Wednesday 27th is National Day in Burma. It is also the day Burma officially gained its own Pen Chapter.
Around 80 writers, editors and publishers attended the all day event in the Parl Room of the Asia Plaza Hotel on Bogkyoke Aung San Road. Among those present were poets Zeyar Lynn – recently back from a 2 month fellowship at the Iowa Writers Programme in America – Saw Wai and Khin Aung Aye. Short story writers Khin Mya Zin – winner of this years National Literary Award – and Ye Shan. Editors U Win Nyein, of the respected literary journal, Shwe Amyutay and Lay Ko Tin of Yananthit Journal and of course Dr Ma Thida (Sanchuang) and Nay Phone Latt.
Venerated journalist and ex-political prisoner U Win Tin sat for the opening remarks on his past literature activities and his broader views on the importance of literature, Khin Aung Aye followed to explain the purpose of Pen Myanmar, while U Nyein Win outlined the procedure for the conference’s election process.
Nominations for the 9 board of directors were suggested by the audience with their names recorded. A ballot procedure followed with the total number of votes tallied and collated:
Poets – Zeyar Lynn and Pandora
Editors – Myo Myint Nein and Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung)
Publishers – Nay Maing Win (Mahto Sarpay) and Tin Maung Win (Padauk Yana)
Writers – Nyo Tun Lu and Ye Shan
Online – Nay Phone Latt
The board directors then voted amonsgt themsleves for the senior psitions within Pen Myanmar. No surprise really:
Chairman of the Board of Directors – Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung)
Secretary of the Board of Directors – Nay Phone Latt
Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung) then went on to explain the strucutre of Pen Myanamar and the sub-committees within this structure. There will be 5 subcommittees
- women writers
- writers for peace
- writers in prison
- language and linguistic rights
- Pen Myanmar Activities
Dr Ma Thida also outlined how she envisioned the Pen Myanmar centre expanding beyond Yangon to include ethnic Pen centres such as Pen Mon, Pen Shan, Pen Karen, etc.
While this is an admirable goal for Pen Myanmar, the logistics involved behind this are challenging to say the least. It was suggested to me that existing Pen Myanmar members from ethnic groups could return to their home state/division and establish a centre with the regional writers. However, it is unlikely that these writers can actually write in their regional language and as such these ethnic centres would really be Burmese language centres for ethnic writers, not centres that support writers and literature in the ethnic language. At least not in the foreseeable future. Which is perhaps understandable, just setting up a Myanmar chapter in the first place, given the 50 years of government suppression, censorship and imprisonment, is a herculean achievement.