A truly historical literary event took place last weekend in Southeast Asia that doesn’t seem to have enjoyed quite as much attention from the Western media as it probably should have, and so we figured we’d briefly mention it here: During the first three days of February, Myanmar—the country still known to much of the world as Burma—held it’s first-ever literary festival, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released in November 2010 after serving 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest as a political prisoner, was the event’s guest of honor, and arguably its main draw.

According to an article in the Myanmar Times that was written by Agence France Presse reporter Bill O’Toole, “More than 120 Myanmar writers … rubbed elbows with about 25 international authors, including … William Dalrymple.”

“Panel discussions,” O’Toole wrote, “were designed to cover a wide variety of the arts. Interested parties could see talks on everything from poetry to movies to traditional marionette theatre.”

More from the article:

“In many respects the weekend-long affair symbolised the changing face of the Myanmar government’s changing relationship with the media, as well as with local and foreign culture. During one discussion, author and historian Thant Myint U marvelled, ‘Two years ago we might not have thought a festival like this was even possible.'”


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