Burma-Born English Novelist to Attend Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 1 January 2014

RANGOON — Curiosity, excitement and a bit of anxiety is what Wendy Law-Yone is looking forward to when she joins Burma’s biggest international literary festival that will be held for the second time in February this year.

“Literary festivals can be stressful events, and one is never sure what to expect,” said Wendy Law-Yone, one of a few Burmese novelists who writes in English and whose work is being published and marketed internationally.

She will be among numerous Burmese and international writers to attend The Irrawaddy Literary Festival 2014, which will be held in the country’s second largest city Mandalay.

Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is the patron of the festival, which was held for the first time in Rangoon in early February in 2013. The three-day event is designed to bring renowned writers from around the world to Burma to meet local authors and readers.

Starting from Feb. 14, with Suu Kyi’s scheduled to appear on Feb. 15, the festival will showcase the works of English writers from across the globe, including Louis de Bernières, Jung Chang, Ben Okri, Caroline Moorehead, Sudha Shah and other internationally acclaimed authors.

Though she was born and raised in Burma, Wendy Law-Yone fled the country at the age of 20 and settled in the United States. She is now living in London. She has so far published three novels and last year her family memoir “Golden Parasol” hit the bookshelves.

Wendy Law-Yone left Burma in 1967 after her father Edward Michael Law-Yone, the founder and chief editor of the country’s influential English-language newspaper The Nation, was imprisoned for five years by the late dictator Ne Win.

Wendy Law-Yone was banned from attending school and was herself imprisoned for two weeks after an attempt to flee the country. Eventually, she was able to leave Burma and moved to the US in 1973.

The festival website says that after years in exile, Wendy Law-Yone is one of almost a hundred of her fellow countrymen and women taking part, including internationally renowned authors Thant Myint U, Pascal Khoo Thwe, and Ko Ko Thett.

“We are extremely lucky to have secured the attendance of Wendy Law-Yone, who is not only a brilliant and prolific writer, but whose personal history and connections with Burma make her presence at the festival doubly significant,” festival director Jane Heyn said.

She told The Irrawaddy that the event’s main objective is to promote the exchange of ideas and modern literature between Burma and some of today’s best writers in English; particularly those who may be writing about Burma.

Wendy Law-Yone told The Irrawaddy via an email that the festival has particular significance for her as a long-exiled writer being welcomed back to Burma.

“I suppose I was invited because I’m an obvious candidate. I was born in Burma, I grew up in Burma, and Burma forms the backdrop to every single one of my books,” she said.

The 66-year old writer said the chance to meet other Burmese writers and readers within the country is the single most compelling reason for her participation in the festival.

“For most of my life I have been cut off from the literature of my compatriots, a great deprivation for me as both a reader and writer. I’d like to start making up for lost time,” said she.

Although the festival program is yet to be finalized, Wendy Law-Yone said she believes she is taking part in several events, including a discussion of her most recent book—which is a memoir of her father as a journalist and politician during the era of parliamentary democracy and the eventual shift to military dictatorship in the early 1960s.

“I’m also on a panel to discuss one of the topics of the festival program—slavery and human trafficking—because that issue is at the heart of my novel, ‘The Road to Wanting’,” she said.

Since her departure from Burma, the writer has been back only twice before: once in 2001 and again at the end of 2011. As the festival venue is in Mandalay, her visit this time would seem like a return of the native.

“This will be my third visit now, in 2014. Third visit, third time lucky, a good omen, I hope,” she said. “Also, I was born in Mandalay—another auspicious sign as I see it.”