We’re very much looking forward to doing some consultancy work with the Myanmar-based NGO Paung Ku. We’ve got two workshops coming up this May or June, working intensively with members of the Paung Ku team to develop their skills in writing, storytelling and communication
Paung Ku — the name in Burmese (ပေါင်းကူး) means ‘to bridge’ or ‘to span’ — are a fabulous organisation, working for positive social change by linking together grassroots organisations, people, ideas, networks and resources, thereby helping build and strengthen a pluralistic, multi-ethnic civil society. We’re really excited to be contributing to their ongoing work.
We set up Wind&Bones back in 2017 because we were interested in the power that writing has to transform lives. At the most fundamental level, writing is about human communication. We don’t particularly care about distinctions between high art and low art, literary and non-literary writing, and all those other hierarchies that you stumble across when you read about Literature with a capital “L”. Instead, what we care about is how people can use the written word to communicate better, more deeply and more compellingly.We believe in the value of making space for multiple voices, in how this can contribute to a richer shared world, offering more diverse possibilities for thinking and acting.
It was great earlier this week to be talking about our work at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan. Two years in, it is a good time to reflect on the work we have done, and on new directions for Wind&Bones. We were invited to Dong Hwa by the fabulous scholar, associate professor and film-maker, Chun-Chi Wang (王君琦) . Like us, Chun-Chi is interested in the way that art can give voice to many perspectives, throwing new light onto our shared world.
It was a pleasure to spend the morning with a group of engaged, lively and thoughtful students from Dong Hwa, and to talk about our work — both our writing, and our work with Wind&Bones. After our lecture, we had a free-wheeling question and answer session, which was both stimulating and challenging. We covered a lot of ground: creative writing in multiple languages; collaboration and co-working in writing; the future of relations between Taiwan and the mainland; Brexit (inevitably!); and how to get involved in activism, when there are so many issues of concern in the world.
We also talked a lot about the ethics of writing; and how to deal as a writer with sensitive and socially contentious issues. We’ve been concerned with this for a while, and we run workshops looking specifically at the ethics of writing (for example, our ethics workshop at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2018). In academic creative writing contexts, ethics is often sidelined. Distressingly, the claim that “you shouldn’t worry about all that messy ethics stuff, the artist’s duty is just to write” (itself an ethical claim) is all too common. We take a different view. Our own concern with ethics arises out of our basic position that writing is about human communication. It is about how we relate to each other. Writing impacts upon our relationships. It impacts upon the kind of world we perceive, upon the kinds of future we can imagine, and on the kind of world that we can build together. In all of this, ethics is inescapable.
It was a privilege to be talking about all of this with the students from Dong Hwa, to be learning from their perspectives, and to be forging new connections.
In April, we’ll be heading to Taiwan where we’re giving a lecture at National Dong Hwa University (國立東華大學) in Hualien. We’ll be with students from the department of humanities discussing “Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Social Justice.”
For both of us, it will be our first time in Taiwan, and we’re excited to be there. As well as spending some time in Hualien, we’ll also be catching up with old friends, taking some time to do a bit of writing and doing some research on our various ongoing projects.
Image: National Dong Hwa University. Wikimedia Commons
We’ve just come to the end of our six week course on Writing, Myth and Tradition. It’s been incredibly stimulating. We were lucky enough to work with a highly talented group of writers from Myanmar and from all around the world. On the course we looked at the myths of writing and the writing of myths, from the small scale to the large.
Over the six weeks we covered a lot of ground. We looked at the stories that make us who we are. We plunged into the murky darkness of family and community secrets. We looked at the tangle of truth-telling, fabrication, memory and forgetting in the stories we tell about ourselves, each other and the world. We asked some difficult ethical questions about what it means to tell these stories. We explored face-to-face storytelling, and how this can be translated into well-crafted prose. And, in the final week, we looked at the art of self-mythologising for writers, and at the publishing world.
The course has certainly deepened our own reflections on what it means to write. And working with so many writers who are engaged in so many different projects has enlarged our sense of the world. So we’re already looking forward to starting our next course, called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism. The six week course starts on the April 22nd, and is on Monday nights at the Parami Institute in Yangon from 7pm to 9pm. Get in touch if you are interested in joining us.
Image: Puppet Show in Myanmar, c.1897. Bodleian Ms. Burm. a. 5 fol 140.jpg
Next April, we’re starting a new course as a part of our Parami Institute writing residency. We’ve been enormously inspired by our brilliant students on the Writing, Myth and Tradition course. Many of the writers we have been working with are involved in a range of social activist projects. And so we decided to follow up this course with another six week intensive course called Remaking the World: Creativity, Writing and Activism.
Whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry, writing has the power to remake the world. It can shake us up, change how we see things, transform the way we think and feel, and open up new possibilities for action. In this six-week intensive course, we will be exploring the transformative potential of creative writing.
Participants will work on developing their ideas to produce their own unique body of work. We will be moving between genres — whether fiction, non-fiction, reportage, memoir or poetry — and honing our skills in drafting and editing to produce writing that makes a real difference.
The course is suitable everyone from beginners to experienced writers. It will be taught in English and held on Monday evenings, 7-9pm, starting on April 22. Tuition is 200,000 MMK per person.
Call the Parami Institute on 0979 303 0555 | 0977 883 9092 to register. Or email email@example.com.
In his famous painting, Paul Gauguin (1897) asks “Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going” (D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous). Here in Yangon, we’ve just started our new Writing, Myth and Tradition creative writing class at the Parami Institute, using storytelling – with a little help from Gauguin himself – to explore where we all come from, what we are and where we might be going.
It is a big class, with just under twenty students. They are a hugely diverse bunch. About half of the students in the group are from Myanmar, and the other half from all across the globe. The room is positively overflowing with fascinating stories and potentially enriching conversations, and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.
Our first couple of sessions have taken as a starting point the poet Muriel Rukeyser‘s claim that “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” It is, of course, not strictly true; but what we’re interested in is the universe of human experience. And here, stories are the way that we can get a handle on things.
What we’re particularly interested in exploring is this human impulse to tell and share stories. So we’re starting with one of the most ancient human traditions of all, that of oral storytelling, and moving from there to the written word. So far, it is been enormously stimulating, leaving us buzzing with new ideas, new stories, and new possibilities. Stories have a way of doing that: because if the universe is made of stories, making and remaking stories is a way of remaking the world.
Tonight we are starting our new course, called “Writing, Myth and Tradition”, and we’re very excited to meet our new students, and to spend the next six weeks working together on exploring storytelling skills.
For this class, we’re exploring the stories that fashion us, that give us a sense of who we are and what our relationship is to the world – personal stories, family histories, national myths, religious traditions…
One thing that we have found in working with students over the years is that it is easy to overlook the richness of our own stores of story (or, in an image drawn from the Indian literary tradition, the ocean of stories in which we swim), to think that all the interesting tales belong to other people. So in this course, we’re going to be encouraging students to investigate their own resources and to develop compelling stories, as fiction, as non-fiction or in whatever other forms seem most fitting…
As well as our workshops and other projects, we’ve both been busy lately with writing and publishing. Hannah has had a story just published in the anthology High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories, edited by Karen Stevens (no relation!) and Jonathan Taylor, out now from excellent Valley Press. The collection is already attracting fantastic reviews. Meanwhile, her chapbook The Perseids is forthcoming from TSS Publishing in a few months’ time, and when not writing fiction, she is crafting some personal essays.
Meanwhile, Will has just had his forthcoming book Hello Stranger—a non-fiction book about strangers, migration, cross-cultural encounters, and how to build a more welcoming world—snapped up by Granta in the UK, and has also sold the audio rights. See the announcement in The Bookseller here. In December he started working as an occasional philosophy columnist for Aquila children’s magazine, and has recently been doing some work as content consultant on a new philosophy book from Dorling Kindersley. He’s also busy with a narrative non-fiction piece, due to be published in German early in the year.
There are other things in the incubator too, and we’ll post more about them when they have taken shape.
Image: A woman writing about memories of places visited. c. 1850. Library of Congress.
Beginning in February, we’re running a new course at the Parami Institute. Our last course was more skills-based, looking at different aspects of short story writing. This course is taking a different approach, and is more thematic. We’re interested in the stories that make us, in the intimate details of personal and family histories, in local folklore traditions, and in the great myths that underlie whole cultures. This store of myth and tradition has always been a rich resource for writers. What we aim to do is to get participants to develop their ideas and produce their own unique body of work, whilst moving between genres — fiction, non-fiction, reportage and memoir — and honing their skills in developing, drafting and editing.
The course will be held on Monday evenings from 7-9pm, starting on February 11th.
Later this month, we’ll be in Hpa-An in Karen state, training teachers in creative writing teaching. Because our skills in Burmese are poor, and our Karen is non-existent, we’re excited to be sharing our experience of creative writing teaching with local teachers. We hope that this will enable participants to return to their classrooms ready to take their own creative approaches to inspiring new generations of writers, whatever the language. Continue reading “Creative Writing Teacher Training in Hpa-An”→
We’re currently in Mawlamyine, in Mon state, for a few days, and yesterday we met up with Ko Myint Than of the MYMA (Mon Youth Missionary Association), an educational organisation that works to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of Mon literature. Mon language is currently on UNESCO’s list of vulnerable languages, and so this is hugely important work. Mon, incidentally, is a fascinating language. It belongs to the Mon-Khmer group, so is not closely related to Burmese, although Burmese uses a modified version of Old Mon script. Alongside Mon language and literature, the MYMA also works on developing students’ skills in English and in Buddhist study. Continue reading “Work in Progress in Mon State”→
Our short story class at the Parami Institute in Yangon is now in full swing, and it has been a lot of fun. We have been working with a committed and talented group of Burmese writers, exploring a whole range of storytelling skills. The photo above comes from last night’s session on Aristotle’s Poetics and story structure. Into the New Year, we’re planning further courses at Parami as well as a range of projects elsewhere. We’ll keep you posted!