Burmese poet and writer Moe Way, who co-founded Myanmar's The Eras publishing house to give voice to many of his country's unheard poets and writers, is one of five finalists for the 2016 Freedom to Publish Prize.
Burmese poet and writer Moe Way entered Myanmar’s literary world in 1991 with a short story featured in the popular progressive literary magazine Moewai,
Over the following years, he established himself as a respected poet and writer by publishing numerous poetry collections and short stories from 1994 onwards.
In 2001, Moe Way and two colleagues established the publishing house The Eras (Hnit-Kar-Lah-Myarr in Burmese) to address the lack of poetry publishing in Myanmar. At that time poetry publication was impossible due to the limited market and very high level of censorship. Myanmar’s Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) imposed severe restrictions on poetry publications, and most poems receiving PSB permission were redacted beyond all recognition, often with lines or stanzas missing, or even whole poems blacked out.
The first book published by The Eras was a collection of Japanese poems translated from English into Burmese by Zeyar Lynn, called Modern Japanese Poetry. It, too, underwent heavy PSB censorship but, undeterred, The Eras continued to push the boundaries of what could get past the censors and onto bookshelves.
Publishing poetry exclusively proved too great a financial challenge, so The Eras began to take on other literary genres while remaining committed to high quality poetry.
Until 2004 Moe Way ran The Eras single-handed, and it was only his ingenuity and foresight that kept the company afloat amid severe government restrictions. The Eras gradually became a leading poetry publisher, publishing collections by the pioneers of modern (‘Khit Por’) Myanmar Poetry, such as Maung Chaw New, Aung Cheimt, Thukhamein Hlaing, and Phor Way, and playing a central role in changing the course of mainstream poetry in 2006 with the publication of Zeyar Lynn’s ground-breaking collection, Htin-shar-di-a-hmat-a-tar (‘Distinguishing Features’) and works by emerging young poets.
One key achievement was the publication of works by Ludu Sein Win, a prominent dissident and figurehead of the struggle for freedom of expression at a time of harsh repression by the military junta. While many books submitted by The Eras were banned by the Press Scrutiny Board, Moe Way was one of the few publishers somehow able to publish literature that addressed political issues, journalism and youth issues during that dark time.
To date, The Eras has published 176 books, including more than 80 poetry collections. It also produces Kabyar Lawka (‘Poetry World’), a quarterly ‘quasi-poetry’ magazine; so-termed because the Burmese Ministry of Culture does not grant licenses to genuine poetry magazines. Issue six of Kabyar Lawka, which is edited by Moe Way and two other editors, recently topped the bestsellers’ list, an unprecedented achievement for any poetry-related publication in Myanmar.
As well as running The Eras, Moe Way is the general secretary of the Myanmar Poets’ Union, the country’s only dedicated poetry organization, and has been in involved in helping launch the new PEN Myanmar Centre. He lives in Yangon with his wife and daughter.