which have won him literary prizes and awards.

Some were controversial enough to be considered threats to public peace by the previous government, and the Pakatan Harapan government is in no hurry to lift the ban, presumably due to pressure from Islamic bureaucrats.