For centuries, great writers have opened windows into other worlds, and allowed countries -- often for the very first time -- a glimpse into a different culture and a different way of living. Through their work, writers connect cultures on a people-to-people level. The art of creative writing is fundamental to freedom of expression and a reason why the U.S. Department of State has sponsors exchange programs like the International Writing Program.
This past month, the State Department sent four of the best American writers and poets on our first International Writing Program delegation to Burma. The group included former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, writers Brenda Hillman and ZZ Packer, and Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program. During their historic visit, the group led creative writing workshops with university students and local writers and presented readings of their own work. The visit marked the first time in recent memory that U.S. Embassy Rangoon collaborated with state-run universities on programming and guest lectures.
Through this exchange program many of the students and faculty gained new exposure to modern American literature. The American writers brought a different perspective on literature as a means of expression, and welcomed the students' personal thoughts on pieces of their own work. The Burmese students and faculty questioned the writers on the creative writing process, the rules for writing a poem, and literary theories. Later in the week, the American writers had a chance to meet with local poets, writers, and artists to get a pulse on the writing scene in Burma.
Each fall, the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' International Writing Program hosts the oldest and largest multinational writing residency in the world, bringing outstanding authors from every continent to the University of Iowa. Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 130 nations have taken part in the Fall Residency. Throughout the year, the program sends delegations like this one of American writers and professors to select countries for tours, lectures, and workshops.
This delegation is just one example of how the Department of State cultivates the relationship between the United States and Burma, not only between our governments, but also our people. It was only fitting that we continue this dialogue with writers: practitioners of one of the first forms of cultural diplomacy.