Notes Towards Trying To Help Get A PEN Center Started In Mongolia
The first thing I did was get the guidelines for creating a PEN center translated (by a professional, don't worry) into Mongolian so Chilaajav could more easily read them. His response was very positive; he's quite interested in the idea. The heads of the Mongolian Arts Council, the Mongolian Writer's Union, and the Mongolian Academy of Culture and Poetry are on his provisional list for PEN center membership/board membership. Apparently there was a Monglolian PEN center a while ago, but hardly anyone knew about it and it has been defunct for several years. The head of that club, a well known poet by the name of Ayurzana, would again head up this current effort. (Ayurzana, ironically, is in Iowa until November.)
I asked Chilaajav for a meeting with Ariunaa, the head of the Mongolian Arts Council, and the three of us sat down last week. I provided her with a copy of the PEN center formation guidelines, and she is on board. She was supportive of the idea of a more sustained way to support Mongolian writers and the translation of their work than the odd young scholar coming in for a few months here and there.
Last month I met the very nice U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia--he actually had me read an Elizabeth Bishop poem with no warning in front of everyone! This Ambassador, Mark Minton, happens to be very fond of poetry and said some U.S. funds could potentially be set aside to help start a PEN center for Mongolia under the umbrella of cultural exchange between our country and theirs. I asked Chilaajav and Ariunaa how they felt about this (PEN centers have varying policies on accepting aid from governments) and they were happy to hear of this possible help.
I am going with Chilaajav to meet further with the Amassador once we are able to touch base with Mr. Mend-Oyoo, the head of the Academy of Culture and Poetry. I'd like to give him the guidelines also. We will then be able to meet with the Ambassador with the certainty that the heads of all three organizations are on board--and this is a very good start, since they're three different organizations and to begin with diversity like this is promising.