Latest news

Myanmar: PEN mourns the passing of PEN Myanmar president, Nyi Pu Lay

July 06, 2023 IN WIP
Share this

22 June 2023: The PEN community mourns the passing of writer, artist, and President of PEN Myanmar, Nyein Chan (henceforth referred to by his pen name, Nyi Pu Lay).

On the morning of 21 June 2023, Nyi Pu Lay died following a heart attack. When Myanmar’s military took power in a coup on 1 February 2021, Nyi Pu Lay was forced to go into hiding after a warrant was put out for his arrest for defaming the military under Section 505(A) of the Criminal Code, a charge frequently used to target dissidents and those who have publicly criticised the coup. Subjected to difficult living conditions, he was prevented from receiving adequate medical care due to the risk of arrest by the military junta.

 ‘Nyi Pu Lay embodied the best of PEN. His writing was cherished by young and old, and he lived according to his principles despite great personal cost to his freedom and health. The PEN community mourns his tragic passing, but he will continue to live on through his words,’ said Burhan Sonmez, President of PEN International.

Nyi Pu Lay lived as a writer, photographer, artist, and as PEN Myanmar’s longest-serving president. Born in 1952, he was the youngest son of Ludu Daw Amar and Ludu U Hla, both prominent dissident writers and journalists. Nyi Pu Lay followed in his parent’s footsteps, becoming one of Myanmar’s most celebrated writers. He began writing after his father’s death and published his first short story, A Pinch of Salt, in 1985. He quickly developed a reputation for his satirical prose, and over the following decades, he published over a dozen collections of short stories and several novels. In 2016, Nyi Pu Lay received Myanmar’s National Literature Prize for his book, The Sweet Honey Drop on the Sharp Scalpel Blade, which recounts the life of Dr Thein Hlaing, a surgeon who became revered for his selfless work in support of others.

As with his parents, Nyi Pu Lay was unyielding in his principled opposition to military rule. In 1978, he was first imprisoned along with his mother for several months in retaliation for his elder brother allegedly joining the outlawed Communist Party of Burma. In 1990, Nyi Pu Lay was arrested again and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for alleged contact with ‘illegal organisations’. He was released in 1999 along with fellow writer and founder of PEN Myanmar, Ma Thida.

Some of Nyi Pu Lay’s most recent writing has been translated into English and was published as part of a collection of essays and poems titled Picking off new shoots will not stop the spring, which was edited by Ko Ko Thett and Brian Haman. Nyi Pu Lay’s essay, The dharma will prevail, reflects on the resolve of Myanmar’s youth in facing the unrelenting violence unleashed by the military junta:

‘So the military beat and smashed the protesters with batons, threw tear bombs and stun bombs to disperse crowds. They would also use battle-grade grenades and live rounds. They employed snipers who shot innocent people in the head. Civil servants who were on strike were forcibly evicted from their homes if their homes were government properties.

And yet the protesters’ blood was red with courage. They were not to be cowed. Observers couldn’t believe that the generation that was accustomed to K-pop and game apps had come up with several inventive forms of protest that had not been seen before.

Theirs was the fight between the dharma and ah-dharma, the tug of war between right and wrong, the arm-wrestling match between fresh imaginative minds and rotten kleptocrats.

More than fifty million people against a band of armed men.

A last-ditch fight.’

Nyi Pu Lay will be remembered through his writing, which will continue to serve as a source of joy and inspiration for generations do come.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of Asia/ Pacific Region at PEN International. Email:

Subscribe for news & updates from PEN Melbourne.

People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International