Ma Thida is a medical doctor, writer, human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience. She currently edits at a Burmese magazine, Shwe Amyutay, and a two-weekly journal, Info Digest; she also volunteers at a free clinic run by a local NGO.
In October 1993, Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years in prison for ‘endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations, and distributing unlawful literature’. She was released in 1999 due to declining health, increasing political pressure and the efforts of organisations like Amnesty International and PEN International.
Ma Thida has been awarded a number of international human rights awards, including the Reebok Human Rights Award (1996), the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (1996), the Freedom of Speech Award from the Norwegian Writers’ Union (2011), and Vaclav Havel’s Disturbing the Peace and Courageous Writer at Risk Awards (2016).
From 2008 to 2010, Ma Thida lived in the US as an International Writers Project Fellow at Brown University and a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. She was the very first elected president of PEN Myanmar (2013-16) and was elected as a board member of PEN International in 2016 October.
Ma Thida’s first book was The Sunflower, which was banned upon international release in the early 1990s, so only released in Burma in 1999. In 2012, she published The Roadmap, a fictional story based on events in Burmese politics from 1988 to 2009.[The Myanmar-language book Sanchaung, Insein, Harvard is a memoir about her early life in Sanchaung, imprisonment in Insein, and time in the United States. In July 2016, the English translation was published worldwide with the title of Prisoner of Conscience: My Steps through Insein by Silkworm Books in Thailand. Thant Myint-U has described this book as ‘a wonderfully engaging and heartfelt account of prison life by one of Burma’s most distinguished literary voices, a story of fortitude and political commitment, but also of the uplifting powers of Vipassana meditation. A very special memoir.’
© Author photograph by Ag Kyaw Moe