In Memory of Salai Tin Maung Oo

In Memory of Salai Tin Maung Oo

Last week marked the 41st anniversary of the death of student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo. Though born in Taungoo, Bago Division (or possibly Rakhine State to the West), Salai Tin Maung Oo was ethnic Chin.  As General Secretary of Yangon university based Chin Culture and Literature Committee, he was active, both in his pro-democracy demonstrations and his vision for a unified Chin identity …

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Is ‘Smile as They Bow’ The Most Popular Book in Myanmar?

Is ‘Smile as They Bow’ The Most Popular Book in Myanmar?

According to Reddit user Backforward24 it is.  Yesterday, Coconuts ran an article on a literary map of the world uploaded onto Reddit which purportedly shows the favourite book in each country.  Backforward24’s choice for Myanmar was Nu Nu Yi (Inwas)’s inspirational ‘Smile as they Bow’ translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum and his wife Thi Thi Aye in 2008 …

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Sadaik Rebooted

Sadaik Rebooted

Sadaik began at a time when the reforms in Myanmar placed the country under a new light.  The censorship board had only just been formally abolished and tentative experiments in pushing literature had started to take shape in workshops, content and formation of new associations …

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Article: On Emerging Ethnic Writers

Article: On Emerging Ethnic Writers

‘The book is small, about the size of a pocket notepad, mottled brown with a fading horned mountain goat sketched on the front cover. The staples have rusted, staining the inscription on the first page: ‘This Kachin Reader prepared by the Rev. J. F. Ingram for the second standard is approved by the Kachin tex (sic) book committee and is prescribed by the Director for Public Intruction (sic) for use in all Kachin schools.’

Longer article on ethnic writers in Myanmar today for the British Council Voices magazine.  Read the rest here.

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On Cooler Lumpur Festival Of Ideas

On Cooler Lumpur Festival Of Ideas

‘Burmese former political prisoner, editor and translator, Letyar Tun remained silent as two other panellists on the stage debated back and forth on the methods of responsible speech, the control and freedom of public protestations, silence versus action. As poet/literary critic Gwee Li Sui and social commentator Sharaad Kuttan wrapped up their, often opposing, arguments on the language of protest, Letyar Tun finally picked up his microphone and spoke slowly and softly, ‘when a baby cries, it wants something. That is the language of protest ..’.

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On The Last Days Of Politicians

On The Last Days Of Politicians

‘Censorship, in any form, is an evil beast.  Not only does it steal a writer of their words, it deprives a reader of the writer.  Sayar Lay Ko Tin is one of those writers who Myanmar has the sad legacy of silencing more than most countries.  And by that I mean not just the decades of poetry, stories and articles that have come from him, but the man himself.’

My thoughts on a book launch from writer Sayar Lay Ko Tin in Yangon.  Originally posted on Kitaab.  Read the rest here.

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On Ethnic Literature Symposiums

On Ethnic Literature Symposiums

‘Decades of military rule, pervasive censorship polices and poor communication and transport infrastructure have essentially created two literary spheres in Myanmar, those that exist in Yangon and those elsewhere with very little knowledge or interaction between the two. The Hidden Words Hidden Worlds Symposium sought to bring those spheres a little bit closer with the beginning of a dialogue on literature in languages from around Myanmar’

My short article on the Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds ethnic literature symposium in Yangon.  Originally posted on Kitaab.  Read the rest here.

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On The Nobel Myanmar Literary Festival

On The Nobel Myanmar Literary Festival

‘The Nobel Myanmar Literary festival has come and gone, quietly slipping under the media radar. While its well-publicised cousin the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, attracts the power name international authors, the Nobel Myanmar Literary festival offered up a much more local flavour.’

My short write up on the first Myanmar Nobel literary festival in Yangon.  Originally posted on Kitaab.  Read the rest here.

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On A Phyu Yaung Shwe’s New Anthology

On A Phyu Yaung Shwe’s New Anthology

‘Yee Kyaw, who writers under the pen name A Phyu Yaung Shwe, celebrated the release of her second short story collection, curiously titled ‘A Winged Horse Flies into a Lake’, published by LWP in Yangon last Thursday. A Pen Myanmar member and People’s Choice Award winner, A Phyu Yaung Shwe is one of the notable female writers of her generation with fans across the country. National Literature Award Winners, Ye Sha and Mie Chan Wei, opened the launch with readings from the anthology to an audience that included former literary prisoner and activist Dr Ma Thida (Sanchang), the poet Khin Aung Aye and performance artist Su Mie Aung.’

My short article on A Phyu Yaung Shwe’s first anthology of short stories for over two years.  Originally posted on Kitaab.  Read it here.

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Article: On Literary Associations in Myanmar

‘The first time I looked for it, I was expecting a 5th floor office in a blackened apartment block, or a shuttered ground floor hole in the wall.  I walked up and down Merchant Street between Bo Aung Kyaw and Pansodan several times before accepting defeat and asking in a tea shop.  The old man took the slip of paper in his hands.  Despite holding it upside down, he gave me a queer look and pointed straight up.’

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Writing in Burma: A New Year, Old Fears

Writing in Burma: A New Year, Old Fears

I was heading East from Hpa-an, the sluggish capital of Burma’s Karen State, towards a monastery infamous for the alleged body-napping of a dead monk by the Burmese military in the late 1990’s, when i heard of the death of the freelance journalist, Ko Par Gyi.  In the car with me was a former political prisoner and 88 Generation member, eyes fixed to his phone as the ring of each new text message reverberated Burma back to the dark years …

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Article: On Burmese Literary Pen Names

Article: On Burmese Literary Pen Names

‘U Win Tun may not have had his face emblazoned on T-shirts sold for Westerners outside Yangon’s tourist shopping mecca of Scott Market, but for the Burmese, he was one of a trio of democratic heroes, just as iconic as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing, having spent nineteen years in prison for his involvement in the 1988 revolution.’

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On The Act Of Insanity

On The Act Of Insanity

‘I used to watch him from my balcony, spinning, rotating like a shrunken ballerina, arms flailing, hands flapping, like a playground helicopter, bright yellow hair staining the road like the spark of a fresh match. Nobody took any notice of him; passers-by passed him by without a flinch, without a second thought. No curiosity, no panic, scorn dulled by familiarity’

My creative non-fiction piece, ‘The Act of Insanity’ was published by Cha Literary journal this month.

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Rakhine Short Story Workshop

Rakhine Short Story Workshop

And so it ends. After 11 months, 9 workshops, 7 ethnic states, 12 languages, 16 ethnic minority groups, 8 live literature nights, over 100 participants, over 50 short stories collected (so far) the final Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds workshop took place last week. Due to security concerns in Rakhine state, unfortunately, we had to move the Rakhine workshop to Yangon. But with the support of the Rakhine Culture and Literature Association, we were able to bring participants to Yangon from Mrauk U, Minbya, Kyaukphyu and Bonnagyun Townships instead.

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Article: On Chin Literature

Article: On Chin Literature

‘The road from Kalaymyo to Hakha is lined with grave markers. With little flat ground in the northern Chin Hills, cemeteries are exchanged for solitary memorials overlooking the knuckled mountain ranges. Some—usually those of the young—have photographs embedded into them; the elders are left faceless. All are etched with a name, an age, and a date of death. Yet in Chin State, as in the other six states of Myanmar, the lives of those who lived and passed away here are not recorded and remembered in the Myanmar language, but in an ethnic-minority language and literature.’

My Irrawaddy Journal article on the Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds project in Chin State

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Kayah Short Story Workshop

Kayah Short Story Workshop

The penultimate Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds workshop took place in Kayah State at the beginning of June. Once a black zone where foreigners were forbidden to travel beyond the capital, Loikaw, Kayah State is home to three main ethnic groups, the Kayah, Kayan and Kayaw. It is these three groups that the workshop targeted, with 6 participants from each represented …

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Chin Short Story Workshop

Chin Short Story Workshop

Holding a literature workshop in Chin state, the least developed state in the second least developed country in Asia was always going to pose challenges. All of the Hidden Words workshops, regardless of the location, follow a logistical template revolving around our 2 partners, the Millennium Centres who provide the workshop venue and live literature night and the local cultural group who source the participants …

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Article: On Literary Talk Shows in Myanmar

Article: On Literary Talk Shows in Myanmar

‘As a puny winter sun settled over the morning Irrawaddy river, eight men stood up, smoothed their winter coats, brushing off crumbs of cake and errant cheroot ash, and one by one introduced themselves’

My May article for the Diplomat journal on recent forced cancellations of literary events in Myanmar

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PEN President in Burma

PEN President in Burma

John Ralston Saul is a Canadian writer with a long background in Burma, having spent a large part of the 80’s in South East Asia witnessing the repression of freedom of speech in the region’s literature.  In 2009 he was elected President of PEN International, the largest literary organisation in the world that supports freedom of expression and creativity …

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Live Storytelling Event

Live Storytelling Event

Since then H2 has been on the road, holding week long workshops in Hpa-an Karen State, Mawlamyine Mon State, Myiktyina Kachin state and finally in Lashio, Northern Shan State. 80 local community members have joined the workshops; we have had youth workers, WW2 veterans, University professors, business men, gym instructors, IDP camp members and lots more…

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Article On Culture and Literature in Kachin

Article On Culture and Literature in Kachin

‘Duwa Howa Zau Gam leans on a walking stick and turns his back to the weak sun. It is still winter in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in upper Burma. Half a dozen men in heavy coats circle around us, respectfully keeping their distance but close enough to hear his words. As the scion of Duwa Hkun Hpung, a signatory to the 1947 Panglong Agreement and a veteran of the famed WW2 resistance fighters called the 101st Kachin Rangers, he understands all too well how, in Burma, the sword is perversely mightier than the pen—how, in Kachin State, conflict has overruled culture.’

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Article: On Writing In A Hidden World

Article: On Writing In A Hidden World

‘Of late, Burmese literature has experienced liberalising reforms which have allowed the Burmese literary community to write, to some extent, without fear of censorship or imprisonment. And while this cautious optimism is to be congratulated, what has often been overlooked is the divergent state of Burmese literature: 135 ethnic minority groups each with an unread legacy of literature rooted in their own language, customs and environment.’

My recent article for Arts Professional magazine on the Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds project.

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Article: On Investing In Myanmar’s Writers

Any longer-term watchers of Burma will have noticed something curious over the last couple of years. After the European Union (and later the United Sates) lifted economic sanctions on the country in April 2012, Western newspapers and blogs were awash with wide-eyed stories of courageous entrepreneurs risking all in the last frontier market, making their millions over golden handshakes in hotel saloons …

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Karen Ethnic Literature Workshop

Karen Ethnic Literature Workshop

The British Council, in collaboration with Millennium Centres, leading Myanmar authors and regional literature associations, is spearheading a three year literature project named, ‘H² – Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds’, with the goal of supporting freedom of expression in ethnic Myanmar literature and it’s showcasing abroad through short story workshops in the regional languages …

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Article: On Hidden Languages in Myanmar

Article: On Hidden Languages in Myanmar

‘His name is Saw Myint Zaw.  He is from Karen State in Eastern Burma.  He writes in the Sgaw language. You probably have never heard of him.  I hadn’t either until a few months ago.  Yet he offers a symbol of what we don’t know about ‘Burmese’ literature.  A literature that belongs to 40% of Burma’s people and yet is barely read or recognised within their own borders.  A literature that has been systemically repressed by successive governments in an attempt to ‘Burmanise’ the 135 ethnic groups in Burma. A literature without translation.’

Nearly forgot about this.  My article for Pen Atlas on Myanmar translation and ethnic literature associations.

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PEN Myanmar

PEN Myanmar

It seems like PEN has spent the last 20 years supporting the struggle for freedom of expression in Myanmar, championing the plight of writers in prison, such as the founding members of the Myanmar Pen, Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung) and Nay Phone Latt, both recipients of PEN Awards. Now PEN has come to Myanmar …

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Myanmar Literature in Translation

Myanmar Literature in Translation

*this post was updated in October 2017

Before arriving in Myanmar in 2011, it was an effort to find Burmese works written or translated into English.  Fifty years of a national literature struggling just to survive and a global literary community unable to access the literature produced from this era has left Myanmar, relative to its size and literary lineage, with one of the least recognised and understood canons in the world …

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DELTA Foundation

DELTA Foundation

The DELTA Foundation (Disability. Education. Livelihood. Training and Achievement) supports youth and young adults with physical disabilities in the Pyapon area with medical and livelihood issues.  Founded by Australian, Peter Berechree, one off-shoot project of the foundation is the R.E.A.L library programme, or Rural Education and Active Learning libraries …

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Writing and the Internet in Burma

Writing and the Internet in Burma

Burma is a country loved by statisticians.  It’s one of those countries that is either at the top or the bottom of the table, usually neither are good.  My favourite statistic, however, and one that pretty much laughs in the face of the ‘Asia’s Next Tiger’ moniker being casually thrown around as if it a done deal just around the corner, is Burma’s telecommunication infrastructure which, according to according to the International Telecommunication Union ranks Burma last on every index with 216/216 for SIM card per 100 people and 218/219 for internet usage with just 1% …

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Daw Myint Myint Khin Poetry Collection

Daw Myint Myint Khin Poetry Collection

Doctor turned Poetess Daw Myint Myint Khin released her first poetry collection in English on March 12.

Daw Myint Myint Khin retired from her job as professor at the Institute of Medicine in Mandalay in 1985. In the same year she was devastated by the death of her husband of more than 30 years, as well as by the incarceration of her son by the government for political reasons ...

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