The Myanmar Writers Association has a long and twisted history in Myanmar. Dating back to at least the parliamentary democratic era in the 1950’s, the association, initially independent, was brought under the control of both the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Home Affairs, during the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. General Ne Win, understanding the propaganda value of literature encouraged writers to uphold the national spirit and character of the Burmese nation and designated writers as ‘literary workers’. Until 1989, all writers were inducted into the MWA, they had no choice (which explains why so many renowned, anti-government writers, such as U Win Tin were members).
In July 2012, the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, the sole legal literary organisation allowed in the country at the time and wholly under the control of the military administrations was dissolved and in place grew a myriad of groups, including the Myanmar Journalists Union, the Myanmar Poets Union, the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association and the Myanmar Writers Association.
Housed until 2015 in the glorious Sarpay Beikmann building on Merchant Street, Kyauktada Township, the MWA claim to have 20,000 members nationwide. All townships in Yangon have a local chapter and s well as many of the major townships across the nation, including Hakha in Chin State and Loikaw in Kayah State.
They publish a monthly magazine, Naing Ngangonyi – Dignity of the Century and a second annual magazine. Once a year they hold a month long creative writing course with a 100 participants and 13 instructors.
These days, admission is based on literary output (prospective members must have written either 20 poems, 10 articles, 10 short stories or 2 novels – submitted to their local township chairman for consideration) and the payment of annual fee (1500 MMK a year).
Benefits of membership include financial grants to members’ children after graduation, medical assistance and an annual pension of 200 lakh for all members over 80. Plus access to a regional network of workshop venues and libraries.
The MWA have a policy of admitting anyone who meets these guidelines, much to the criticism of more politically active writers who accuse the MWA of still being the propaganda arm of the Union government. Many of their members are serving and retired military officials. One such appointment caused a mass walk out at the beginning of 2019, when former Military Intelligence chief Gen. Khin Nyunt was elevated to a Research Fellow position, a highly regarded position, despite not having written a single book. Images of senior writers paying obeisance to Gen Khin Nyunt (a requirement of the position), to a man widely regarded as the architect of censorship and repression in the 90’s were greeted with anger. Though the MWA insist in their independence, decisions such as these will only further the belief that they are not.
To read more about Myanmar, their censored literature and my travels with Burmese writers, take a look at my award-shortlisted political travel book, ‘The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journeys with the Storytellers of Myanmar’.