Though Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist, Christian writers have played a pivotal role in the direction and form of literature in the country. It was the American Baptists who introduced the first printing press to Myanmar. Missionaries are responsible for many of the ethnic communities script design. The first true novel in the Burmese language was written by a Karen Christian, James Hla Gyaw. Bhamaw Tin Aung, the 1950’s novelist and thorn in the side of both U Nu and Ne Win was an ethnic Chin Christian. Christians in Myanmar today may make up less than 5 % of the population but their network of churches and church organisations offer writers access to areas that bookshops traditionally can’t reach.
Formed in 2010, the CAF is made up of over 200 members: writers, poets and artists who meet at the St John’s Church pastor’s house on the 1st Saturday of every month. Through the churches they claim to have 180 agents in 180 towns across the country which allows them sell copies at rate unimaginable to writers elsewhere. They claim a bestseller from their forum can sell 25,000 copies. An average print run 7000 to 9000. Even if these figures are inflated (which I suspect they are), their reach undoubtedly gives them an advantage and shows what is possible for publishers and writers if they could look beyond Yangon and Mandalay.