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.
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!
We’re delighted to be working over the coming months with the lovely people at Mote Oo, which runs projects on education and social justice. We’ll be consulting for them on their new coursebook on ethical leadership, as well as writing, and possibly piloting, the textbook.
We’re very excited by this, as it is a chance to think about ethics not as something bolted-on to the way that organisations work, but instead as something that runs through everything that they do. Later next week, we’re having some initial discussions up in Hpa-An, in Karen state, and then into the new year we’ll be getting to work on developing some content.
You can find out more about what Mote Oo does by visiting their website.