Tuesday, March 25, 2008

120

The following is a letter the kind Mr. Dashnyam is helping to translate and put in a major Mongolian newspaper, along with the International PEN Constitution and other information about forming a branch of International PEN:

Open Letter to Mongolian Writers


This information about forming a branch of PEN International is being made public because the formation of a Mongolian branch of International PEN, if it is to be approved by the PEN International committee, must be a public process.

I arrived last fall for my year in Mongolia to work with writers--with the goal of assisting and facilitating Mongolians writers’ formation of a Mongolian branch of International PEN. I came with information and guidelines about the formation of a branch of International PEN and contacts at International PEN headquarters in London, and I have tried to disseminate the same information to all writers I know of in Mongolia.

Early on in the conversations I had with writers about the possibility of forming a Mongolian branch of International PEN, I came into contact with a misunderstanding that has plagued the effort to form a Mongolian branch of International PEN for six months. The misunderstanding is this: “PEN club” is a phrase familiar to all Mongolian writers from times past, and it connotes a closed club of writers who almost always agree with one another. This is not what a Mongolian branch of International PEN would be. The difference between a “PEN club” of yore and a Mongolian branch of International PEN would be that this branch connects to the worldwide association of PEN centers across the world, and Mongolian writers would send representatives to vote and participate in the annual International PEN congress. A Mongolian PEN Center, if it is approved by PEN International congress, would be required to have an open application process available to any Mongolian writer who would like to apply.

The next argument I always hear is that this kind of PEN branch in Mongolia would be impossible to create because if two Mongolian writers do not agree on who the best writer is, they will never work together. I respect Mongolian culture, and also the right of Mongolian writers to have aesthetic differences, and I do not believe that writers have to agree on everything to do something like create a Mongolian branch of International PEN, because PEN Centers number above 145 centers in over 100 countries around the world, and I know for a fact that writers in those centers do not always agree on everything. In fact, debates and differences are a healthy part of any civic process, including the formation of a Mongolian branch of International PEN. The fact of the matter is this: Mongolian literature is not translated, published or read abroad to the extent that it should be around the world. Every Mongolian writer I have met agrees with that fact, and that is the only fact Mongolian writers need to agree on to begin to create a Mongolian branch of International PEN. International PEN requires that the application to become a member of any country's PEN Center be open to the public, and it also requires that the meetings to begin a PEN Center be public. I am very happy to report that the first public meeting, held in December 5th in Ulaanbaatar, was successful in that over the required 20 Mongolian writers signed the charter. The next meeting, to happen this spring, will be a public forum for the creation of a constitution for a Mongolian PEN Center.

I respect very, very much the organizations Mongolian writers have created over the years. The effort to create a Mongolian branch of International PEN would not be an effort to close down those groups, even the ones called "PEN Club." I understand that there will be disagreements as a Mongolian branch of International PEN is formed, but I still believe that process should happen, because with a culture as rich in literary heritage as Mongolia, with as many poets and journalists as Mongolia has, I believe it is wrong that Mongolia is not represented to the extent that it should be on the international literary scene. That is what this effort to create a Mongolian branch of International PEN is about: to give Mongolian writers and Mongolian literature the worldwide recognition, inclusion, and representation it deserves.


Ming Holden

1 comment:

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