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Author Tash Aw: Malaysia an example of multiculturalism in modern world

  • Critically acclaimed Malaysian author Tash Aw receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Warwick, his alma mater
  • Says Malaysia shapes his imagination, and that the country is a good example of multiculturalism in times when the world struggles with identity and nationality
  • Reveals detail of his next novel, to be set in contemporary Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur
  • Writing is “trying to question everything that you think is important” for Aw

Internationally acclaimed Malaysian author Tash Aw has received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Warwick, his alma mater.

Aw, who won a Whitbread First Novel Award for The Harmony Silk Factory and has been twice nominated for the Man Booker Prize, reacted to becoming an Honorary Doctor of Letters at the University’s 2018 Winter Graduations:tash aw

“It’s very exciting, a huge honour. It feels quite meaningful, as if the things that I’ve done have been noticed - and everyone wants that!”

Born in Taiwan, raised in Malaysia speaking several languages, and later moving in the UK, Tash Aw’s work is influenced by many cultures and experiences.

However, he says that his principal creative focus is on Malaysia. “I’m a huge mixture of Chinese, Malaysian and now other things as well, but really the country that shapes my imagination is Malaysia,” he commented.

“The other parts of me allow me to see in different ways […] but really at my core, my work is about what it means to be Malaysian.”

Aw believes that Malaysia can set a positive example of how to find belonging in an increasingly fractured and volatile world:

“In the modern world, when everyone is starting to question notions of identity and nationality and belonging […] Malaysia serves as a very good example, because it’s a very multicultural country and we’ve been dealing with notions of belonging for many, many years.”

Alluding to his next novel, on which he is currently working, he revealed that it will be set in contemporary Malaysia, “in a part of the country that is very close to Kuala Lumpur, but is culturally and economically and socially divided from the capital.”

Aw’s next novel will reflect on “how the country sees itself, how modern Asia sees itself, and the narratives that we’re constructing for ourselves all over the world.”

Tash Aw came to the University of Warwick to study Law, and says that his time as a student gave him “a sense of intellectual freedom and the sense of possibility […] a sense of discovery, a sense of curiosity; a sense of the world opening up.”

“During my time here, I started to think about the world in a different way – partly that was because I was so far from home, and that forced me to think about things in a different way, to think about how people reacted to me, and how I was reacting to the world,” he recalled.

He later went on to study creative writing, before becoming a published author. On studying creative writing, Aw believes “it really breaks down boundaries.”

When you study creative writing, he observes you are with “people who’ve come from very different backgrounds, who’ve come from other countries, other cultures, who have completely different literary tastes from your own. It’s a real eye-opener. You’re completely pushed out of your comfort zone, and that’s really what writing is about.”

Creative writing, for Tash Aw, is about “trying to be new, trying to be different, trying to question everything that you think is important – and trying to invent things that are new and to express things in a different way.”

Crucially, “reading is at the heart of good writing” according to Aw.

Notes on Tash Aw:

His first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, was published in 2005. It was long-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and won the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards First Novel Award, as well as the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific region).

It also made it to the long-list of the world's prestigious 2007 International Impac Dublin Award and the Guardian First Book Prize. It has since been translated into twenty languages.

His second novel, titled Map of the Invisible World, was released in May 2009 to critical acclaim, with TIME Magazine calling it "a complex, gripping drama of private relationships," and describing "Aw's matchless descriptive prose", "immense intelligence and empathy."

His 2013 novel Five Star Billionaire was long-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize

Aw’s work of non-fiction, The Face: Strangers on a Pier (2016), was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize.

His novels have been translated into 23 languages.

His work has also won an O. Henry Prize and been published in The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, A Public Space and the landmark Granta 100, amongst others. Additionally, he is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

Image: Tash Aw after receiving his Honorary Doctorate at the University of Warwick, January 2018 (credit University of Warwick). Click image for high res.

23 January 2017

Further information contact:

Luke Walton, International Press Manager

+44 (0) 7824 540 863

+44 (0) 2476 150 868

L dot Walton dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk