Kitaab’s Editor-at-Large for Myanmar Lucas Stewart’s report on ‘Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds Symposium: Dialogues on Ethnic Nationality Literature’ (13th and 14th March 2015, Yangon, Myanmar)
Confirming facts on just about anything in Myanmar is like reading a book in the dark – challenging. Yet, last weekend probably saw the first nationwide literature event with a focus on ethnic nationality literature in Myanmar.
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
A two day event on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th March, organised by the British Council with support from PEN Myanmar and the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association which saw over 15 ethnic nationality writers, publishers and education specialists from all seven ethnic regions join 25 other delegates to discuss the past, present and future of ethnic nationality literature in Myanmar.
On the first day, a closed working group was held at the British Council office, where Chairmen and General Secretaries from the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kayah and Ta-ang ethnic culture and literature associations met with representatives from Yangon based literary organisations such as PEN Myanmar, the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association, the Myanmar Literature Development Committee and the Myanmar Storytellers Association.
The second day saw panel discussion sessions opened to the public at the Yangon Gallery on diverse topics such as ethnic nationality poetry, non-fiction, publishing and teaching ethnic languages in schools. Moderated by PEN Myanmar members such as Pandora, Mie Chan Wei, Han Zaw, Myay Hmone Lwin and with former director of Poetry Ireland Joe Woods, the hundred strong audience enjoyed listening to ethnic Kachin poet Wawn Awng read from his work and ethnic Chin, Joel Ling, Chief Editor of Muko Magazine, explain the challenges on publishing before and after censorship.
Book stalls from Myanmar Book Centre, Unity Publishers and others were set up in the grounds of the Yangon Gallery, with a live reading tent featuring Burmese short story writers reading from their works, such as National Literature Award winner, Ye Shan.