A fantastic weekend I just had. Mandalay hosted its second Irrawaddy Literary Festival. The three days were filled with high profile authors, agents and the amazing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I had to work on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday I immersed myself in the musings of talented minds and stories of those dedicated to Burma and their excited return after being blacklisted for over 20 years. Saturday started off with the arrival of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of General Aung San who, due to his clever interplay with the Japanese during World War II, brokered independence from Britain for Burma. In her own right, Daw Suu is the founder of the National League of Democracy and has been imprisoned (house arrest) for her courage to stand up for her people. It was exciting to even be near her… Men in white shirts interlocking arms, pushing and shoving, making way for the great lady as she maneuvered her way to the presentation room. I was in the crowd, not 2 feet from her at her arrival. Something thrilling I must say. Unfortunately the venue where she spoke was quite small and didn’t offer many seats, so I made it right up to the door as they were being shut. But never mind, I went out to the stunning pool of the Mandalay Hill Hotel where a large screen had been set up and had, more than likely, a better view of this heroine. At this talk she was being interviewed about her life and her thoughts on literature. She is famous for her work of trying to bring public libraries to all the cities of Myanmar. Blocked consistently, she remains a champion of the written word and that her people should have free access to it. She spoke again later that day on a panel of authors that included Jung Chang, author of one of my favorite books “Wild Swans”, and Louis de Bernieres author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. They discussed heroes and heroines and what makes people and characters into one. I then listened to a wonderful list of authors talk about inspiration, music and writing, their lives and why they write.
My three favorite talks were: 1. A panel with Duncan Jepson (All the Flowers of Shanghai), Pascal Khoo Thwe (From the Land of Green Ghosts) and Louis de Bernieres (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and many, many more). All three were full of laughter, great insight into their writing processes and thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. 2. A conversation with Pascal Khoo Thwe – he has written only one book that I am eager to read after listening to him: “From the Land of Green Ghosts.” He is from the Karen tribe and as a young university student the military cracked down one day, deciding students at university were inciting too much trouble, so they stormed the Mandalay University campus and simply shot them. 10,000 students ran frantically into the forests. According to Mr. Thwe, he thought he would return shortly, but that wasn’t possible. He found himself on the Thai Burma border and wrote to a British professor that had visited Mandalay long before and Thwe had waited on him at a restaurant. He told Dr. John Casey what had happened and to shorten the amazing story – he went to Oxford to study. There is so much more – I highly recommend you read it – the parts I have scanned so far are heart-wrenching. Another amazing story of survival and triumph. 3. A conversation with Louis de Bernieres. What a wonderful soul. His wit and banter were more than charming. His intellect and turn of phrase were delightful to listen to. He writes in a wide range of styles and enjoys exploring the world and creating stories from what he sees. A Brit through-in-through, and a lover of the world and what it offers up.I apologize for the blurry photos, but I used my iPhone – all zoomed from afar. Outside they were selling their books and of course I couldn’t resist – so I now have another wonderful stack to enjoy. I also bought the biography of Aung San Suu Kyi which I am already thoroughly enjoying. And, I had the great pleasure of getting de Bernieres and Khoo Thwe’s signatures in my books. A wonderful weekend that infused me with inspiration to keep writing and keep submitting. Two weeks left of the school year. Can’t believe it is almost over. Have a great week! Gretchen