Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds - or H2 - is a unique, four year, nation-wide programme that uses literature as a platform to support freedom of expression, creativity and social change in Burma’s ethnic nationality states.

H2 began in the early days of the transition with the first landscape mapping of the post-censorship literary community in Myanmar.  What followed was an unprecedented series of interlacing components that sought to reach out to literary talents, through short story and translation workshops, live literature nights and ethnic literature conferences.

In 2013 and 2014, local community members in all the seven ethnic states participated in workshops co-led by Burmese and local writers where they learnt how to write short stories in their languages.  A celebration of literature, music and dance followed the workshops in collaboration with the Millennium Centres and ethnic culture and literature associations.  

In 2015, 21 of these workshop generated stories were selected by leading literary and cultural elders in the ethnic states and translated into Burmese.  After a year of editing and proofreading an anthology of these new voices from the ethnic states was published in Yangon featuring 28 original short stories, 21 in Burmese translation, in 11 different languages and 10 distinct scripts. 

2000 copies of the anthology were distributed across the nation to libraries, community centres, ethnic culture and literature association, IDP and refugee camps.   

In 2016, with the conclusion of the first literary translation workshop in Myanmar, sponsored by the British Council, translators returned to the ethnic states to work with the original writers producing 14 stories translated into English from Burmese, Mon, Sgaw Karen, Kayah Li, Shan Gyi, Jinghpaw, Lai Hakha and Rakhine languages.  

In November 2017, the first anthology of ethnic language short stories from Myanmar was published in the UK, titled Hidden Words, Hidden Words: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar, co-edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum.

Writer and former political prisoner, Letyar Tun led the multi-city launch tour at Asia House in London, Aston University in Birmingham and Book Hive in Norwich to a packed audience.  The anthology will be made available in print and e-book format.     

Over the course of four years, the H2 programme has engaged with writers, poets, publishers, booksellers, editors, translators and associations from Yangon to Myitkyina, with the support and collaboration of numerous national and international literary groups including, PEN Myanmar, the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association, Pen International, Asia Literary Review, Bagri Foundation, Writers Centre Norwich and Writing West Midlands.   

Article on Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds anthology can be read here.

Interview with BC literature advisor and anthology co-editor can be read here.

Writer in Residency

Following on the success of the Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds project, the British Council continued its support to literature with the first overseas writer-in-residence in partnership with Edge Hill University, A leading institution for creative writing in the UK which, run from 19th November to 6th December 2016.

Maung Day, a poet, editor, visual and performing artist was the inaugural writer in resident and he spent two weeks in the UK joining creative writing graduates at Edge Hill University, reading at SOAS London and reading a new composed ekphrastic poem  which was inspired by the artworks of Tracy Emin and William Blake at Tate Liverpool. 

Our interview with Maung Day on his experience in the UK as the writer in residency can be read here.

Lucas Stewart talks about Myanmar's place in South East Asia's burgeoning literary scene, and shares details of two exciting events with Maung Day, open to UK audiences in London and Liverpool. Find out more in this blog.

Creative Writing: Doorways and Labyrinths

Upon his return from the UK, Maung Day led a three day Creative Writing Workshop in Yangon PEN Myanmar Office from 3rd to 5th March 2017. 

Titled Doorways and Labyrinths, the workshop which was held in collaboration with PEN Myanmar, aimed to contribute to creative writing skills by exploring different writing techniques, mannerisms, sources of inspiration and subjects, using participatory approaches.

13 participants from PEN Myanmar, who hailed from across the country and from several different ethnic nationality groups, explored the works of local writers such as Cho Pain Naung, The Htu, and Myint Than, and international writers such as Salman Rushdie, Lydia Davis, Raymond Carver and J.M. Coetzee.

Through group discussions, mini lectures and individual exercises, Maung Day, joined by guest appearances from writers Sabai Phyu Nu and Denovo, guided the participants in the creation of their own stories. 

The Masterclass finished with a BookSlam event, at Gallery 65 which was attended by acclaimed poets and performing artists.

Maung Day talked about poetry in Burma today to the British Council Voices magazine which can be read here

See also

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