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Julien Poulson, founder of the Cambodian Space Project & KAMA

It’s impossible to get a sense of contemporary Cambodia without an introduction to Julien Poulson, founder of the Cambodian Space Project, Kampot Arts & Music Association (KAMA) and Kampot Readers & Writers Festival (KRWF).

The quick primer, which leaves many chapters out, goes something like this:

Before the war and Khmer Rouge, Cambodia rocked, as in rock & roll. Crooners and divas like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereywothea were kicking up a storm of free-spirited dance and music. Watch the teaser to John Pirozzi’s film ‘Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten’ to feel the scene. The New York Times wrote “Mr. Pirozzi’s film is an unsparing and meticulous reckoning of the effects of tyranny on ordinary Cambodians. It is also a rich and defiant effort at recovery, showing that even the most murderous totalitarianism cannot fully erase the human drive for pleasure and self-expression.”


Now jump to around 2007 and meet Kak Channthy who was singing in a Phnom Phen beer garden for $2 a day. Here she met the Tasmanian musician Julien Poulson and the two went on to form the Cambodian Space Project, a Phnom Penh based psychedelic rock group birthing Cambodia’s cultural revival.  Poulson had received an Asialink residency to work in Cambodia with Khmer musicians to record their works and the timing of their meeting was electrical for both of them. 

No need to describe them, just watch the quick video below.

Channthy became a Diva in her own right.  She and Julien Poulson were married, and then they were not – but the music played on and encouraged young musicians throughout the land.  It was good work. It was hard work. They both put their hearts and souls into it.

Her endurance to overcome poverty and hardship to perform to an international audience was the subject of a 2015 documentary Not Easy Rock’n’Roll which premiered at the Sydney Film Festival that year.

As the beat kept growing, Poulson was establishing himself as a visual artist and a mover and shaker to get Cambodians excited about the arts, reading, writing, and finding their voices. (Poulson’s grandmother was a painter and had a contemporary art gallery in Salamanaka, Tasmania and he moved easily into painting pop-art when he moved to Melbourne, studied film, started playing rock’n’roll, ventured into illustrating newspaper cartoons…and explored a whole host of other things. His work can presently be seen at Siem Reap’s One Eleven Gallery).

His Khmer home base is the slow-moving river town of Kampot, where he established KAMA and KRWF.  All seemed to be going splendidly until Kak Channthy was killed on March 20, 2018, and most of Cambodia fell into mourning when their ‘barefoot diva of the rice fields‘ was killed in a tuk-tuk accident.



Over a year later, both life and music continued their meanderings regardless of our human comedies and tragedies.  So this year, Khmer and expats alike are again playing their music, and expressing themselves in word, art, and film. The 2019 Kampot Readers & Writers Festival is going to make noise on November 20-24.

Kampot Readers & Writers Festival presents a five-day program of events bringing lively conversations, superb literary lunches, brilliant live performances, instructive workshops, collaborative art exhibits, incredible music, poetry, spoken word, delicious food and much more. Over 5 hectic days and salubrious nights, rustic Kampot comes alive! And is a melting pot of bold ideas, incredible stories, and is a place to discover emerging talent alongside some of the world’s leading voices in a ‘down homey’ riverside celebration of words, art & song in the Kingdom of Wonder. 

Here are a few of the voices that will be heard at the 2019 Kampot Readers & Writers Festival.

Arn Chorn Pond
Jung Chang
Esi Edugyan

Arn Chorn-Pond is an internationally-renowned human rights activist, community organizer, and musician who inspires change through his incredible stories of surviving the Cambodian Khmer Rouge genocide.

He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts and a supporter and contributor to the development of the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival – this will be Arn’s third year featuring as a keynote speaker at KRWF.

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, Arn was sent to a children’s labor camp. There, he escaped death by playing his flute for the camp guards. He later reached a refugee camp in Thailand, where Reverend Peter Pond adopted him in 1980. In the U.S., Arn began a series of community rebuilding projects and founded several organizations.

In the mid-1990’s, he returned to Cambodia to find his family and his music teacher. He “discovered” other artists who had survived the war and were living in difficult conditions; Cambodian Living Arts was born. Arn was one of the first recipients of the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1988 and is also the recipient of the Anne Frank Memorial Award, the Kohl Foundation International Peace Prize and two honorary doctorates for peace and humanitarian service.

At KRWF 2017 Arn gives a keynote speech on festival theme ‘courage’ at 11 am brunch at the villa – Sunday, November 5th  at The Lotus Pond Villa.

Tickets are $15 by donation with money going towards The Khmer Magic Music Bus who will present and perform same day.

See and meet Arn also at KRWF Main Stage Concert – Music at the Villa – Lotus Pond Villa Friday, November 3

Memoir Cambodia forum – Saturday, November 4 – venue TBA



H.E. Madame Ambassador Donica Pottie

H.E. Madame Ambassador Donica Pottie is Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos

CURRICULUM VITAE OF DONICA POTTIE Ambassador-Designate Kingdom of Thailand, Kingdom of Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic Twenty-five years of foreign service experience, including foreign assignments in Cambodia, Jordan, and China. In July 2016, nominated Canada’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand, Kingdom of Cambodia, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic Departmental Work Experience: Director-General, Consular Operations (2015-16).



Girl Singing

At Writing Through, we believe that today’s world demands more from its citizens than an ability to parrot information. Engaged and contributing citizens of the world need to be able to think conceptually and critically, to know what they believe and have the confidence and poise to be able to stand up and say it in their own voices. These skills, which are so crucial to intellectual enrichment and personal advancement, are not skills traditionally taught in many school systems, but Writing Through aims to remedy this failure of education within some of the world’s most at-risk populations. We know that creative language training and exposure to the arts creates new perspectives and opens minds. Opened minds lead to self-esteem. The combination of conceptual thinking, language skills, and self-esteem are some key antidotes to poverty and corruption. At Writing Through, we save minds, one poem, one story at a time.

Jung Chang (張戎) is the author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991), which the Asian Wall Street Journal called the most read book about China; Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time magazine as “an atom bomb of a book”; and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (2013), a New York Times “notable book”. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. She has won many awards, including the UK Writers’ Guild Best Non-Fiction and Book of the Year UK, and has received a number of honorary doctorates from universities in the UK and USA (Buckingham, York, Warwick, Dundee, the Open University, and Bowdoin College, USA). Jung Chang was born in Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) she worked as a peasant, a “barefoot” doctor, a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a Ph.D. in Linguistics in 1982 at the University of York – the first person from Communist China to receive a doctorate from a British university.

Rawi Hage

Rawi Hage was born in Beirut and lived through nine years of the Lebanese civil war before emigrating to New York. In 1992, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he has lived ever since. He is a writer, a visual artist, and a curator. His writings have appeared in Fuse, Mizna, Jouvert, The Toronto Review, Montreal Serai, and Al-Jadid. His visual works have been shown in galleries and museums around the world. His novel De Niro’s Game was a finalist for many prestigious national and international awards, and won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His second novel Cockroach won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Award and was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, The Writers’ Trust Award, and the Prix des libraires du Québec.

Liger Leadership Academy

Liger Leadership Academy (LLA) educates promising youth of today to develop socially conscious, entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow. We provide a residential scholarship program for economically disadvantaged students that combines a comprehensive, internationally competitive education with an innovative STEM and entrepreneurship curriculum. Liger believes a meaningful investment in the right few will change the lives of many.

Kampot is a city on the Preaek Tuek Chhu River in southern Cambodia. It’s known for its pepper plantations and salt fields. Many buildings date from the colonial period, including the Governor’s Mansion. The house is now the Kampot Museum, which has exhibits on the city’s history. To the west, Preah Monivong Bokor National Park has a cool climate with forests, waterfalls, and wildlife including gibbons and big cats.
 Welcome to Kampot It’s not hard to see why travelers become entranced with Kampot. This riverside town, with streets rimmed by dilapidated shophouse architecture, has a dreamy quality; as if someone pressed the snooze button a few years back and the entire town forgot to wake up. The Kompong Bay River – more accurately an estuary – rises and falls with the moons, serving as both attractive backdrop and water-sports playground for those staying in the boutique resorts and backpacker retreats that line its banks upstream from the town proper.
Eclipsed as a port when Sihanoukville was founded in 1959, Kampot also makes an excellent base for exploring Bokor National Park, the neighboring seaside town of Kep, and the superb cave-temples and verdant countryside of the surrounding area.

Esi Edugyan was born to Ghanaian parents in Alberta, Canada, and raised in Canada. Her work first appeared in anthologies and she is the author of two novels. Her first novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2005), tells the story of a man who inherits a mansion in a small town in Canada and moves his family there, believing that this is his second chance at life. It was shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her second novel, Half-Blood Blues (2011), is about a mixed-race jazz band in World War II Paris and Berlin and what happens after their star trumpeter, Hieronymus Falk, disappears in 1940. In 2011, Half-Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (Canada) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (Canada) and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction (Canada). Edugyan has also written a work on non-fiction Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home, published in 2014. Esi Edugyan has taught creative writing at John Hopkins University and the University of Victoria and lives in Victoria, British Columbia.


Madeleine Thien
Madeleine Thien is the Canadian-born daughter of Malaysian-Chinese immigrants. She is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes and three novels, including Dogs at the Perimeter, about the aftermath of the Cambodian civil war and genocide. Her 2016 novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, about art, music, and revolution in 20th-century China, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada and was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the 2017 Baileys Prize and The Folio Prize 2017. The Financial Times commended it as “[an] extraordinary novel … measured, intoxicating and tragic … as courageous and far-reaching as principled resistance itself.” Her books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

To contact the author, please send a note to dogsattheperimeter at gmail dot com or a private message on Twitter, @madeleinethien



Julien Poulson

Julien Poulson is founder and director of The Kampot Writers & Readers Festival. He describes himself as a “Peripatetic odyssist, stunt pilot, navigator & baggage handler aboard The Cambodian Space Project”.

Volunteer at KRWF 2019

Our volunteers will be thoughtful and selfless people who give up their own time to help us bring together an extraordinary arts event in provincial Cambodia. We’re seeking people with skills in communications, internet, audiovisual techs, graphic design, photography, marketing, programming, event & venue management, community liaison, office admin & hospitality.

The KRWF volunteer team includes people of all ages, skills & backgrounds. We are a diverse team of good folks! With an easy-going ‘let’s do it’ attitude. If this sounds like you, please get in touch: