Don’t be scared. Just write.
By Shivangi On 5 Feb, 2013 At 05:17 PM | Categorized As Fests and Celebrations, International | With 2 Comments

“If you have ever learned some poems, they will come in very handy if ever you are imprisoned,”    - Aung San Suu Kyi

For a country not known for welcoming either outsiders or debate, hosting a literary festival is an exciting event. Even the great classics are censored when they do mange to make their way into Burmese schools. And with one of the world’s great democracy icons as show-stopper, The Irrawaddy Literary Festival could never be a regular book bash.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Three thousand made their way through the doors of Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon on Saturday and more than a thousand of those packed the hotel ballroom to hear Ms. Suu Kyi speak.She spoke of how books helped her through the 15 years she spent under house arrest. “I read a lot about prisoners and prisoners of conscience,” she said. “Through books you can learn how people cope intellectually and spiritually through the challenges of life.” For Suu Kyi, literature sustains the soul and gives strength.

Not all of the international guests invited are household names in Burma, and vice versa; not many foreigners had ever had the opportunity to read or hear Burmese literature and poetry. First prize at the festival was won by 17-year-old high school student Aung Zin Phyo Thein, who wrote about prostitution, alcoholism and mining in his short story, Changing Lives, on Burma’s longstanding ethnic war in Kachin. “Usually when we hear about war, we think about Iraq and Afghanistan. But now it’s so close to home. It’s our reality now. And I chose to focus on that because in a war, two parties will fight but there’s always a third person that will die. I want this to be a catalyst to other young writers who want to write. Don’t be scared. Just write.”

Speakers included Vikram Seth, Sudha Shah,William Dalrymple, Jung Chang, Fergal Keane andTimothy Garton Ash along with local authors like Thant Myint-U and Pascal Khoo Thwe. “I wouldn’t normally come to a festival when I’m working on a book, but because of Daw San, because it’s Burma and because it relates to freedom and free speech I wanted to come.” - Vikram Seth

Conceived and created by Jane Heyn, wife of the British ambassador to Burma, It’s uncertain whether the Irrawaddy Literary Festival will be staged again next year as they leave Yangon this summer.



About - As the newest member of the content team, Shivangi Rajendran comes from the world of professional dancing. With a passion for travel and a flair for writing, the Masters in Mass Communication is just an added advantage. A gypsy at heart, she doesn’t believe in planning and is always ready to pack her bags and leave.

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  1. Lisa says:

    It is really good to read your piece. I truly believe that literature and freedom and tolerance of speech and thought are the only way to world peace. I hope you guys arrange packages to Burma soon!

    • Shivangi Shivangi says:

      Sigh ! If only i could concoct a formula for world peace; it would be so similar to yours. And Lisa, you’ll be the first to know when we figure out Burma !!

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