By Dennis Abrams
Writing for the Myanmar Times, Nandar Aung reported that last month, the British Council published an anthology, Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds – a collection of literary works written by writers working in Myanmar’s ethnic languages.
Featuring 28 original stories with 21 of them in translation, the original works were written in 11 different languages (and 10 different scripts) representing the broad span of the nation’s seven ethnic states.
Kevin Mackenzie, director of the British Council said, “Our hidden treasures were finally revealed. We can taste the talent of little-known ethnic writers. I am proud of this book, which highlights their work.”
The book has been in the works since 2013, when, working with the British Council-sponsored Millennium Centers and “ethnic culture and literary associations,” locals in the nation’s different ethnic states have “participated in short-story construction workshops conducted by established authors.”
It is hoped that the book will help support freedom of expression, creativity and social change.
Lucas Stewart, the literary adviser of the British Council said, “I don’t think anyone could tell these stories, which range from the forest of Kayin State to the jade mines of Kachin, better than the people who live there.”
Indeed, as Nandar Aung reported, the authors in the anthology include a 74-year-old retired Kayin headmaster, a 22-year-old student from Kachin, a Kayah housewife, and “others inspired by the prospect of telling their stories in their native language.”
Saya Lay Ko Tin, a short-story writer and literary editor who has been arrested three times for “political offenses” told the paper that, “This is the first time I’ve been able to do this. It’s the first book of short stories written in ethnic languages to be distributed in Myanmar.
“This will introduce our stories to our own country, and to the rest of the world.”
The 68-year-old writer conducted the workshop in Mawlamyine, Mon State, Other authors and scholars led workshops in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Rakhine and Shane states to “encourage local writers to speak in their own voices.”
A Phyu Yaung (Shwe), a 42-year-old short-story writer and poet told the paper that, “There are thousands of stories written by ethnic writers. But they didn’t all know exactly how to express themselves. Now their work appears on paper.”
One thousand copies of the anthology have been printed and distributed at no charge and are available through the British Council Library throughout the country.
The English-language translation of Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds will be published in the UK next year, making it the first anthology of translated ethnic-language stories from Myanmar.