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The Center is co-sponsoring an event this Sunday at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum with Burmese writer Khet Mar. To give a little idea of what to expect, I did a short interview with Mar to hear a little about her writing and the political turmoil that underlies much of it.
Event Details
Date: Sunday, December 13th
Time: 2pm
Location: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St.
Free with Museum admission

As a writer from Burma, you’ve had to confront a lot of the political turmoil that has occurred in that country. Do you feel like this political situation dominates your writing?

The political situation has dominated my writing since I started writing in 1989. As I grew up in rural area, I met and saw a lot of poor and uneducated people who have no voices. I want my readers know about that kind of person because people from different fields and different levels do not know about each other. 80% of Burma’s poor are living in rural areas. I think that the images of people who are living in a country is an image of that country. I want to act as a representative of these people. At least, I want to express the real situation to readers, although I cannot solve any problem myself. If we do not know about the real situation of ordinary people, we can not do something better for them. I believe that trying to express real situation or images of the era which a writer lives is an important duty for a writer.

In a write-up of a panel on the relationship between prison and writing that you participated in, it stated that you chose to write in allegories and to publish your work as a serial in order to evade scrutiny of government censors. Did that strategy work, in terms of avoiding government scrutiny of your writing?

That strategy works sometimes but not always. I’ve had to use many different methods to avoid censorship board. But no particular way will work forever to avoid government scrutiny.

What kind of an audience were you writing these pieces for? What do you feel their impact was?

Although I have written most about ordinary people, they can not read my writing, for many reasons. Some of them cannot read, or books and monthly magazines or journals cannot reach the places where they are living. And they might not be interested in reading or they might not have time to read, as they often have to struggle to survive. I am writing for my readers who can try to help those people. When I was teenager, that was the kind of literature I read–the kind that I am writing now. Literature taught me how to face these difficulties, how to respond to the challenges that I had. Reading is a good teacher for me. I want young people to consider how to develop their lives by reading, and then to find a way to help people better.

You’ve been a visiting fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and you’re currently a writer-in-residence at the City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. When did you leave Burma? What kind of a change did this represent for you, entering into an environment where you didn’t have to worry about government scrutiny of your writing?

I was at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2009. I left Burma March, 2009 for second time. The most important change is I feel safe here, but I still have to think about government scrutiny of my writing as I want to print some of my writing in Burma.

Even while you’ve lived in other places, you’ve been very involved in Burma, particularly in the aftermath of Cyclone Nagis. How does this fit in with your writing? Can you keep the two separate?

I could say I can keep the two separate. While I was doing Nagis rescue works, I could not keep writing. It might be that I do not yet want to write about my experiences of Nagis rescue works, although I know many stories of victims, many scenes of effected areas. But it won’t be waste. Those experiences and feelings will be in my heart and in my mind forever. I can write about this when I have a strength to write.

You’ve worked in various forms–novel, short story, poem, journalism. Do you feel that any one more than the others gets at real-life experiences when you try to portray them in writing?


I always try to get at real experiences in all my writing, but I would say my short story writing gets more real-life experiences, when I try to portray these in writing. I have tried to write most of my short stories not only as a creative work but also as an informative work–but not every my short story. Sometimes, I just want to write very creative or very artistic as much as I could.

Posted on December 10, 2009 by Scott Esposito 
Center for the Art of Translation

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