Thaw time: Myanmar hosting its first international literary festival

702fmyanmars leader opposition kyi Thaw time: Myanmar hosting its first international literary festival

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (AFP Photo / Jung Yeon-Je)Dozens of authors from around the world, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, are in Yangon to take part in Myanmar’s first international literary festival. ­The Irrawaddy Literary Festival is taking place only after Myanmar relaxed its censorship rules.  Myanmar shut its censorship office in August and a week ago officially rebranded the Press Scrutiny board, which was responsible for censoring publications, as the Copyrights and Registration Division, AP reported.Although authors must still submit their books to the government for approval before release, according to local journalists and bloggers, censors have  closed their eyes to certain things and they can publish quite freely.As a result of half a century of isolation, Myanmar’s literature is little known abroad, with only a handful of books translated from Burmese into English. Among the names that may ring a bell are Thant Myint-U, the writer of two bestselling books, “The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma” and “Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia”; and the first Padaung tribesman to graduate from Cambridge University Pascal Khoo Thwe, the author of “From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey”. However, both men, the New York-born Thant Myint-U, who is now a government adviser in Myanmar, and Pascal Khoo Thwe, currently based in London, have lived abroad for long periods and wrote in English, so they are not seen in Myanmar as truly local authors. Among those who have mapped out Myanmar’s literary tradition are Burmese author and surgeon Ma Thida, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison in 1993 for supporting the party of the Nobel Pease Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and a famous Burmese poet Saw Wai, who was arrested by Burmese authorities in 2008 for publishing a poem that criticized the head of Burma’s ruling military junta, Than Shwe. Because of the old government’s restrictions readers in Myanmar were cut off from global literature for decades. The redacted versions of Russian and Western classics by Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, George Orwell and John Steinbeck were only available.British historian Timothy Garton-Ash, “Wild Swans” author Jung Chang, India’s Vikram Seth, and New Delhi-based writer William Dalrymple are scheduled to attend this weekend’s festival, along with more than 80 authors from Myanmar.

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Thaw time: Myanmar hosting its first international literary festival

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