February 4, 2013

Myanmar opens doors to book festival


A scene from Myanmar’s first literary festival.

The AP reported last week that as Myanmar continues to reform and relax its laws on censorship, it launched a book festival over the weekend. Held in Yangon, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival is the first international literary festival to be held in the country.

Since the constitutional referendum of 2008 and dissolution of a military junta in 2011, the nation has taken incremental steps toward democratization, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010. A Nobel Peace laureate, member of Myanmar’s parliament, and author, Suu Kyi was one of more than 100 writers in attendance at the festival, which marked an important milestone in a country that’s only recently shut down its censorship office. As Erika Kinetz explains in the AP article, the move towards freedom of speech, while not instantaneous, is encouraging:

Authors must still submit their books to the government, but it can no longer block their distribution. Some of the old laws used to jail dissident writers remain on the books, but local authors say that for the most part, censors have put down their red pens and they can publish quite freely.

The relaxing of censorship has afforded local as well as international authors an opportunity for their work to reach an audience. Jung Chang, a Chinese-born British writer, expressed happiness that her book Wild Swans is now available in Myanmar: “I feel extremely happy the festival can happen at all … I dream for the day when my books can be read in China.” The festival is also a chance for the Myanmarese to discover Western authors whose work has been largely banned or altered by censors. 18-year old student Arker Kyaw said that the festival is “very important for the students of Myanmar because there is contact with foreigners … I know only Leo Tolstoy.”

The Irrawaddy Literary Festival was held over this weekend, between February 1 and February 3.




Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.