Nobel Myanmar Literary Festival

by Lucas Stewart, Editor-at-Large (Myanmar), Kitaab

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.

Organised by Myanmar media outlet DVB Multimedia Group and The Peoples Age Journal and chaired by renowned writer U Pe Myint, the festival has been in the making for over a year, securing funds from the HEDDA Foundation in Norway and the Swedish post code lottery.

Under the theme of literature and peace, the festival, held at the National Theatre in Yangon from the 17th to 19th January, highlighted talks as diverse as early 20th Century European literature to the contemporary development of the Myanmar short story. Outside tents, cooled by large misting fans featured live readings, photography exhibitions on the continuing war in Kachin State, ‘peace’ painting displays, cartoon boards and a giant book marquis with over 20 stalls.

Opening speeches were provided by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi via a video message and a statement from President Thein Sein, both of whom stressed the need for literature to support and contribute to the peace process. On the second day, former political prisoners and democracy icons Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi described the influence of books on them when they were students and the power of the written word in the struggle for democracy.

To cement the connection with the Nobel Literature Prize, over 100 books written by Prize winners, from Steinbeck to Coetzee were translated into Burmese, published locally and put on sale.