The Irrawaddy Literary Festival was founded in 2013 by Jane Heyn, wife of (then) British Ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Heyn, under the patronage of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Festival’s initial aim was to open up communication between Myanmar’s writers and their fellow authors worldwide. This was of immense importance to Myanmar’s literary and cultural community, which had been silenced for so long.
The inaugural festival in Yangon was hugely successful in its ambitious goals. William Hague (former British Foreign Secretary) commented that the Irrawaddy Literary Festival ‘achieved more for freedom of speech in one weekend than most of us manage in a lifetime’.
Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, spoke of ‘a most memorable festival . . . The excitement will be with us forever.’ She echoed the sentiments of everyone involved.
Subsequent festivals were held in Mandalay in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival took the important step of becoming a UK-registered Charitable Trust and the 2017 Festival was considered the most successful to date.
In May 2018, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival’s international board of trustees, (Ambassador (retired) Giles FitzHerbert, Consul-General (Hong Kong) Andrew Heyn, Dr Jacqueline Dutton (Melbourne University), author and art historian, Dr Rupert Arrowsmith and Festival Founder Jane Heyn), gathered in Yangon for an official handover ceremony to the newly formed Myanmar Board under the Chairmanship of Saya U Nay Oke.
Saya U Nay Oke (Yangon) and Dr. Aung Myint (Mandalay) have been elected locally as the Festival’s representatives, and are henceforth responsible for all aspects of the Festival in Myanmar. The Festival continues to be committed to fulfilling the vision of Founding Director Jane Heyn, and patron Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in establishing a diverse and prestigious event showcasing some of the best Literary talent in Myanmar and abroad.
The fifth Irrawaddy Literary Festival will be held at the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel, Saturday 9 – Monday 11 November 2019. Once again, the Festival will bring together a stellar cast of international and Myanmar writers.
As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said: ‘The festival is providing an important open forum for Burma’s literary talent. Its stimulating mix of gifted writers from overseas and some of our most accomplished Burmese authors, cartoonists, translators and artists, has helped to shine a spotlight on the arts and literature in Burma. The next festival will strengthen existing bonds and encourage yet more creativity between Burma’s writers and those from many other countries. It is also another opportunity for all those who care about literature to enjoy a world-class festival.’