Taking Orwell back to Burma

Wednesday 30 January 2013

  • The Orwell Prize goes to Burma
  • Leads panels and a lecture at Burma’s first international literary festival
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, Timothy Garton Ash, Rory Stewart and Fergal Keane to speak
  • Gives out hundreds of copies of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four

The Orwell Prize is in Burma to support and participate in the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, to host debates on Burma’s future, and to give out hundreds of Orwell classics. Aung San Suu Kyi, the patron of the literary festival, will deliver a speech on the festival’s significance for the gradual opening of Burma, on Saturday 2nd February: “I am delighted” Aung San Suu Kyi has said, “to lend my support and personal participation to this first Irrawaddy Literary Festival. Literature has always been a big part of my life and I hope this festival, which brings together some of the finest talent from Burma, the UK and elsewhere will encourage more people to explore the world of literature and further their understanding of the English language” Past Orwell Prize winner Timothy Garton Ash will deliver an Orwell lecture. Zarganar, Rory Stewart, Fergal Keane and Timothy Garton Ash will participate in a panel – ‘Witness of violence’ – on writing under censorship. Jean Seaton, director of The Orwell Prize, will speak on Orwell and Burma. Hundreds of copies of Orwell’s Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, previously banned in Burma, will be given to Burmese attending the festival. The books – which arrived in Rangoon by special delivery on today, have been funded by The Orwell Prize’s ‘Buy a Book for Burma’ campaign as well as generous support from Penguin Books. The Irrawaddy Literary Festival is Burma’s first international literary festival and has been organised by the British Ambassador’s wife Jane Heyn: “The festival’s aim” Heyn says “is to provide a catalyst for the exchange of ideas across cultures, and the event will reflect the extraordinary vibrancy of a country in the midst of immense change”. Director of The Orwell Prize, Jean Seaton says; “Being asked to help at the first literary festival in Burma was impossible to refuse. Orwell would have wanted us to take something back to a place that he owed so much to is a very demanding exciting development for the prize as we wait expectantly for the entries to flood in. Orwell’s values of integrity, realism and clarity have never seemed more appropriate – both at home and abroad.” In 1922 Orwell was posted as a police officer for the British Imperial Service in Burma. He stayed five years and wrote ‘The Hanging’ and ‘Shooting an Elephant’. It was a formative experience and the inspiration for Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days. Now in its 20th year, this is the Prize’s first trip abroad running panels with their writers. Later on in February they will also take Orwell back to Wigan for workshops with teens by writers including John Hegley and Rosie Boycott as part of a longer term initiative launched by Stephen Armstrong, with Will Self.


1. The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded to the work – for the book and for the journalism – which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. 2. The Prize was founded by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick in its present form in 1993, awarding its first prizes in 1994. The Media Standards Trust, Political Quarterly and Orwell Trust are partners in running the Prize, through the Council of the Orwell Prize. Richard Blair (Orwell’s son) is a sponsor, with support from A. M. Heath. 4. For further information, please contact the Operations Manager, Katriona Lewis, at katriona.lewis@mediastandardstrust.org, or on 0207 229 5722.