Author Archive: abroadwritersconference

The Art of Being There: Immersion and Narrative in Nonfiction and Biography by EDWARD HUMES

Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes workshop.

The Art of Being There: Immersion and Narrative in Nonfiction and Biography



A principal method for accomplishing this feat of turning life into narrative is immersion – the art of insinuating oneself inside a place, process, institution or person’s life, then using first-hand storytelling to reveal character, drama and import. Immersion nonfiction is about getting inside a story, in search of the insights, depth and detail that can imbue nonfiction prose with the same richness seen in great novels, and that can illustrate and expose important issues of culture, society, justice and government through highly dramatic and human narratives. Immersion writing has a storied history in America, dating back to such turn-of-the-century muckrakers as Nellie Bly and her classic “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” and continuing with such modern masters of the craft as Tracy Kidder and John McPhee. Whether your goal is short-form writing or long, 500 words or 50,000, the same approach and skills will serve a writer well.


This course will serve as a mini-boot camp for immersion research and narrative building. We’ll use the landscape and rich resources of our workshop setting as fodder for a series of “quick fire” research and writing exercises including:


— the sense of a place (treating setting as character)


— bringing characters to life

— interviewing 101

— using the historical to inform the present

In class we’ll analyze a series of short readings in a variety of narrative nonfiction genres, including crime, biography, environmental/nature and other specialized topics of interest to the group. We’ll explore in-depth the research methods and techniques for “getting inside,” for developing setting and character, and for building coherent narratives with strong beginnings, middles and ends while remaining true to your source material.

A Full Manuscript Critique from New York Times Bestseller Jacquelyn MItchard



Open only to six students, #1 New York Times Bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard (‘The Deep End of the Ocean’) will host a full-manuscript intensive critique. Each student will receive advance digital copies of the other writers’ manuscripts and, at Lismore Castle, Mitchard will lead a full half-day session on each completed book of fiction or creative non-fiction. Admission to this class is based on individual manuscript potential, and application must be made well in advance of the conference in order to assure that the extra demands of a full-book seminar can be met. Mitchard also will provide a written critique with editing and revision suggestions to each participant. Contact conference organizer Nancy Gerbault for guidelines and specifics.

Jacquelyn Mitchard has written nine novels for adults, including several New York Times bestsellers and several that have enjoyed critical acclaim, recently winning Great Britain’s People Are Talking prize and, in 2002, named to the short list for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. She has written seven novels for Young Adults as well, and five children’s books, a memoir, Mother Less Child and a collection of essays, The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship. Her essays also have been published in newspapers and magazines worldwide, widely anthologized, and incorporated into school curricula. Her reportage on educational issues facing American Indian children won the Hampton and Maggie Awards for Public Service Journalism. Mitchard’s work as part of Shadow Show, the anthology of short stories honoring her mentor, Ray Bradbury, currently is nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Audie Awards. She served on the Fiction jury for the 2003 National Book Awards, and her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, later adapted for a feature film by Michelle Pfeiffer. Mitchard is the editor in chief and co-creator of Merit Press, a new realistic YA Fiction imprint. A Chicago native, Mitchard grew up the daughter of a plumber and a hardware store clerk who met as rodeo riders. A member of the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribe, she is a Distinguished Fellow at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. Mitchard taught Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction at Fairfield University and was the first Faculty Fellow at Southern New Hampshire University. Her upcoming YA novel, What We Lost in the Dark, will be published in January by Soho Teen. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and their nine children.

AWC Short Short Story competition results


First we would like to thank everyone who entered our writing competition.

Our winners are:

1st Darothy Durkac — “What He Did With The Insides”

2nd Kelly Creighton — “Until They’ve Hatched”

3rd Hugh McQuillan — “Music To Drive By”


Soojin Kim — “You Sound Well”

Ellen McCarthy — “In The Rain”


From Robert Olen Butler:

I have to say that I was truly impressed with the high quality of submissions in this contest.  The decision process was arduous and nuanced.  The top twenty or so would have been among the winners of more than few flash fictions contests I’ve judged.  And I saw real potential in virtually all of them.  Ireland must have been a powerful lure for nascent talent.  That I might have a chance to work with some of these writers is very exciting for me as a teacher.


The three winners are:  First place, “What He Did with the Insides.”  Second place, “Until They’ve Hatched.” Third place, “Music to Drive By.”


As you know, I took pains to judge these anonymously.


And please send all the submitters my warmest regards.  There’s not a one of them I wouldn’t be sincerely delighted to work with.  Honestly, given my years of experience judging contests, that surprises the hell out of me.




Bob Butler

Short-Short Story Contest, judged by ROBERT OLEN BUTLER




Judge: ROBERT OLEN BUTLER–Pulitzer Prize Winner & F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature


Three Winning Stories will be published in the 2014 February edition  of:



How deep can you dive into your imagination? How breathless can you make readers feel? How brief can you make your best stories? Dazzle us with your brilliant brevity and you might just win a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience during that magical month of December with Abroad Writers’ Conference at Ireland’s historic and awe-inspiring Lismore Castle in County Waterford.


In 500 words or less write a standout story that seduces us, sings to us, shakes us, grabs us by the throat, or that’s so quiet we have to strain to hear. Any subject and any genre, but whatever you do be interesting and make us care. Take the leap, you just might be about to lose and re-find yourself inside a twelfth-century castle in picturesque, hospitable, and literary-loaded Ireland.


1st Prize: Free Admission to award-winning author Ethel Rohan’s 3 Day “Brilliance of Brevity” Workshop*. single room for seven nights, conference & a Celebratory dinner in the castle with Judge, Robert Olen Butler.  Value $1, 085.


2nd Prize: A scrumptious full banquet dinner at Lismore Castle with conference luminaries: Robert Olen Butler, Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Gristwood, Mariel Hemingway, Edward Humes, Claire Keegan, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Anne Perry, Michelle Roberts, Ethel Rohan, Alex Shoumatoff, Patricia Smith, Jane Smiley, and Lily Tuck.


3rd Prize: A complimentary pass to conference events at Lismore Castle.

Entries Accepted June 1st through July 15th,   Winners Announced August 15th, 2013

$10 Entry Fee:

For Full Contest Details Visit:

For Full Conference Details & Registration Visit:

*A $500 value to be used in full payment for Ethel Rohan’s “Brilliance of Brevity” 3 day/15 hr. workshop or can be applied as a $500 discount toward a conference package purchase

Michele Roberts will be teaching a workshop at Lismore Castle

Michèle Roberts
(Hertfordshire, England, May 20, 1949)

Michèle Roberts

Michèle Roberts

Michele Roberts is an English writer of mixed French-English background, the author of numerous highly acclaimed novels, dramas, poems, short stories and essays. She examines the nature of love and the female identity, based on her experience as a woman, of two cultures – French and English, and, later, comparing women through history blurring time, paces, and identities. This way she attempts to re-write the history and to imagine what the future might have been in the light of different historical events. Inspired by the Feminist Movement, she is deeply concerned with the identity of women, but not only the way society view it. She pictures the women as a productive and successful member of society, but also as an individual in search for true self, regardless of social restrains. Her heroines are “whole”, individuals who recognize and live in peace with their own contradictions and differences. They love, interrogate the nature of love, sexuality and explore the possibility of sharing the experience in more than one-way, symbolically representing a conflict between the public and the private, and modes associated with masculinity and femininity.
One of the most significant themes in her work is the mother-daughter relationship. Her style uniquely combines fantasies and myths, described in classical and religious language.
She was Poetry Editor for Spare Rib (1974) and City Limits magazine (1981), formed a writers’ collective (with Sara Maitland, Michelene Wandor and Zoe Fairbairns) as a feminist activist with the Women’s Liberation Movement, serves as a Chair of the British Council literature advisory panel, and is a regular book reviewer and broadcaster (contributor to “Night Waves” and “Woman’s Hour”), as well as a strong literary translation supporter.
She won the Gay News Literary Award 1978 for “Piece of the Night”, the W.H.Smith Literary Award 1993 for “Daughters of the House.” Michele Roberts is Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Major works:

A Piece of the Night, 1978
The Visitation, 1978
Tales I Tell My Mother, 1978
Touch Papers, 1982
The Wild Girl, 1984
The Mirror of the Mother, 1986
The Book of Mrs Noah, 1987
More Tales I Tell My Mother, 1987
The Seven Deadly Sins   (contributor), 1987
The Journeywoman, 1987
Food, Sex & God: on Inspiration and Writing, 1988
In the Red Kitchen, 1990
The Seven Cardinal Virtues   (contributor), 1990
Psyche and the Hurricane, 1991
Daughters of the House, 1992
During Mother’s Absence, 1992
The Heavenly Twins, 1993
Flesh & Blood, 1994
All the Selves I Was, 1995
Child-Lover, 1995
Impossible Saints, 1998
Fair Exchange, 1999
The Looking Glass, 2000
Playing Sardines, 2001
The Mistressclass, 2002
Reader, I Married Him, 2006
Paper Houses, 2007
The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene, 2007                                     The Heretic’s Feast, 2012                                                   Ignorance, 2012

Karen Joy Fowler’s new book, ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’


Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’

By Ron Charles

You know Karen Joy Fowler, though probably only for her least representative novel — that charming bestseller “The Jane Austen Book Club.” It landed with perfectly calibrated Janite wit in 2004 during a wave of renewed enthusiasm for Austen and book clubs. But aside from that domesticated crowd-pleaser, Fowler is also the author of genre-blending works of historical fiction and fantasy. Her stories have won the Nebula Award, the Shirley Jackson Awardand the World Fantasy Award. In 1991, she co-founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a prize “for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.”

One never knows what to expect from her.

Her new novel, for instance, involves an ordinary Midwestern family: two parents and three children.

The younger daughter is a chimpanzee.

And why not? If Gregor Samsa can turn into a cockroach and Edward Albee can ask, “Who is Sylvia?”, a chimp for a sibling doesn’t seem so far down the evolutionary tree. In fact, just as most of us have decided that we should probably stop torturing chimps to death in the name of science, an outrageous community of simian novels has been congregating in the branches of the library, from the “autobiography” of Tarzan’s sidekick, “Me Cheeta,” by James Lever, to “The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore,” by Benjamin Hale.

But there’s nothing fantastical about Fowler’s new novel with its drawing-room title, “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” In fact, the plot is inspired by several real experiments, including the work of Winthrop and Luella Kellogg, scientists at Indiana University who raised their baby son alongside a chimp for almost a year in the early 1930s.

Fowler places her story in the 1970s and extends the experiment to five years. Dr. and Mrs. Cooke live in a farmhouse with a gaggle of graduate students in Bloomington, Ind. They have a son named Lowell and two new daughters, Rosemary and Fern. Rosemary never stops talking; Fern never starts. But their parents have “promised to love them both exactly the same.” So far, so normal.

In a witty, conversational voice, Rosemary reluctantly parcels out the details of her “chimped-up household.” She doesn’t mention her sister’s body hair issue until page 77. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact,” she says. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share. . . . In my defense, I had my reasons,” she adds. “I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. You’re thinking instead that we loved her as if she were some kind of pet.” She’s right, of course. Fern’s identity is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The mechanics of this weird family arrangement are irresistible: How did the Cookes care for these two toddlers, feed them, dress them, keep them from hurting each other? “What was the goal of the Fern/Rosemary Rosemary/Fern study before it came to its premature and calamitous end?”

As an adult looking back on her famous childhood, Rosemary is curious about those questions, too. But the answers are elusive because once Fern left the family, no one mentioned her again, and it’s not at all clear what precipitated her departure. All Rosemary can do now — many years later — is try to excavate memories of their time together and catch lingering impressions of her sister still persisting in her own personality.

All this sounds like rich material for a novel, but there’s more. “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” isn’t just about an unusual childhood experiment; it’s about a lifetime spent in the shadow of grief. Clearly, something traumatic happened when Rosemary was 5, something that turned her from a loquacious little girl into a quiet young woman. But unearthing the details of that event means digging in a mental landscape strewn with psychological land mines. Others can’t or won’t tell her the truth. Her own memories are confused and clouded. She’s grown wise and skeptical about the slippery nature of family history. “Language does this to our memories,” she says, “simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

Although the story moves erratically over almost 40 years, it focuses on a few chaotic days in 1996 when Rosemary was a fifth-year student at the University of California at Davis. An unlikely friendship with an unstable fellow student triggers a series of confusing feelings. “This, finally, was the moment the hypnotist snapped her fingers,” Rose says ruefully. Curious but wary, and with a wry reference to the damage done by Sigmund Freud, she begins reconstructing what happened to her and her family, handling old memories worn “thin as Roman coins.” Refreshingly, she has the humility to admit that she can’t tell whether she’s making some of this up: “I was completely buried in the unremembered, much disputed, fantasyland of the past.”

Plot is not the novel’s strongest suit. The wackiness that stumbles into the final chapters feels incongruous with the book’s poignancy and its serious themes. But Rosemary’s voice and her efforts to understand — and forgive — herself are moving. Fowler has such a sprightly tone, an endearing way of sloughing off profound observations that will illuminate your own past even if you have no chimps swinging in your immediate family tree.

It’s also impressive how gracefully Fowler resists the impulse that could have turned her novel into a shrill PETA poster. Toward the end, she offers a stomach-churning summary of animal research done during the 20th century, but that’s more a lament than an argument, an acknowledgment that “the world runs on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery.” What does it mean to be human, she asks, and what does it mean to be humane? Although there’s little doubt where her sympathies lie, Fowler manages to subsume any polemical motive within an unsettling, emotionally complex story that plumbs the mystery of our strange relationship with the animal kingdom — relatives included.


Charles is the fiction editor of The Washington Post.

Karen Joy Fowler will be joining us at Lismore Castle, December 9 – 16, 2013. Karen will be teaching a five day Fantasy Writing Workshop, limited space.



Karen Joy Fowler

Marian Wood/Putnam. 310 pp. $26.95

Getting to Know Best-Selling Author Jacquelyn Mitchard

Getting to Know Best-Selling Author Jacquelyn Mitchard

By Joan Brunwasser

I grew up with the story of Our Lady of Angels fire all around me. It was more than an event, it was a sunset on the bright stable way people saw their world. That fire blew that neighborhood up. There was no one who didn’t know someone who’d died in OLA. I was struck by how surviving an event could be just as paralyzing as dying in that event — that the survivors were changed forever.


Trial by Fire, The Backstory of Second Nature


me, literally, today by Chris Cohen [photo credit]

My guest today is best-selling author, Jacquelyn Mitchard. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, written in 1999,  was also the first selection of the Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, making for a stellar career kickstart. Welcome to OpEdNews, Jackie.

hardcover book jacket by Jacquelyn Mitchard website


JB: I just finished reading Second Nature, a novel based on the 1958 fire that killed 92 children in their Chicago school.  What made you choose this as the backdrop for your book?

JM: That happened when I was a baby, and I grew up with the story of Our Lady of Angels all around me. It was more than an event, it was a sunset on the bright stable way people saw their world. That had been a close-knit, West Side neighborhood, filled with brothers who married sisters and cousins and grew up down the block from each other, who played cards and had dinner together on Sunday nights.

That fire blew that neighborhood up. People didn’t just move to the suburbs; they moved to Miami, to California, as far as they could from that school, because there was no one who didn’t know someone who’d died in OLA. A friend’s older brother died in that fire, and his presence in that house was as real as any of the living children, even those who never knew him. I was struck by how surviving an event could be just as paralyzing as dying in that event — that the survivors were changed forever.

JB: I grew up in Chicago, too, and that fire has haunted us ever since. You chose Sicily Coyne as your central character. At the time of the fire, she’s a 13-year old student. Why a girl and why that particular age, Jackie?

JM: Twelve or thirteen is the time in a girl’s life when she’s at the end of childhood and becoming aware of herself as a woman. It’s when her awareness of her body image is at its most self-critical. She’s not a little kid. Little kids adapt to injury; their awareness of themselves in a wheelchair or having lost hair to chemotherapy or sustaining a wound, those are real, but, if the kid has a reasonably supportive family, those things are tempered by the resilience of being accepted, at the deep heart’s core, for who you are rather than how you look. Sicily had this sense of herself, too.

So in a very real way, she became trapped in a damaged face — that was all anyone could see — and she was screaming, “Hey, look! I’m still me!” The burn itself was a source of both bitterness and toughness, but her sarcasm and bitterness came from being seen, yet unseen. And I’m just very attracted to understanding the psychology of that age of person, which is why the imprint for which I’m the editor -in- chief is a Young Adult imprint. It’s the age of being epic, living a week in an hour, a year in a month, a lifetime in a year.

JB: And, boy, has a lot gone on for Sicily. She’s a woman/child who had to grow up fast because of that fire and losing both of her parents.  Yet, she’s also very unsophisticated and sheltered in many ways. It’s an  odd combination. Can you talk about this?

JM: Like many “sick kids,” Sicily has been both coddled and deprived. Life itself has robbed her of so much; and yet she’s given everything but what she can’t have — the chance to be normal. She has every material advantage and she’s protected from the realities of paying bills and jockeying for social position.

People may whisper about her, but there’s a kind of holy deference for a kid who’s part of a local legend: her prerogatives are in line with her losses. And the aunt who adopted her, Marie, is torn between those two poles, as well — deeply and nearly neurotically protective of Sicily, but also determined to push her into as normal a life as is possible, for Sicily to be “not as good as, but better than.” The reason that some readers found Sicily annoying is that she really never grew up: she’s stopped, an accomplished adolescent but in her reactions and her emotional landscape, still a middle-school kid.

JB: Interesting. I didn’t find Sicily  annoying. I found her situation incredibly and painfully poignant. I admit I’d never really thought about what surviving such an experience might be like before.

JM: Many people thought of her as “spoiled” and “shallow.” Many other readers found her affecting and real. I think it often depends on what you’ve been through in life, and maybe what you’ve been through in books, what you tend to gravitate toward. Sometimes, people just really don’t have a big tolerance for real life in fiction, even though they say they want characters who are “real.” Like take Kinsey Mulhone, in Sue Grafton’s wonderful mysteries. She’s tough, thin, single, smart, and she never gets past the age of about 36. She goes down easy, like a cool drink on a hot day, so the story can gallop off everywhere.

when my last child was born, six years ago by Arty Hitchcock [photo credit]

JB: The Cappadora family was featured in your first book, The Deep End of the Ocean and you bring them back in Second Nature. In fact, we see that Beth Cappadora becomes surprisingly close to Sicily.  Why does using utilizing the reappearance of characters from one book to another seem like a good idea?

JM: With continuing characters, you have to be careful about flaws because unless it’s a very literary novel or the flaws are the point (I’m thinking here of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany), you have to convince readers to embrace a character who has flaws, because there’s a belief about how you’d react in the same circumstances and that way is usually very positive or even heroic — and that’s exactly how I am too!

You try to think you’d be the best at this. But the psychology in this book is based on real accounts of people who are disfigured, and it affects people in ways that aren’t always attractive. It’s the same way as dealing with depression in another person. Depressed people are sad, and it’s awful that they’re sad, but they sometimes behave in ways that are deeply provocative or upsetting to other people. They’re not fun to be with.

Personally, I thought Sicily was just what she should be, smart and strong but also naive and bewildered, and really able to put up a good front by talking tough. As for the Cappadoras, it wasn’t a marketing decision. So many people, thousands of people, have asked me, what happened to [Beth’s son] Vincent? And I knew that Vincent would not have grown up to be a perfect human being, either, not given his temperament.

I thought, what if Sicily — with this new face which actually would be aesthetically very good, given that this book is set about ten or fifteen years in the future, when face transplants won’t be so uncommon — were to run toward love and fall for just the most attractive, worst possible guy, in the encyclopedia entry about commitment issues for reasons of his own past?

But it was natural, because she already loved Beth, who had documented this whole process [face transplant] because of Sicily’s past, because of the fire and its being the stuff of legend on the West Side of Chicago. Why think up new people to populate a place you already know, if the people who already know are already there, frozen in time, like the game Statue Maker? They were perfectly interesting people.

with son Rob, 1999 by Jill Krementz [photo credit]

JB: Agreed. All that medical information, both about burns and recovery and the whole field of organ transplants, was fascinating. And I found the most compelling images to be Sicily’s prosthetic nose, on the one hand, and her inability to eat properly, a routine task we do daily and take completely for granted. Was it hard to find the right balance between giving enough grisly details to make it real without grossing readers out or turning them off?

JM: Readers still found it grisly! I did an insane amount of research on burn injury and musculature and anatomy. For me, the prosthetic nose was one of the tenderest details, the way she had to take care of it because it was, you know, the Cadillac of prosthetic noses. It was just fascinating, like the way a prosthetic nose, for example, attaches (with magnets!).

I majored in Biology, and, I have nine children, thus, you know, nothing grosses me out. I’d have gone on forever. But yes, had to back off on some of the detail. Burn victims go through an incomprehensible hell — so, by comparison, the face transplant, even though it required, well, removing Sicily’s existing face, was relatively simple compared with the fifteen surgeries she’d had to try to mend the tissue on her face. In real life, that would have been more like thirty surgeries, each more appalling than the last.

JB: Magnets? Yikes! What a concept. The book is very steeped in firefighter culture and lore. It sounded very authentic to me. How did you accomplish that? Did you get to ride around with them?

JM: Oh, yes I did! I spent two weeks with the gallant ladies and gents at Madison Wisconsin’s Southside Station 6, and they taught me with generosity and detail. Firefighters in a number of cities surrounding Chicago also answered my questions. You know, there is no better job on earth than theirs. Indeed, they could get badly hurt; they could die. But who can do what they do, deny instinct for the greater good, as they do?

Despite danger, there is such intense training, minute attention to safety and detail, that tragedies such as what happened to Jamie Coyne are almost unknown. But authentically, if they happen, they happen in those kind of gruesome old buildings where fire can’t escape. My pal Eric used to be an English teacher before he became a firefighter, and he told me, “You know, you admire police. They lay it right down every day. But when the police show up, people grumble. When we show up, everybody cheers. Here come the Marines!” They’re just so cool. I guess they know it, but can you blame them?

my favorite, my ‘Wuthering Heights’ picture by James Schnepf [photo credit]

JB: Lucky you! Thank you, Jackie. Let’s take a break here.

When we return for the conclusion of our interview, we’ll talk about the time she called Buckingham Palace, how she juggles her writing and her family of nine children, and her quirky ambition now that she’s no longer afraid of heights. Please join us! 


Mitchard’s website

Submitters Website:

Submitters Bio:

Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning. Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations – authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we’re all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and

ROBERT OLEN BUTLER won the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award

253346_10200258442478168_2101508810_nROBERT OLEN BUTLER just won, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.

He says, “Grateful to say I’ve won the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, from the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference. I’m the 17th, after such folks as William Styron, John Barth, Joyce Carol Oates, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Edward Albee, Grace Paley. The award will be announced May 7 at a preview of the new movie of The Great Gatsby.”

Robert will be teaching a workshop at Lismore Castle, December 9 – 16, 2013.


Reading List for BORNEO, Gerrell Drawhorn

Historical Works

Thomas Forrest~ “A Voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas” (1969) visited Brunei which he described as “Venice of the East” in 1776. He describes not only the villages, government and trade when Brunei was still at its peak of feudal power, but also the inter-relationship of the Sultanate with the Chinese and Sulu.


John Dalton~An English merchant, visited the Sultanate of Kutei on the Mahakam River in 1827-28. Dalton was detained by the Sultan, robbed of his trade goods, and threatened with death. He eventually was freed at the behest of several Bugis merchants who wished to ingratiate the English in Singapore. Earlier Dutch and subsequent British traders, such as Erskine Murray, met far worse fates. Dalton’s  description of the region was printed in a series in the Singapore Chronicle, and later in J.H. Moor’s Notices of the Indian Archipelago (1837).


James Brooke~  The first “white Rajah” and founder of an independent Sarawak, Brooke was a controversial figure in his own time and today. His friends and heirs, as well as his own writings portray him as an idealistic figure devoted to civilize and protect disempowered indigenous people, end slavery and piracy. His opponents attempted to color him as a blood-thirsty tyrant motivated by greed and imperialism. Brooke’s diaries of his first journeys and establishment of Sarawak were edited by Rodney Mundy (1848) Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes…From the Journals of James Brooke. Esq., Rajah of Sarawak, and Governor  of Labuan [John Murray, London].

There is a veritable library of works by and about the Brooke Dynasty. His nephew Charles Brooke Ten Years in Sarawak –Vedwin olume I (2006, facsimile reprint of 1866) is a portrait of his years, first as a fighter and administrator  on the frontier of Sarawak, then as the heir apparent (Rajah Mudah) after his brothers fall from grace, and finally as Rajah himself. Ranee Margaret Brooke My Life in Sarawak (1913) is the autobiography of the wife of Charles Brooke. Queen of the Head Hunters (1972). Is an autobiography by Ranee Sylvia Brooke, the wife of the third and final ajah, the distracted playboy Vyner Brooke, as the dynasty attempts the transition to self-rule, only to be prematurely stymied by byzantine wrangling and the imminent Japanese invasion. The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946 (1992) bySteven Runciman and Bob Reece’s The White Rajahs of Sarawak: a Borneo Dynasty (2004) are excellent scholarly overviews of the period.
Henry Keppel~ The Expedition to Borneo of the HMS Dido [1846; republ. 1991 Oxford Univ. Press, Singapore] Assigned to suppress the piracy of the Illanun and Balangingi clans from Mindanao, Keppel was persuaded by Brooke to attack the raiding “Sea Dayak” tribes along the Skrang and Batang Lupar rivers. This suppressed one of the key hindrances to Brooke’s authority and allowed him to extend his Rajahnate eastward.

The St. John’s –a family of diplomats and men-of-letters that were closely associated with Sarawak and the Brookes. The father, James Augustus St John (born the son of a shoe-maker as James John; 1830-1888) was a Welsh radical who took over from Richard Carlile as publisher of the banned journal “The Republican.  He wrote Views in The Eastern Archipelago in 1847, which was a beautifully illustrated table-book promoting Brooke and the establishment of Sarawak. One son, Horace  Stebbing
Roscoe St. John explored the same ground in (1853) “The Indian Archipelago: Its History and Present State.”
James introduced his third son Spenser St. John to James Brooke in 1848 and this resulted in him being appointed the Rajah’s private secretary. Spenser was appointed to be British Consul in Siam in 1850, and then to Borneo (serving in Labuan and Brunei) in 1855. In 1858 he accompanied Hugh Low  to become the second European to reach the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. Life in the Forests of the Far East (1862)  is an account of his experiences and explorations in the region
Hugh Low was sent to the Far East in 1844 by his horticultural father to collect rare orchids and other plants. Low spent several years accompanying James Brooke in Sarawak and was appointed Colonial Secretary after Brooke became Governor of Labuan. The beautifully illustrated Sarawak: Its Inhabitants and Productions Being Notes during a Residence in that Country with His Excellency Mr. James Brooke(1848) was the first scientifically oriented work covering the region. Low remained at Labuan until 1876 under St. John and other Governors and, as he defended British policies that protected the Brunei Sultanate, became estranged with the Brookes. He was the first European to ascend Mt. Kinabalu, arriving just short of the summit, in 1851. After his reputation was besmirched in Labuan, he served as the British Resident in Perak (1876-1889) where he developed experimental plantations that introduced rubber, coffee, pepper and tea to the region. He was key in founding the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and its Journal. His knowledge of Malay culture enabled him to negotiate British Protectorate status over Brunei in 1888. His son, Hugh “Hugo” Brooke Low, (1849-1887) joined the Sarawak Service in and while on his many expeditions in the  Rejang and Batang Lupar tributaries collected the nucleus of the initial ethnographic collections in the Sarawak Museum. Brooke Low was intent on producing a major work on the peoples of North Borneo and his notes (many taken from other sources) were compiled by the ethnologist H. Ling Roth to produce the massive 2 volume The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo (1896).
Robert Burns (1849)  – Burns (who claimed to be the grandson of the Scottish poet) was an agent of a Singapore trading house that was in rivalry to Rajah Brooke, and was one of the first Europeans to explore the interior of the Rejang River and describe the mineral resources he found there.  Tom Harrisson called him the “first anthropologist in Borneo” because he left a vocabulary and sympathetic description of the Kayan people in The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and East Asia (1849: III: 138-152). Burns was murdered by Sulu and Illunun pirates after his Schooner, The Dolphin, ran aground on a reef off Marudu, Sabah.


Harriette McDougall Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak (1882) is a memoire of this Missionaries life as the wife of the Bishop of Kuching and Labuan during the tumultuous two decades from 1847-1867. She bore 10 children and only four survived the diseases and climate. She and her husband, Frank, also left an important record of the Chinese Gold-Miners Rebellion of 1856 which left most of Kuching looted and in flames and many in the European community killed. Rajah Brooke escaped by swimming down the Sarawak River. After contacting his nephews who were manning outposts on other rivers and recruiting his local Malay and Dayak allies, he was able to rout the Chinese rebels.


Rev. Edwin H. Gomes was the son of Rev. W. H. Gomes (an Indian Missionary under Bishop McDougall) and served himself under Bishop Hose in Sarawak for nearly two decades. He produced three works covering much the same ground, and these are somewhat marred by his use of material taken verbatim from earlier authors (such as earlier missionaries Horsburgh and Chambers) without credit. Many of the rituals which he describes had long fallen into decline by the years of his service.
The Sea-Dyaks of Borneo “(1907), Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo (1911) and The Children of Borneo (1907) the latter written for children and containing some beautiful watercolors.

Eda Green Borneo: The Land of River and Palm (1909) was intended to inspire support for missionary activities in Sarawak but contains much useful information. Green apparently made full use of the records of the Borneo Missionary Society in her production of the book. Like the Gomes works it draws from earlier missionary writers without giving them credit, and is somewhat out of date in terms of describing the “pagan” life of the groups described. It has, however, an excellent discussion of the history and expansion of missionary activities which is difficult to locate in other sources.

Ludvig Victor Helms~Pioneering in the Far East and Journeys to California in 1849 and the White Sea in 1878 (W.H. Allen, London 1882) A Danish merchant, Helms was one of the few to describe Bali and Lombok prior to Dutch occupation, with subsequent travels around the Pacific rim. In 1852  he started shipping antimony from Sarawak, and in 1856 was appointed the first manager of the Borneo Company, where he remained until 1872. His description of the Malay and upriver Dayak villages, natural resources and events during and subsequent to the Chinese Insurrection provide a third perspective to that of  Harriette MacDougall and Rajah Brooke.


Ida Pfeiffer~ A Lady’s Second  Journey ‘round the World (1855 Longman, Brown, Green & Longman: London) In 1852, an intrepid female explorer undertook an amazing cross island journey with only her Malay servant, a cook and a boatman. Pfeiffer’s travelled from Kuching, up the Batang Lupar (where headhunting and raiding still occurred unabated), and then into the watershed of the Kapuas River in the Dutch portion of the island. This was the first overland journey across the island by any European.


Lady Annie Brassey~ The Last Voyage To India And Australia, In The ‘Sunbeam’ Lady Brassey (1839-1887; wife of Thomas Brassey, Earl Hastings) was an English author best known for her four accounts of ocean journeys undertaken with her family. This volume, published posthumously in 1889, contains Brassey’s account of her family’s steam yacht voyage to India, Ceylon, Borneo and Australia, describing exotic locations and domestic life on board. She died off of Australia, after weeks of a severe fever (probably recurrent malaria, but some think it was leptosporosis caught from the bats in Gomontong Cave)


Frank Hatton North Borneo: Explorations and Adventures on the Equator (1886: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington; London) Hatton was a young geologist hired by the North Borneo Company to explore the minerals that might be exploited in the recently acquired territory. Hatton’s journals of 1881-83 are filled with descriptions of upriver areas that were previously unknown to Europeans. While Hatton encountered suspicious and sometimes hostile Dusun and Murut groups his death came when his rifle accidently discharged when he stumbled in the jungle while hunting an aggressive elephant.


K.G. Tregonning Under Chartered Company Rule: A History of Modern Sabah (North Borneo 1881-1963) (1965) An extended description of life under the rule of the North Borneo Company.


Tom Harrisson World Within (1959) Based upon his short undergraduate experience in Sarawak as part of the Oxford University Expedition, anthropologist Harrisson became part of a Special Services guerrilla campaign that parachuted into Central Borneo and the Kelabit tribe during WWII. This is his personal account of the “secret war”against the Japanese that he helped organize, the lifting of the ban on headhunting, and the rescue of Allied airmen shot down over the jungles. Harrisson later helped organize fighters in Lundu to resist the Brunei Rebellion.  Harrisson was always outspoken, opinionated and controversial and remains so to this day.

Judith M Heimann (1999) in her biography The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life uncovers all the warts and attractions of one of the major figures of the period between the decline of the Brooke Raj and Merdeka (Independence). From 1950-196 he was Director of the Sarawak Museum and he and his wife, Barbara, initiated the Niah Cave excavations, helped found Sarawaks’ first National Parks, explored caves, began the first projects to rehabilitate orangutans, revitalized the Sarawak Museum Journal and trained the first corps of Sabahan anthropologists and zoologists.


James Ritchie Bruno Manser: The Inside Story (1994). Ritchie is a Malaysian newspaperman and this is a somewhat pro-government view of the involvement of the Swiss activist in the struggle of the Penan hunter-gatherers against the logging industry. Glossed over by Ritchie is the fact that Manser was not on the scene when the protests began, didn’t organize them, and merely carried their message and concerns outside of Malaysia. Nevertheless, Ritchie helped create a myth, and then found it easy to bash it down. He appears remarkably unaware of the culture of the Penan, their concept of land use, and quotes a single government-paid Anthropologist who argues that the Penan are “primitives” who must assimilate into Malay culture in the face of government extraction of lumber and palm oil plantations.

Natural History


Alfred Russel Wallace The Malay Archipelago It’s hard to believe that the two most popular travel books of the 19th Century were written by the co-discoverers of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, but Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago hit the best-sellers lists that reached popular audiences. Wallace’s work covers the whole region of insular SE Asia during his 1854-1862 explorations, but several chapters deal with his stay in Sarawak and his collecting orangutans and insects along the Sadong River, at Rajah James Brooks bungalow at Peninjuah, and his overland journey through Bidayuh country.


Odoardo Beccari Wanderings in the Great Forest of Borneo (1904, reprinted in for example 1990) – In  1865-67 Beccari accompanied his patron, the Marquise G. Doria in a collecting expedition for the Genoa Museum. He collected ferns in the Matang area, explored Wind Cave near Bau, and followed the trail previously taken by Wallace on the Sadong River to shoot orangutans.

William T. Hornaday~ Two Years In The Jungle (1885; reprinted OUP 1993) A taxidermist for Hornaday undertook a specimen-collecting expedition to India, Ceylon, and Borneo in 1876-79. He later became the chief taxidermist for the Smithsonian and collected live individuals for the National Zoo and NY Zoo, but also became a supporter of wildlife preservation.


B.F.S. Baden-Powell was an important aviator, balloonist and military innovator who supported the use of aircraft in WWI. He created man-lifting kites, and prototypes to hang-gliders. He assisted his brother, Robert, in introducing aeronautics in the Boy Scouts. He travelled to South Africa, Sudan, Egypt, India, New Guinea, Borneo, Australia, Polynesia and elsewhere. In Savage Isles and Settled Lands (Richard Bently & Son, London 1892)

Marianne North~ A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North (Webb & Bower 1980) North was a landscape artist but began specializing on botanical subjects after she was encouraged by Darwin to travel to the tropics. Like Ida Pfeiffer two decades earlier, she often travelled to areas where the locals were astounded that a European woman would attempt. Her paintings in nature were one of the few means to accurately illustrate rare and fragile plants like orchids, the Nepenthes pitcher plant, and many ferns in a period prior to color photography. She described many new species, some like Nepenthes northiana that were only collected much later. Her paintings, many of them reproduced

Robert W.C. Shelford~ A Naturalist In Borneo (1917) Shelford was born in Singapore in 1872 and educated at Cambridge. From 1897 to 1904 he was the curator of the Sarawak Museum, Kuching.



Ivor H.N. Evans~ After spending only a year (1910) as an official in the North Borneo Service, Evans returned to Britain take a degree in Anthropology at Cambridge. In 1912 he took a post as Curator and Ethnographer at the Perak Museum and studied the local cultures. His writings range from the Negritos of the Malay Peninsula to the Dusun and Bajau  of North Borneo with Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo(1922). He was imprisoned by the Japanese and his field notes destroyed. His consequently was not published until 1953.
The Head Hunters of Borneo‬: ‪A Narrative of Travel Up the Mahakkam and Down the Barito; Also, Journeyings in Sumatra‬ (1882) In 1879 Carl Bock, Norwegian naturalist and explorer, spent a half year travelling up the Mahakam river and down the Barito in what is today Indonesian Kalimantan. Although his purpose was scientific research he allowed his book to be influenced by the popular prejudice of his day with sensationalized tales of bloodthirsty Dayaks and cannibalism, as well as his obsessive efforts to locate a tribe of men with tails, of whom he had heard. Despite these defects it contains a wealth of information on Dayak life and custom. The twenty-eight beautiful color plates illustrate Dayak tattoo and costume, their houses and artifacts.

Carl Lumholtz Through Central Borneo: An Account f Two Years’ Travel In The Land Of The Head-Hunters in The Years Between 1913 And 1917 (1920) Lumhotz was yet another one of a long line of great Norwegian explorers/ethnographers and travelled through the Australian outback, Mexico, and in his last expedition, Central Borneo.


William Krohn In Borneo Jungles (1927) was an American pathologist sent by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to collect ethnological specimens in Borneo. He travelled up the Mahakam River of Kalimantan on steamships and government launches in staterooms. Still he did travel far enough off the river to experience Dayak home life, and collect a wealth of information on their spiritual world, sports and pastimes, music, arts and crafts, marriage, feasts and ceremonials–and persistent cases of head-hunting.


Charles Hose and William McDougall~ The Pagan Tribes of Borneo (1912) Hose joined the Sarawak Service in 1884. Hose interests in biology, expanded to include ethnography, as he rose to become Resident Officer of the vast Baram River district of Sarawak and as Supreme Court Judge. Retiring in 1907, he returned several times to Borneo and wrote several excellent works on his experiences.  He was also important in publicizing and encouraging the development of the oil deposits near Miri. Hose was an excellent photographer and his photos document many groups who had little contact with beyond the colonial outposts. Hose wrote several works on his adventures after his retirement includingNatural Man: A Record from Borneo (1926), Fifty Years of Romance and Research – Or a Jungle-Wallah at Large (1927) and The Field Book of a Jungle-Wallah: Being a Description of Shore, River and Forest Life in Sarawak (1929)




Frederick Boyle and Ashmore Russan The Orchid Seekers: A Story of Adventure in Borneo (Reprinted Natural History Productions KK) Serialized in Boys’ Own Paper (1892), and published as a novel in (1893) this children’s novel is fantastic tale of adventure, bravado and a liberal dose of colonial paternalism in search of a legendary ‘blue orchid’ by a German horticulturalist, Mr. Hertz, and his two boy assistants. The boys become involved in rescuing a Chinese girl who rescues Kuching from a plot to destroy it by mutinous opium-crazed gangs. Frederick Boyle briefly served in Sarawak under the Brooke Rajahnate in 1863 and had a passion for orchids. Boyle also wrote Adventures among the Dyaks of Borneo (1865; Reprinted 2007 Opus/NHP; KK)
William M. Crocker and Chester Skipwith Chapman Waiting For The Tide; or Scraps and Scrawls From Sarawak
This small illustrated volume, may be the first non-fiction to emerge from Sarawak, and is believed to be the first book actually printed in Kuching, is a series of short stories written by various Junior Officers of the Rajah’s government service. The “tall tales” are told as the officers wait around a camp-fire waiting for the tide to turn so they can proceed onward up the Sarawak River. The authors are given pseudonyms “A Pirate Story” by W. Fraser (actually Crocker, Police Magistrate and was Governor of North Borneo between1887-88), “A Jungle Heroine” by A. Perry (i.e. Alfred Robert Houghton, District Officer of the Sadong District 1863-1881); “Men With Tails” by T. Skipwith (i.e. Chapman Officer in Kalaka District 1864-76 and later in Perak); “To The Rescue” by O. C. Vane (i.e. Oliver Cromwell Vane St. John, Officer in Charge Paku, Upper Sarawak; Treasurer; and Sarawak’s First Postmaster 1860-84 ; nephew of Spenser St. John); “Adventure With An Alligator”, by H. Roscoe (probably O. C. St. John, but he used his father’s name); “Don’s Story” by W. H. Don (i.e. W.H. Rodway, Resident of Muka). Chapman and H.H. Everett provided the illustrations, which were lithographed in Singapore.

James Barclay~ A Stroll Through Borneo  (1982) Barclay was an oil worker in Miri who spent 5 months walking in the upriver areas of the Rejang and Baram rivers with Kayan, Kenyah and Punan guides. He returned in 1991 and was deported after he allegedly filmed a Penan blockade for a Canadian production company. He then wrote an article for the Guardian “Penan’s last stand against timber industry pirates.” Officially changing his name and obtaining a new passport he was detained again for two months in 1992 as a “prohibited immigrant”. He claims he was told, however, that he would be charged with drug trafficking (which carries a mandatory death penalty), was kept in poor conditions, denied food and water for two days, and physically abused.


Anthony Burgess – Burgess spent half a decade in Malaya and Borneo during the period of the “Insurgency” – when both communist and nationalist forces were attempting to wrest the region from waning British colonial rule. Burgess was a teacher in Perak and Kelantan when he penned his more famous and semi-autobiographical “Malayan Trilogy” (Time for a TigerThe Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East), later published as one volume as The Long Day Wanes.
Devil of a State is a 1961 novel by Anthony Burgess based on his experience living and working in Bandar Seri Begawan in the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei, on the island of Borneo, in 1958-59. Fearing libel suits, his publisher suggested he disguise the country (originally called Naraka – meaning “hell”) and characters and thus the setting shifted to a fictional East African nation called Dunia (meaning “world”). While in Brunei, Burgess became friends with the anti-monarchist, opposition politician Dr. A.M. Azahari, leader of the Brunei People’s Party, which opposed the formation of Malaysia and preferred a North Borneo Union of Sarawak, Brunei, and Sabah that would either be independent or in equal status with the Peninsula. Despite winning almost all the elective seats in the Brunei legislature, Azahari and some elements of the BPP attempted a failed guerilla revolt with the support of Indonesia.

Eric Hansen~ Stranger in the Forest In 1982 Hansen developed an obsession to walk across Borneo from North to South. He hired some local Penan guides and illegally walked from Marudi, across the border between Sarawak and Kalimantan near Bario, to Long Pia and by boat nearly to the coast and then, amazingly, returned, just short of his goal, fearful that he might be imprisoned in Indonesia without a visa and with an expired passport. Bartering shotgun shells for food his appearance prompts local panics of anthropophagous ghosts, resentments from Western missionaries, and curiosity from everyone he encounters along the way. Whether he actually crossed Borneo, or did so twice, is less important than the road traveled.

Eric Hansen~ Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy) Hansen explores another obsession in this novel. The sometimes illicit desire to possess rare orchids is explored from the collections at Kew Gardens, into Minnesotan bogs, and Orinoco forests back to the jungles of Kalimantan and Sarawak.

Joseph Conrad  Perhaps the most famous author associated with Borneo, Conrad was an  officer on trading vessels that operated on the Eastern shore of Borneo where he made four visits. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly (1895) is a tale of a Dutch merchant obsessed with finding mythical gold deposits, his mixed caste daughters’ love for a tribal warrior, and her struggle with identity.  William Charles Olmeijer was an actual merchant in Berau.  He followed this the next year with the short story “Lagoon” of Europeans lost in the Bornean rainforest. Perhaps the most famous of Conrad’s “Eastern” novels was Lord Jim, which is loosely based on the heroic tale of Rajah James Brooke, though with a less successful outcome. Norman Sherry’s followed in the slipstream of the author to write Conrad’s Eastern World.

C.S. Godshalk  Kalimantaan (Little, Brown & Co. London, 1998)  Fusing elements of the events that occurred during the reigns of the first two White Rajahs, Godshalk creates a narrative that focuses upon the participants on the periphery of the events…the wives, mistresses and their Eurasian children, female bomohs (shamans), Chinese cooks, and young European officers set into a confusing and violent environment.

Agnes Keith~ Her first novel Land Beneath the Wind was the exuberant and humorous experiences of an American and her Canadian forester husband set down in the odd class-conscious and paternalistic British colony of North Borneo.  Her sympathetic portrayals of the non-Europeans along with her endearing caricatures of the people and wildlife won her the Atlantic Monthly Non-Fiction Award. Three Came Home is Keith’s second novel based upon notes hidden away in latrines and within her sons’ teddy bear detailing her three years in a WW2 Japanese prison camp on the outskirts of Kuching.  The book was made into a feature film starring Claudette Colbert. White Man Returns is the last of the series and encompasses the Keith’s return to Sabah in the aftermath of the destruction of WW2 when almost all buildings in the cities were flattened by Allied bombing and the people demoralized and starving as a result of years of Japanese occupation. It’s a more melancholy tale of reconnection with old friends and the realization that many have died during the war on the eve of Sabah’s independence and unification with Malaysia. The Keith’s ironwood bungalow Newlands was, like almost every structure in North Borneo, destroyed by bombing and fire during the war. It was rebuilt on the original plan when they returned and it is now restored as a Museum overlooking Sandakan Bay in Sabah.


Andro Linklater Wild People Sent on a mission by Time/Life books to chronicle the “primitive people” of Borneo Scottish author Linklater tears down the myth of the Iban people running about in chawats (loin-cloths) and living a life free of outside influences. He compels his photographer into an “arranged marriage” in order to obtain images of a wedding ceremony that ultimately drains his bank account. Linklater explores the modern Iban poised between tradition and modernity, while mocking the modern publishing industry.

W. Somerset Maugham catches the isolated malaise, murder and insanity of British colonial officers, plantation managers and their wives in post-Victorian Borneo and Malaya. Most of these stories were written prior to the end of Colonialism and in separate works but have been compiled in Borneo Stories (1976).  Virtue relates an affair between and older wife of a pathologist and a newly arrived District Officer which destroys the lives of all three when it is disclosed in an act of honesty.  Neil MacAdam is the tale of a Russian courtesan who falls in love with a British curator of orchids. Her demise comes at the mandibles of ants in the jungle.  Along several rivers in Sarawak there are powerful tsunami-like tidal bores that rush up the rivers during full moons. The Yellow Streak is the tale of a man vilified as a coward who heroically responds to the capsizing of the boat carrying the man and his bullies. The Outstation examines the conflict between a racist newcomer, a seasoned District officer and the explosive events that leads to a murder. In Flotsam and Jetsam an anthropologist stricken with malaria is trapped in the bungalow with a manically-depressed former actress and the husband that murdered her lover.


Redmond O’Hanlon Into The Heart of Borneo  A year after Eric Hansen walked across Borneo, naturalist O’Hanlon and poet James Fenton attempt an expedition to Batu in Sarawak with Iban guides seeking the rare Bornean Rhinoceros. Snarky and self-deprecating, the narrative theme is driven by the interactions of the prematurely balding Fenton, overweight O’Hanlon and his birding, and their guides efforts to keep them from accidently killing themselves.
Folktales and Local Writers
In the 1960’s and 70’s the government-sponsored Borneo Literature Bureau was the principal supporter of local writing. An excellent academic summary of this area of writing and the role of the BLB can be found in “The Cultural Landscape in Sarawakian Literature (Yeoh, Temizi and Sivagurunathan, 2012) Since the demise of the BLB the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) has provided a means of publication of traditional writing.


Sarawakian writers have primarily taken up the effort to preserve traditional folktales rather than to create their own literature. Former Director of the Sarawak Museum Benedict Sandin (and Harrisson protégé) collected many Iban and other tales in the pages of the Sarawak Museum Journal and later made them more widely accessible in The Living Legends: Borneans Telling Their Tales (1980).  Jimmy Donald’s Keling of the Raised World (1991) also explores the Iban genre. Expatriate Heidi Munan has compiled a whole series of Kenyah and other tales in Sarawak Stories (1998) and a triptych collection of works in 2005: Melanau Stories, Iban Stories, and Bidayuh Stories. Jayi Langub has edited a collection Suket: Penan Folk Tales (2001). Robert Silas Ridu and others compiled King Siliman and other Bidayuh Folk Tales (2001)

Many of the Sarawakian writers exploring modern themes are of Chinese descent and emphasize perspectives of urban Chinese-Sarawakian and traditions. Angela Yong’s  One Good Thing But Not Both (1998), Different Lives, Different Fates (2000) Green Beans and Talking Babies(2003) are good examples of this. Cecelia Ong’s Short Stories from Sarawak: Death of a Longhouse and Other Stories (2006) reaches further and many of her tales explore the lives of other ethnicities in the country. Both writers explore the admixture of cultures and intermarriages that is occurring in Kuching and other larger cities. An edited collection of short stories by Ng Kui Choo and Judy Wee Double-Boiled Ginseng For The Mind”(2004) and like Yong and Ong are primarily works by female authors (and Chinese-Sarawakian) and keen on communicating the social context of the lives of modern Sarawak women.

Interestingly the two major poets in the area are male and both dwell upon the onslaught of modernity and the solace of nature and the forest. James Wong who authored A Special Breed and Shimmering Moonbeams is also Chinese-Sarawakian. Given that there is a long tradition of pantun poetry and recitation by both men and women in the Sarawak’s Malay community the lack of publication or original works in this area is puzzling. One exception to this paucity is Malay poet Abang Yusef Putih who has compiled two collections of poetry: A Rose Garden In My Heart and Another Day Wakes Up.

Riska Orpa Sari (edited by Linda Spaulding)  Riska – Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (1999) There are few works on Kalimantan written from the perspective of the indigenous peoples and this is the only one actually written by a woman. Riska Sari describes growing up in Kudangan in South Kalimantan and the increasing changes in the culture of her family, people and the environment as modernity and palm plantations come rushing in.