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By Yuri Takahashi
On 27 August 2019, ANU's School of Culture, History and Language presented a public lecture inviting two representative writers currently active in Myanmar, Ju and Sabal Phyu Nu. This was the first lecture in the history of ANU to discuss Burmese language literature, delivered by two very celebrated professional Burmese writers.
Ju’s first novel, Ahmat Ta Ya (Remembrance, 1987), describing the daily lives of lovers living in Yangon, was an instant bestseller, and she is now one of the most popular and influential writers in Myanmar, with many of her novels being adapted for blockbuster movies. Sabal Phyu Nu is an emerging writer from Myanmar's new generation. She has twice won Myanmar’s prestigious National Literary Prize, while her children's literature series, featuring eight-year-old girl Elni is also very popular.
Ju, Sabal Phyu Nu, Yuri and attendants of the day
The lecture attracted an enthusiastic audience, including the Myanmar Ambassador to Australia H.E. Tha Aung Nyun and his wife Mar Mar Kyaw. The program began with Dr Yuri Takahashi's introduction, following which Professor Simon Haberle, Director, CHL, greeted the Ambassador and all the guests. Alistair MacGillivray, a student of Dr Takahashi's Burmese course, then presented an Indigenous Australian folktale, The Rainbow Serpent, in Burmese.
Simon, Myanmar Ambassador, Alistair and Ji-Won
The lecture was delivered twice, first in English and then in Burmese. At the start of the Burmese section, another student of the Burmese course, Ji-Won Kim, presented the Aboriginal folktale The Crane and the Crow. Both student presentations were loved and appreciated by the audience.
Ju discussed the history of nature appreciation as seen in many Burmese literary works, from classical poems to modern novels. She also pointed out that some works, published in the 1950s and 1960s, foresaw and warned about possible future environmental destruction. She is now also well-known as an environmental activist. Sabal Phyu Nu talked about the decreasing publication of Burmese novels after the 1980s, due largely to the ongoing censorship system; she spoke about how after censorship was lifted in 2012, there's been a new wave of novels increasingly published since 2017.
The abolishment of the censorship system was an important milestone for modern Burmese literature, media, publishing and education. As we can learn from Ju’s success, it is important to remember that Myanmar's population always supported Burmese literature and continued enjoying reading, despite the ongoing censorship. It will be interesting to watch the trend and see how Burmese writing continues to develop the Burmese literary world in the future.
The organiser of this event, Dr Yuri Takahashi, would like to thank the staff of CHL, CHL Language Program, ANU Myanmar Research Centre, students of the ANU Burmese Program, ANU Myanmar Students Association, Myanmar Embassy, the Myanmar community in Canberra’ and The University of Sydney, which invited the two writers to their World Literature and Global South Conference, at which Dr Yuri Takahashi also presented.
Sabal Phyu Nu