Bloggers and blog-readers -- our recent discussion has today become international news!
Global newswires and newspapers all over the place (a full page in The Straits Times, Singapore's main paper) are carrying the HK litfest racism story, first broken by this and other blogs. Several of the quotes used to tell the story are actually lifted from this blog. The way the story broke is a small but incredibly important revolution in how society learns news.
Click the "continue" link below to read the version of the tale carried by the world's oldest news agency, Agence France Presse, a report just a few hours old:
Racism row mars Hong Kong literary festival
by Mark McCord
HONG KONG, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - One of Asia's most prestigious book expos, the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival held next month, has found itself at the centre of a saga worthy of one of its featured novels.
With accusations of racism swirling around its board of directors, the sacking of its charismatic frontman and writers taking sides, the row has convulsed Asia's normally sedate literary scene.
At the centre of the fray is leading thriller, comedy and children's writer Nury Vittachi, who on Monday was ousted from the festival's organising committee.
The Sri Lankan-born novelist irked his fellow directors by alleging their choice of judges for an inaugural Asian literary prize was "racially insensitive".
"The point is, there were no Asians or non-white faces among the judges," Vittachi told AFP. "When I mentioned this racial insensitivity at a meeting, they just sat silent."
The judges at the time consisted of mostly Western males. Since the row erupted just over a year ago, the panel has been changed to include ethnic Chinese Canadian Adrienne Clarkson, a former governor general of Canada, mixed-race Australian Nicholas Jose and Egyptian Andre Aciman.
"I know them all and none of them are really Asian -- they don't even live in Asia," said Vittachi. "To not have any Asians on the judging panel is like saying Asians are not capable of judging a literary prize."
Vittachi has been with the festival since it began in the mid-1990s and saw it grow from a simple gathering of local writers to a huge expo at which leading novelists, biographers and chroniclers worldwide come to promote their latest works.
Last year it attracted Seamus Heany and this year Gore Vidal and Chetan Bhagat are due to attend.
After Vittachi posted his allegations on his MisterJam.com web log, the festival board Monday decided to begin proceedings to have him stripped of his directorship.
"He has been in breach of his duty as a director," said board member and spokeswoman Rosemary Sayer. "His behaviour and the claims of racism -- and other allegations -- were detrimental to the festival.
"The allegations have absolutely no truth to them whatsoever," Sayer added.
At the heart of the problem, many observers agree, is a clash of egos between the high-profile showman Vittachi, whose Feng Shui Detective series of novels are read worldwide, and the festival's ambitious business brain Peter Gordon.
Vittachi said bad blood set in 18 months ago when he switched publishers and distributors from the locally based Chameleon Press, which he founded, and Paddyfields.com online book store.
Gordon has controlling stakes in both Paddyfields and Chameleon Press.
The companies have further links with the festival as Gordon's wife, Elaine Leung, who runs Paddyfield, and two Chameleon Press authors, Sayer, a biographer, and poet David McKirdy also sit on the festival board.
Vittachi was particularly aggrieved at not being chosen himself as the festival board's representative on the judging panel, which will announce the winner of the prize in November this year.
"Starting an Asian literary prize has been an obsession of mine since boyhood," he said.
"My father was a wanted man in Sri Lanka during the civil war and so our family fled. We smuggled out a book he wrote, which won a literary award that allowed us to stay in Britain. So a literary award effectively saved our lives.
"I've wanted to start an Asian one ever since," he added.
Sayer, however, tells it different.
"Mr Vittachi somehow feels he has sole rights to administration of the prize -- he doesn't," she said. "It's something that's been talked about by the festival, by writers, by sponsors and by publishers for years."
Sayer says the festival organisation has suffered as a result of the scandal, with hours of organisers' time wasted dealing with Vittachi's claims.
"He is difficult to work with and doesn't understand the business side of things," she said.
Festival organisers are keen to dismiss the accusations of racism on the prize judging panel.
"We wanted the best judges to do the judging," Sayer said. "They are all extremely well qualified to judge."
The spat has split the region's literati and some overseas heavyweights have weighed in.
"I am appalled," mystery writer Eric Stone, a previous guest at the expo and author of "The Living Room of the Dead" wrote in response to Vittachi's blog.
"The fact that the judges of an Asian literary prize are not from Asia, does strike me as peculiar, fishy even."
And festival founder Jane Camens, who left the organisation some years ago following a row, added: "The festival's move to elbow you out is bad PR for the event, as you have been its face. You are well loved internationally on the festival circuit.”