Irrawaddy Literary Festival – Day 2

And so it continues.  Day two of the literary extravaganza the world seems convinced has put to bed all censorship issues in Burma.  And with Daw Suu in attendance it would seem, from the outside, that that might be the case.

After yesterday’s traffic problem and having to get there early to supervise our morning workshop I arrived at the hotel at 8.50.  Monument Book Store was already there ensuring their copies of the foreign author’s books were piled high.  Andy and Jane Heyn pulled up in their black lexus and wandered in.  I found the orgainsers office room and dumped some bags next to the Ambassador’s.  Once the equipment had been sorted – the projector screen had mysteriously vanished – I went around and snapped some photos of the publishers stalls.  Pyi Zone Publishing House and Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association are right next to each other with MBC on the left.  True to MBC form, they had a decent selection of books on Burma and even a couple of translated works.  Their book bag table proved very popular throughout the day.

(Dr Thant at the MBC imports good quality second hand books from American libraries then organises charity drives where people pay 10,000 kyat for a bag and can then stuff as many books as they can into it for free.  All proceeds from these book bag drives go to mobile libraries and other literary focused needs.)

After a couple of coffees from the very chatty Singaporean lady at the Lavazza stall, I discovered that none of the Burmese writer sessions outside the Ballroom had interpreters.  Apparently, the need for translators wasn’t considered until it was too late and the festival coffers had run dry, which was a great shame for the Essays and Short Story sessions.

After yesterday, I was very interested to see Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger in their Exhibition room for their photo-journalism workshop.  Typically, it wasn’t necessary for them to speak long for several of the participants had been invited and stood next to their stories to explain the background to them.

As I was walking round the exhibits I recognised a name on one of the partitions, and realised it was a friend of mine.  Anna Biak, (the woman in the featured image) is from Chin State and she has done a wonderful presentation on a Chin boy in Yangon who wants to pursue a career in music, against the wishes of his parents who feel there is no future in this.  After the festival, Anna is going back to Chin State and with a few friends, cascade the knowledge that Nick and Rory have transferred onto their participants to ensure that there will be at least some legacy from this festival witnessed outside of Yangon.

Whilst talking with Anna, I completely forgot about Daw Suu and the ridiculous queue that snaked around the sunset terrace to get into the Ballroom.  To be honest, after hearing Daw Suu’s short speech later outside where there wasn’t a single reference to Burmese literature or Burmese authors and where well over half the crowd were foreigners the direction and ambition of the festival was pretty clear.  Better to speak with the Burmese that are actually contributing to Burmese literature like Anna than wait 50 minutes in a queue to see ASSK (and then get turned away due to massive overselling of tickets).

After the late afternoon workshop, I didn’t have the heart to listen to Fergal Keane and Daw Suu for Desert Island Literature and ended up walking down to Kabar Aye Pagoda road for a taxi.

Roll on day three.

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About Lucas Stewart

Former British Council Literature Advisor | Author of The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journey's with the Storytellers of Myanmar