Burma-Born English Novelist to Attend Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival

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, Mandalay, literature, arts, culture, Aung San Suu Kyi

Wendy Law-Yone is the only Burmese writer whose work is written and published in English. (Photo: Vanessa Gavalya)

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.”


7 Responses to Burma-Born English Novelist to Attend Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival

  1. Awesome! Does anybody have info where we can get tickets/reservations for the event?

  2. I read her “Irrawaddy Tango” years ago, where Wendy describes lurid sex scenes with Ne Win (called the Supremo in the book). I don’t know how she knows so much about Ne Win’s sexual escapades and appetites lol
    She also was very cynical and bitter about Burmese (called Dayans in the book) in general. I don’t think she would want to have that book translated into Burmese (is there one already?)

  3. As an author of a Book about personal experiences during insurgency in Burma in 1949, published in the UK in English in 2011 and in Myanmar last year, I would also like to attend. Would be grateful for any advice how I might be invited or given an opportunity to attend.

  4. Maung Lu Aye ( Law ) R.A.S.U.1976

    I know not about Daw Wendy Law-Yone who is a descendant of Nation’s U Law-Yone . Whatever , I really honor and respect who wrote Novels and Real True Events of Burma , whether in English or in Burmese . Sincerely, I asked & Request Daw Wendy to write in Burmese those who cannot able to read English .
    And there were Countless of True Stories that Majority People couldn’t reach, and I encourage you to write without Hasitation . Almost most of the People who Fled Burma for Political Reasons and can write What Happen in Burma , Should write about their Era that Current People in Burma can read & understand . One of the Well -Known Burmese Writer ( May be Myawaddy U Ye’ Khaung ) that I remember, told me What Happen in Burma after the 88 Uprising , if Some People who can write, a lot of Volumes would coming out . No Doubt that One of the People is Daw Wendy Law-Yone , I believe .

  5. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Hey, could anyone tell me where Byron Law Yone is today?
    We were class mates since our high school days at St. Paul’s Institute (BEHS 6, Botataung, Rangoon, today) until we graduated out of high school in 1954.
    Everybody knew me as GEORGE in those days.
    Thank you.
    I don’t consider myself a writer though I did some time as an editor (English) in the company of the likes of U Thaung (The Mirror), Myawaddy Ye Gaung (Burmese editor) now both deceased and Tin Maung Win (publisher) deceased on Dec. 1, 1999, in Bangkok, Thailand, in an exiled democratic monthly bi-lingual publication – now defunct – in 1994 until 2001 based in Bangkok, Thailand.
    Congratulations and good for you guys I say.
    Have fun and nice time meeting up old and new friends as well.
    For me there is no time for fun nor theatrics and meet up with friends and family for that matter until today guys.
    Maybe, I am going to GET a CRACK AT IT – do my job – in BURMA soon and hopefully, Buddha willing.
    Wish you all the best and happy times sincerely as well.

  6. She’s a novelist stupid, and Irrawaddy Tango is a novel, i.e. fiction.
    She does not need to have had first hand experience to make up sex scenes with the dictator. I myself have only read her first book, The Coffin Tree, which was about a character newly arrived in the West. But I liked an article she wrote long ago, about the personal experience of suffering a miscarriage while driving a car. I thought that was very vivid. Also about going to see Bo Mya of the KNU on the Burma-Thai border.

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