U Thaw Kaung -Literary Legend

The first time I met U Thaw Kaung, writer, librarian, collector and preserver, he sat alone on a bench under a large tree in a garden that slipped into Inya Lake.  There were other writers present, National Literature Award winners, former literary prisoners, many I knew, some I didn’t but it was U Thaw Kaung who everyone gravitated towards.

I hesitated, unsure if it is wrong to disturb him now alone.  I hung back, about thirty feet and wondered what to say to him.  I knew he had studied under Zaw Gyi, what was the great man like?  I thought about praising his ‘Through the Librarian’s Window’, one of the best short primers on the history and growth of Burmese language short stories, novels and poetry, but then he had probably heard that before.

Eventually his son, the incomparable Dr Thant Thaw Kaung must have seen my reluctance and introduced us.

An entire book could be dedicated to the life of this man.  He bridges three worlds of literature in Myanmar: post-colonial, dictatorship and transition.  As a young man, he met and catalogued many of the leading khitsan writers from the 1920’s and 1930’s.  He was there in Dagon Tarya’s New Literature Movement of the 1950’s, through the early socialist regime of the 60’s and dictatorships that followed.  As Chief Librarian of university central library and later Chairman of the Myanmar Librarian Associations and central committee member of the Myanmar Historical Commission U Thaw Kaung has spent a lifetime recording, collecting and commenting on the field of literature from Royal court dramas to contemporary L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poetry.

The Irrawaddy Journal pays recognition to his contribution in a recent article.

Image Credir @ Fukuoka Prize

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