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Brandeis University

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


Though Tibetan society has always had a literary and creative bent, the genre of secular Tibetan poetry is still very much burgeoning. One of the most unexpected consequences of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the subsequent exile of thousands of Tibetans has been the emergence of a new genre of testimonial writing by refugees, the majority of which is written in the English language. The corpus of work within this genre is still relatively small, but growing all the time, and this expansion begs several complex questions, foremost of which is what purpose such writing serves and to whom it is directed. This paper will provide an overview of the progression towards self-expression in modern Tibetan literature, beginning with the ways in which it departs from tradition. It will also profile some of the most prominent Tibetan poets in exile and their views on the function of written testimonies, their efficacy in the Free Tibet movement and their predictions for the genre in the future. Also included will be an account of the author’s attempts to promote personal writing in the exile community of Dharamsala (the home of the His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the site of the Tibetan government in exile). The paper will conclude with a consideration of the possible roles and responsibilities of foreign writers in Tibetan communities in exile through the author’s own efforts to record the stories of Tibetan refugees with limited English language proficiency in a creative testimonial format written from the perspective of an outsider. These elements combined provide a fairly complete summary of the current state of creative self-expression among Tibetans in exile.


Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Peace and Conflict Studies | Politics and Social Change


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