Nothing is more relaxing than cozying up in your favourite spot with a good book and a cup of hot tea or coffee. Whether you are reading a physical book or listening to an audiobook, it is inevitable for you to be completely immersed in the great fictional worlds written by great authors. There are numerous talented writers all over the world and Malaysia is not excluded from having its creative writers. From poetry to short stories and full-length novels, our celebrated Malaysian writers have published award-winning works that you should give a read!
1. Tash Aw
Anyone who wants to dive into Malaysian literature should look for Tash Aw’s books as they are perfect for beginners. Born in Taipei to Malaysian parents, he grew up in Kuala Lumpur before moving to England to study law where he currently resides. He is well-known for this critically acclaimed first novel called The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) which has won the Whitbread First Novel Award and a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
His other works include Map of the Invisible World (2009), Five Star Billionaire (2013) and nonfiction work named The Face: Strangers on a Pier (2016) which was the finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. His novels have twice been long listed for the MAN Booker Prize and been translated into 23 languages. All of his books are published under HarperCollins UK.
His books are heavily influenced by themes of diaspora, ambiguity, and class disparity that are rarely explored in Malaysian contexts. Being a diasporic person himself, he eloquently conveyed messages in his work about feeling perplexed about one’s own identity and purpose in life. His latest work, We, The Survivors catches the story of a poor young boy who grew up with the aspiration to leave poverty but ultimately was trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs. Aw’s way of representing the realities of many struggling adults in different economic situations gives his readers comfort and unique perspectives of those who have had to live through so much in this day and age.
2. Hanna Alkaf
Hanna Alkaf graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University. For more than 10 years, she has held an array of writing jobs; from writing B2B marketing emails, investigative feature articles, non-profit press releases, and corporate brochures. Before returning home, she worked in Chicago for several years as an online copywriter upon graduation. She now lives near Kuala Lumpur with her family. Her first young adult novel The Weight of Our Sky was published in February 2019 by Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Her debut middle grade novel, The Girl & The Ghost was published by HarperCollins in August 2020, and she is also a part of the MG anthology, Once Upon An Eid (2020).
Hanna’s writing is deeply infused with Malaysian culture as all of her books are set in Malaysia. Her newest chilling middle-grade novel centers around a Malaysian folktale about a pelesit (a spirit that some Malay families keep to protect them from evil) that a little girl has inherited from her grandmother. If international readers would love to explore the fictional Malaysian settings in-depth, Hanna’s unapologetic writing will bring you into a whole new world.
3. Tan Twan Eng
Born in Penang, his debut novel The Gift of Rain was long listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been widely translated into several languages. He is a former intellectual property lawyer who started writing his debut novel while he was studying at the University of Cape Town for a master’s degree in law.
The Garden Of Evening Mists is his second novel which won the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. His critically acclaimed second novel was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making him the first Malaysian to be shortlisted and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Tan has a knack for weaving words into beautiful and colourful stories. His second novel conjures up aesthetic and lush images of the tea estate in Malaya during the 1950s while transporting readers to the past life through graceful writing and descriptive imagination. With the international fame of the book, The Garden of Evening Mists was adapted into a film of the same name in 2019.
4. Kamalia Hasni
Kamalia Hasni, better known as Malie, is an emerging Malaysian poet who graduated with a master’s degree in Occupational Psychology from the University of Nottingham. Her first poetry book called An Ocean of Grey was published in 2018 that touches on the pain and aftermath of a love that promised an infinity but ended too soon.
In 2020, she released another collection of poetry and prose called A Wave of Dreams, a continuation of her first book that explores the theme of healing and the empowering discovery of self-love.
Both her poetry books were published under her own publishing company, Meraki Press. The idea of building her own publishing house along with two of her friends was influenced by their hope to educate the Malaysian community and nurture a love for the English language. She is currently the Digital Marketing Manager of her own company and is currently living in the UK.
5. Cheeming Boey
Unlike many other Malaysian authors, Cheeming Boey brings his Malaysian stories to life in the form of humorous comics. He rose to fame in 2011 when his first self-published graphic novel, When I Was a Kid hit the best-selling shelves in major bookstores across Malaysia and Singapore. Due to the success of his first graphic novel, Boey continued to produce four more books in the series.
All of his books are about stories of his childhood growing up in Johor Bahru and Singapore with his family. To amplify the hilarity of his comics, he draws stick figures in black and white instead of intricate and colourful cartoon characters.
Funny yet heart-warming, his graphic novels truly depict the ways of living in an Asian household. His works are written in English but sprinkled with Chinese and occasionally, Malay words. Though he writes about his home country, Boey currently lives and works in San Francisco.
6. Shih Li Kow
Born in 1968, this award-winning contemporary Malaysian fiction author holds a degree in chemical engineering. She eventually ventured into the world of writing. Her debut novel which was published in 2014, The Sum of Our Follies won the 2018 Prix du Premier Roman Etranger (translated into first novel prize).
Before writing a full-length novel, she had written an anthology, Ripples and Other Stories (2008) which was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and shortlisted for the 2009 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. In 2007, Kow had also written a collection of short stories along with Chua Kok Yee and Rumaizah Abu Bakar called News from Home.
Kow writes about contemporary Malaysia as she believes her fiction will fill a gap amidst the many books in the historical and science fiction genre.
7. Tunku Halim
Arguably one of the most well-known Malaysian authors, Tunku Halim is a name that can be spotted easily everywhere in major bookstores across Malaysia. He has written a great number of books both fiction and nonfiction. But he is widely known for his horror stories which lead him to be noted as Malaysia’s Prince of Darkness.
Most horror fiction advocates would know his best works, particularly Horror Stories (2014), Horror Stories (2016), and A Malaysian Restaurant in London (2015), a paranormal love story. His first work of fiction was The Rape of Martha Teoh & Other Chilling Stories (1997). His debut novel was also published in the same year called Dark Demon Rising and had its 20th anniversary republished in 2017.
His frightful yet thrilling work of fictions are apt to those who wish to read horror stories past midnight.
8. Lauren Ho
Although she has always had the love for literature and writing, Lauren Ho felt that she had to be pragmatic with her choice of careers and so she studied law and proceeded to work as a legal counsel in Luxembourg. Despite her hectic work life, Ho still found time to write short stories and flash fiction.
Being shortlisted in a few international competitions kick-started her passion to write a full-length novel. By late 2016, she had the idea for her debut novel Last Tang Standing which was published in June 2020. Since the release of her novel, she has been receiving excellent reviews. Some use the tagline “Crazy Rich Asian meets Bridget Jones’s Diary” to describe her book.
The theme of rebellion against one’s parents is a prevalent one especially in an Asian context where high expectations are always pressured upon youths. The protagonist of Last Tang Standing follows the conventional way of listening to the blueprints of her life set by her parents before realizing she deserves more agency in shaping her own future. The protagonist herself is a reflective image for many youths in Malaysia and Ho’s book surely deserves all the praise.
9. Yangsze Choo
Yangsze Choo is the author of the New York Times Bestselling debut novel The Ghost Bride which was published in 2013. The novel is set in colonial Malaya and the plot wovens with Chinese folklore and supernatural twists with a dash of romance. Following the success of her novel, in 2020, Netflix adapted the novel into a mini-series of the same name, further sparking the sales of the book.
In 2019, she published her second novel called The Night Tiger, also set in colonial Malaya. Both her works are infused with Chinese culture and folklore but contrary to her own life, she has lived in various countries outside of Malaysia before settling in California.
10. Zen Cho
Zen Cho is the author of the fantasy series, Sorcerer to the Crown, and a novella called The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Other than that, she is the first Malaysian to have won the William L.Crawford Award for her collection of short stories called Spirits Abroad published by Malaysian press, Buku Fixi. It was a joint award alongside Stephanie Feldman who also won the same award.
She was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for the best new writer. Contrary to the other authors in this list, Cho writes science fiction and fantasy novels with a hint of romance set in fictional worlds rather than themes in the Malaysian context. Nevertheless, her many short stories and novelettes are centered around Malaysian culture and have been published in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers. Though her most notable novels are not as Malaysian,, she is still making her home country proud by becoming an accomplished author abroad in science fiction.
There are many successful Malaysian authors out there and a list of them without mentioning our very own talented Malaysian authors here at Penwings Publishing is unimaginable!
Born in the heart of Johor Bahru, Zack Shah is a city boy to the core but prefers to occasionally wander the wild and uncharted landscape of his imagination every now and again. An avid reader since childhood, he discovered his love of fantasy fiction during the dark and lonely years of adolescence but later fell in love with poetry as a college freshman.
He made his debut as an author with his first poetry collection, More than Words. His poetry on heartbreak and love will resonate with the frequency of any hearts that are looking for solace through poetic words.
Founder and owner of Penwings Publishing, Charissa Ong has become one of the most best-selling authors in the country after the success of her first poetry and short stories book, Midnight Monologues. Her debut book was a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards in Poetry and Cover Design.
Following the rave reviews of her first book, she published her second book Daylight Monologues in 2018. Both her poetry and short stories books explore the world of heartbreak, love, and self-healing with short stories that deal with themes on human relationships and emotions.
She has also recently released a box set called Poethree O’ Clock that consists of hardcover versions of her two poetry books and a new book called What Does Your Name Mean?. If anyone is yearning to read poetry that will touch your hearts, Charissa’s elegant and beautiful writing will stir feelings of endearment within you.
In conclusion, these authors’ varying educational backgrounds did not stop them from pursuing their creative aspirations. From lawyers to engineers, it is not impossible or too late to follow one’s dream. Our founder herself went through repeated rejections from publishing houses in Malaysia before taking up the courage to build her own company to pursue her dreams.
As they always say, never give up your dreams and keep on writing!