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First National Conference of Tibetan Writers, 1995

March 15-17, 1995, Dharamsala, India

Organised by

Amnye Machen Institute

The Centre for Advanced Tibetan Studies
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala 176219 H.P. India
Ph/Fax: 91+(1892) 23073

Since 1959, Dharamsala in Northern India has not only served as a temporary political capital but also as a major centre of intellectual and cultural life of Tibetans-in-exile. In recent years it has progressively become the focus for writers and artists from inside Tibet itself.

This has resulted in the growth of a secular literary and journalistic movement in exile, and has also been inspirational in the creation of the Amnye Machen Institute (AMI). This Institute is an independent centre for research and publication aimed at informing the Tibetan people and raising their cultural and intellectual awareness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama inaugurated the Conference and in spite of another engagement the same morning spent one hour with the delegates. In His message he mentioned this conference would have a great and positive impact on the development of Tibetan literature and commended AMI for this and other laudable works. His Holiness remarked that inside Tibet, even more than literature Tibetan words and names were disappearing. It was therefore vital that Tibetans living in a free country should make every effort to protect Tibetan literature. On a more immediate level the Dalai Lama talked about the need for Tibetan writing to modernise and the need for a consistent phonetic system to render all foreign and scientific terms into Tibetan.

Elderly lama scholar/writers from Switzerland and Seattle mingled freely and deliberated not only with younger monk writers but also with long-haired bohemian poets. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy each other's comany. Sober academics and writers from Ladakh and Lahaul, and a Nepalese editor of a Tibetan language paper, added to the variety in peoples and opinions. Everyone was surprised at how much each had in common in their passion for Tibetan literature. In all there were 62 active participants, and a number of observers. Many of the younger writers expressed great satisfaction in being able to meet, many for the first time, older better-known writers living far-away or abroad, and discuss their works with them. A number of the senior writers also expressed their pleasure not only in being able to meet so many younger writers, but were encouraged by their zeal and their ability.

One of the participants Palden Gyal, a poet now living in London, remarked at how much he was enjoying the event but that his feelings were somehow mingled with sadness at the thought of his poet friends back home in Amdo, who could not attend this first ever gathering of poets and writers in Tibetan history.

Ven. Thupten Palden, a robust middle aged monk from Ladakh (Education Department) impressed the interviewer with his prolificacy. Not only had he produced many short stories (his latest collection has just been released) but also a number of radio-plays, which had been broadcast on All India Radio. Thupten Palden praised the efficient organisation and atmosphere of the conference and the high-level of papers and discussion. Ladakh's own tremendous efforts to preserve its literature and culture would certainly gain from these deliberations, Thupten Palden added.

The conference took a very practical turn with all the writers concerned about the modernisation of the language and the need for a modern Tibetan in journalism as well as playwriting and screen-writing. The need for standardisation of Tibetan computer codes, programmes, keyboards etc.

Many participants elected to join PEN International, and also to form a Tibetan chapter.

In the three days all the topics for the discussions were covered though many felt the Conference should have been longer. There was active participation by the writers with many questions and discussions that prolonged the length of each session. The pace and focus of the conference did not slacken at all.

Among the many outstanding papers one that generated much interest was Mr. Tashi Tsering's Survey of Tibetan Women's Writings from the 7th Century Onwards. Much of the information was absolutely new even to the seniors.

In the evening many writers got up in turn to declaim spontaneous verses and to sing songs of their own composition. One of the most popular songs was an ode to Amnye Machen; the mountain as well as the Institute. This spontaneous literary event carried on well into the early hours of the morning.

Publications following the conference are:
1) Full proceedings of the conference
2) Thought on Freedom (Verses, commentaries, etc. written by the participants during the conference) English & Tibetan.

We received a message on the 15th from the headquarters of International PEN (A World Association of Writers) London:

     "We send you our warmest wishes for the success of this, you first
     meeting, which is to be inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As
     an international organisation of writers which fights for endangered
     languages, as well as for our persecuted colleagues, we have a
     particular interest in the preservation of the Tibetan language and
     literature, as well as a particular sympathy for Tibetan writers."

We also received a message from Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1980:

     "Please recieve my words of solidarity and sympathy. I lived a long time
     in exile and I understand your problems and your hopes. You have friends
     in may counteries of the world, and you should be convinced that what
     you write in solitude and isolation will one day be known and remembered
     with gratitude."

Original Announcement for the Conference

                         LITERATURE FOR FREEDOM
              Role of the Tibetan Writer in the Freedom Struggle

                              Theme for the


     The main discussion will be on the role of Tibetan writers in initiating
change and progress in Tibetan society and taking a lead in the freedom
struggle. To ensure that the discussion tackles specific issues and problems,
and does not sink into generalities, a number of participants will be
requested to present papers around which the various aspects of the
discussion will centre. Examples of topics for papers:

1.  Prison Literature: Revealing the Realities of Contemporary Tibetan Life.
2.  Courage in Writing: A Comparison of Russian and Chinese Literature.
3.  Literature vs Propaganda: The Power of Truth .
4.  Gendun Choephel: the Writer as a Social Pioneer.
5.  The Social & Political Limits of Contemporary Tibetan Literature.
6.  Modern Tibetan Women Writers.
7.  Tibetans Writing in English, Chinese, Urdu and Sanskrit.


     To introduce these writers to various new facilities created by AMI for
research and for the publication of their works, not only in book form, but
also in literary and academic journals and newspapers published by AMI.

     To introduce AMI's translation programme of great books of the world
into Tibetan. This would not only provide many writers with an immediate
source of income but also bring about a wider appreciation for modern
humanist literature within Tibetan society.

(We are planning to introduce this in a panel discussion.)


     To form a Tibetan P.E.N. Centre, in order that Tibetan writers view
their profession and ideals in a more global context. Furthermore it is hoped
that membership in P.E.N will provide some minimal protection to writers who
are persecuted by Chinese Occupation authorities.

     The Institute has discussed this project with International P.E.N,
London, and P.E.N. American Centre and has received all necessary agreement
and documentation.


a.   Obligations in Writing: Recognition of Intellectual property,
     necessity of proper publication data in books, submission of copy of
     every publication to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives,
b.   New Tibetan writing. Origins and features. (Panel Discussion).
c.   Academic Writing. Technicalities. (Workshop)
d.   Developing new punctuation conventions, proof-readers marks, and styling
     for contemporary Tibetan writing.(Panel Discussion)
f.   Computers and Tibetan Word Processing programmes.(Workshop).
g.   Playwriting and Scriptwriting. Importance of these in a semi-literate
     society. (Panel Discussion).
h.   Writing for Children. (Panel Discussion).


     The chief guest to the conference will be requested to present the Gedun
Choephel Award. This award will be presented by AMI every three years to an
outstanding Tibetan writer who has maintained his dedication and courage in
the face of persecution and hardship. The award will carry a cash award, and
a specially framed citation. Nominations for this award will be solicited
from all invitees to the conference.


     Arrangements are also being made to organize an exhibition of Tibetan
newspapers and periodicals published in exile including the first Tibetan
newspaper The Tibet Mirror. Photographs of Tibetan media personalities and
the works of Tibetan political cartoonists will also be featured. A detailed
brochure is being prepared which will not only provide a detailed history of
the Tibetan media but also provide a guide to the role of the press in the
democratic process. It is planned to inaugurate this exhibition on the first
day of the Conference.


     About seventy Tibetan writers have already written to confirm their
participation. In all from 80-100 delegates are expected. Among them will be
some of the foremost writer/scholar lamas teaching in the west as well as
other in universities and monasteries in India and Nepal:  such as Dongthok
Rimpoche from Seattle and Rakra Rimpoche from Switzerland. Many younger
writers living in exile and also recently arrived from Tibet will be
participating as well as over thirty editors of cultural/literary journals
and newspapers in exile. Partticipation has also been confirmed from Nepalese
writers who use The Tibetan language , as well as writers from Ladakh,
Kinnaur, Lahaul and Sikkim. Participation is also expected from Bhutan.

     His Holiness as Tibet's best-selling author will grace the ocassion.


     Every participant will be requested on the first day to contribute an
essay, story, verse or else, of no more than a page on the subject of the
Tibetan Freedom Struggle. These will be collected at the end of the
conference and published in book form.

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