Under the supervision of CSULB Professor Teri Yamada, the Nou Hach Literary Project and its director Kho Taraith have been honored as this year's winner of the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award.
The Laber Award, which includes a $5,000 grant, is given annually to a book publisher outside the United States who has demonstrated courage and fortitude in the face of political persecution. The award, first given in 2003, has recognized such groups as last year's honoree, the independent Iranian publishing community, in care of the Shirin Ebadi Center for Defenders of Human Rights.
The prize honors the courage of Tararith in Phnom Penh and recognizes Yamada's leadership of the Nou Hach Literary Project, an international organization that supports Cambodian literature, writers and academics. (Nou Hach was one of Cambodia's finest early modern writers, an intellectual and a diplomat.)
"I'm thrilled that we have received this award," said Yamada, a member of the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department since 1988. She said she is proud of the project's reputation as the literary organization that will publish any kind of literary expression within the genres of short fiction and poetry.
"There are other literary organizations in Cambodia directed by the government where participants must belong to a specific political party. We don't do that. We are apolitical. Everyone is welcome. But despite that, in the past few years, we've gotten threats for what some saw as work critical of the government. I've been in the office when we've received a threat. They don't say, we'll come tomorrow and blow you up. They are veiled threats, but they are definitely disconcerting."
Administered by the Association of American Publishers, the award will be presented in April at the annual PEN benefit dinner hosted by International PEN, the world's oldest human rights and international literary organization.
The International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC) was founded by the Association of American Publishers in 1975. It was one of first groups in the world formed specifically to defend and broaden the freedom of the written word, and to protect and promote the rights of book publishers and authors around the world. The award is named in honor of Jeri Laber, one of the founding members of the IFTPC who served as co-founder and director of Helsinki Watch from 1979-95.
Yamada is grateful for the accompanying $5,000, which she expects will go toward funding the upcoming fifth issue of the Nou Hach Literary Journal as well as a new printer and computer for the Phnom Penh office.
Yamada visited Cambodia most recently in the summer of 2007. The project's cultural efforts include the Nou Hach Literary Journal, the Nou Hach literary competition -- an annual writers' conference, the writers' workshops, the classical poetry CD and booklet, the newspaper insert of short fiction and poetry, a literary radio program and a literacy outreach to rural areas. Her goals include setting up an Internet café and desktop publishing business to provide an independent source of revenue.
For more information about the Nou Hach Literary project and journal, see www.nouhachjournal.net.