Old Demon, New Deities launched in Kathmandu

Editor Tenzin Dickie reads from the Tibetan story collection, Old Demon, New Deities, during its launch in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 27 June 2019.

Editor Tenzin Dickie reads from the Tibetan story collection, Old Demon, New Deities during its launch in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 27 June 2019. Tibet Sun/Contributor

Tibet Sun Contributor

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 28 June 2019

Old Demon, New Deities: Twenty-One Short Stories from Tibet, the first-ever anthology of Tibetan writers, was launched in Nepal yesterday in an evening of inspiring cultural programmes.

The event was kicked off with a 40-minute long conversation between the book’s editor Tenzin Dickie and writer-translator Muna Gurung on the historical and contemporary aspects of Tibetan writing.

Muna Gurung is also the founder of Kathmandu writers’ group KathaSatha, one of the organisers of the event.

More than 100 people of all backgrounds and nationalities attended the event at the Taragaon Museum in Boudha, Kathmandu.

Dickie, currently a Fulbright Fellow in Nepal, is the editor at Treasury of Lives, a biographical database of Tibetan history, in New York City, US. Born in India in Patlikul near Manali (Himachal Pradesh) to Tibetan parents, she relocated to the US in her teens with her parents under the US government’s rehabilitation program for Tibetans.

After high school in Boston, she did her BA in English from Harvard University. She later earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing and literary translation from Columbia University, New York.

During the interview, Dickie read from her introduction to the book, in which she described how Tibetan writers are finally reclaiming their literary space after having become “literary orphans” following the historical rupture that Tibet suffered from the Chinese occupation 60 years ago.

She also read a sampling of works from the book, including stories by Pema Bhum, a New York-based writer; Bhuchung D Sonam, a Dharamshala-based Tibetan author, poet, and translator; and the US-based poet and academic Tsering Wangmo Dhompa. In all the book includes 21 stories from 16 Tibetan authors.

Tibetan authors are boldly experimenting with storytelling, and each of these stories is opening new doors in their own ways. Sonam’s story, “The Connection”, a thriller, has practically invented Tibetan genre fiction, she said.

Secular literature in the Tibetan community hitherto has also been somewhat eclipsed (and also rendered one-dimensional) by the great success of Tibetan Buddhist literature, with the tremendous energy and resources that went into the study of sutras and tantras and commentaries on Indian philosophical texts. The Buddhist objective, Dickie said, was the liberation from “samsara” through the “elimination of desire.”

Desire, however, she continued, is the starting point of all fiction. And the publication of Old Demons, New Deities, is in a way aimed at upending the dynamic and plugging the holes in the Tibetan literary world, by giving space for stories about ordinary lives to be published.

While many Tibetan writers have emerged both in Tibet and in exile over the years, they have remained rather scattered, due mainly to the relatively unorganized nature of the Tibetan community. Some writers such as Dhompa and Tibetan poet Tenzin Tsudue, however, have achieved significant popular success.

During the interview, Dickie said a strong wish to see a book of Tibetan short stories — a guide to the lush landscape of the Tibetan literary world as it stands now — gave her the courage to take up the project. She found inspiration from many writers who are breaking new grounds in the otherwise fertile area of Tibetan literature. Reading Tsundue’s critically-acclaimed poem, “When It Rains in Dharamshala”, made her aware for the first time of the possibilities of Tibetan writing in English, she said.

She described the long and arduous process of seeing the landmark collection through publication, working with its many authors, and not least the technical challenges of rendering Tibetan stories into English. Since the Tibetan language, for instance, lacks articles, she had to make many choices to give more “specificity” as often needed in appeared in English.

Old Demon, New Deities marks a rebirth of Tibetan writing, both in Tibetan language and in English. The beautifully-produced anthology is a gamechanger and publishing phenomenon because for the first time Tibetans, especially the younger generation, can now read about their lives through the medium of short stories.

Such literary and imaginary spaces become even more critical in the Tibetan context, according to Tenzin Dickie, given the “deterritorialized” nature of the Tibetan nation, and the fact that most of the narratives and memories are in danger of being lost after the passing away of the elder generation of Tibetans.

The evening’s programme included Tibetan music performances, momos, lucky draws, and readings from young students. The event was organized by KathaSatha and The Taragaon Museum. KathaSatha fosters a writing and storytelling culture by creating, supporting writers and writing from Nepal.

Old Demon, New Deities: Twenty-One Short Stories from Tibet is available at OR Books.

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