Literature in Paralysis
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, January 25, 2020
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CULTURE

Literature in Paralysis


By Yeni JANUARY, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.1


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The National Literary Awards

 

In Burma, with the onset of the cool season in November, a government appointed  National Literary Award Scrutinizing Committee announces the National Literary Award winners. Despite the absence of freedom of expression and the restrictions on public gatherings, past and current prize winners enthusiastically tour the country to give speeches, and join panel discussions on literature.

 

 

 

“Along the tour, we, the writers, can touch and hear directly the feelings of the people,” says Nu Nu Yi, a famous female novelist and Literary Award recipient. “We do this because of our love of literature.”

 

The Burma Writers Union was established before World War II and was allowed to continue to operate through the Japanese occupation. In 1944 the group inaugurated a festival in honor of the literati (sarsodaw). The day is dedicated to Pon Nya, a famous 19th century poet and playwright. “Sarsodaw-nei” or “Literati Day” is celebrated during “Natdaw”, the ninth month of the Burmese lunar calendar, which falls in November-December on a western calendar.

 

“Literati Day was born from the era of anti-fascist struggle, so the writers have a common history of resistance,” remarked Dagon Taya, a leading post-war writer. After Burma gained independence in 1948, many young writers who were deeply affected by their experiences during the struggles against imperialism and fascism and by exposure to the prevailing left-wing political ideologies of the day emerged under the banner “art for the sake of the people.” At the 1950 Literati Day celebration in Rangoon, the Burma Writers Union chairman Dagon Taya declared: “Literature is a reflection of its era. That is why we cannot ignore the role of the people that created the contemporary era.”

 

Writers are held in high esteem by the Burmese as philosophers, sources of knowledge and guides to living. This admiration is perhaps culturally related to the respect paid to the wisdom of prominent Buddhist monks on the part of ordinary Burmese.



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