Culture

Ma Thida Receives ‘Disturbing the Peace’ Award

By The Irrawaddy 30 September 2016

Prominent Burmese writer Ma Thida was awarded the first annual “Disturbing the Peace” award by the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation in New York on September 28.

The award is given to an outstanding and courageous writer who shares the humanitarian values of the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and who has suffered unjust persecution because of his or her beliefs.

A medical doctor, human rights activist and former political prisoner, Ma Thida, is known for her 2012 memoir Sanchaung, Insein, Harvard which was recently translated into English.

In 1993, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her activism surrounding freedom of expression and was charged with “distributing unlawful literature.”

She served more than five years in jail, most of which was spent in solitary confinement, before being released in 1999, reportedly due to poor health and political pressure.

While she was detained, she received multiple honors in absentia, including the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 1996.

“It is said that by nature of vocation, writers are solitary. However, in my opinion, writers cannot be solitary in their thought of creation. Our work is not just about ourselves but about our response to others and to the universe. In creating literature, we might write about one place or time or population, but we usually reflect the nature of humankind to relate to the readers who might not be from that particular place or time or population,” she said in a thank you note she posted on Facebook following the award ceremony.

“Writers work alone with words, but those words are reflecting one’s opinion and thought in response to others or to the universe. That’s why I believe as long as a writer’s work includes humanity and the nature of humankind, not just one’s isolated thoughts, that work can reflect the whole universe, not just one’s place and people.”

Ma Thida, who is the president and director of the literary organization PEN Myanmar, has also been elected to the board of PEN International at the 82nd Pen International Congress held in Spain.

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