Moeun Samnang, also known as “River Writer”, was born in 1988 in Kampong Speu province but grew up the second of eight children in Oddar Meanchey.
After graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Management from the University of Specialties, Samnang has worked in banking and his current day job is managing a branch of SBI Ly Hour Bank in Siem Reap, but his second career – and the one that he is passionate about – is writing.
Samnang is blessed to have talent to match his passions: In 2019 he won first place at the 10th Mekong River Literature Awards with his poem “Love on the River”. That same year he also won the Indra Devi Literature Award for poetry from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for his piece “Love in the Fire of War”. Then in 2021 he took 5th place at the Indra Devi awards for his poem “Mother”.
Samnang has also published several books, including the novel “Love Smell” (2020), the poetry book “Love You, Love Nation” (2021) and another volume of poetry titled “The Black Sun” (2022).
In 2021, he also started composing some songs for the Khmer Surin brothers, such as Surin Ben Pchum; Fire Maiden; Fall in Love, Step in Cow Dung; Kantret/Kantral and I Laugh, She Shouts.
When asked about how he divides his efforts between several different literary forms, Samnang takes the long view.
“I think that writing novels and poems seems to have faded in the minds of most writers and readers in the country. One of my worries is that for a long time now the poem has disappeared from the minds of most Khmer people, whereas poetry has existed here since ancient times – since the beginning of the Khmer language and the Khmer script – and maybe even before that script existed, there was likely poetry as an oral tradition handed down through memorization.
As far as songs go, I have the temperament for it but writing them is mostly a coincidence. I just like to write music for the Khmer Surin group to sing. One of my intentions is to maintain the Khmer language on our ancestral land and make sure it survives and draws breath in each new day of our uncertain future,” Samnang said.
Samnang has mixed views on the present trajectory of the Khmer literary scene, seeing both good and bad aspects to it.
“In my opinion, currently the field of Khmer writing is very diverse and interesting, but poetry has become a rare thing for anyone to write. There are not many writers and even fewer poets. Even if there were plenty of each, there’d still be no market for their work as things stand. But different people have different purposes and I don’t judge the writing other people do, though I will say that some writers seem to take joy out of causing societal chaos, disorder and anarchy while claiming that society should keep up with their ideas, but I think they’re taking excessive liberties in following that notion,” he said.
As a young writer and poet, Samnang has a few words of advice for those who do most of their writing on social media and those who have yet to finish their first books.
“Finally, I would like to suggest to those who want to become the next generation of writers: Put society first. Do not be selfish and place your idealism ahead of society’s interests.
“Being a writer is not likely to make you rich. If you wanted to get rich from writing you’d have to chase after the readers in a bid to win market share. But in actuality, a good writer is one who leads the reader and not the other way around. If the readers are leading the writers, what’s the value in that?
“Don’t follow others in pursuit of money and rely on your own ideas instead of pandering to others,” Samnang advised.