ko ko thett is the co-editor of Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring, a new collection of “witness essays and poems from Burma/Myanmar 1988-2021.”
The New Symposium will convene writers, artists, and thinkers from America, Greece, and around the world to focus on a common theme. It is organized by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, funded through a grant from the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and co-sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation in Greece, EKEMEL (European Translation Center-Literature & Human Sciences), and the Office of the Mayor of Paros.
Those familiar with Plato and Socrates will agree there is no more appropriate venue than Greece for renewing the tradition of robust communal dialogue out of which grew one of the world's great intellectual traditions. Since the project's conception, the Fulbright Foundation in Greece and the Athens-based translation center EKEMEL have been active partners in the New Symposium's development. And Paros, it was universally agreed, makes an ideal location for the event: for millennia, this large, stately island in the center of the Cyclades has been a hub for the trading of knowledge and culture; a supporter of literature; and a palimpsest of diverse civilizations.
Paros became a maritime power in the 8th century B.C. when it began to trade with the Phoenicians. Seafaring made Paros a crossroads of the Mediterranean, connected by history and commerce to the Balkans, the Near East, and North Africa. This "maritime knot" captures the energy latent in the vital exchange of ideas, know-how, and points of view—the very same energy that will rise from the dialogues at the New Symposium.
Paros is also a birthplace to poets. The most famous, Archilochus, introduced personal elements in lyrical forms previously devoted solely to heroics. That love of literature continues today: in the Parian city of Lefkes, as part of its mission to foster better translation in literature and across the human sciences, EKEMEL maintains the House of Literature, where translators from around Europe are sponsored to residencies. The New Symposium's discussion sessions will be held in this bastion of literary exchange.
Then there is the island's own cultural diversity. Because of the Mediterranean's volatile history, the strategically placed island was conquered and occupied numerous times—first by Crete, and later by the Macedonian, Roman, and Byzantine Empires; it was also ruled by the Venetians, the Franks, and the Turks—before the War of Independence in 1821 and Paros's inclusion in modern Greece. Each new civilization left its vestiges, and one of the clearest marks of this diverse history is the island's architecture. Every building is home to a blend of architectural elements, making Paros an ideal and positive cross-cultural space in which to conduct a symposium on what we collectively as human beings hold in common.
Finally, the Office of the Mayor of Paros has embraced this exchange. Thanks to the public events that the Mayor and his staff have offered to coordinate (please see the tentative schedule below), the New Symposium promises to produce not only new ideas, but also goodwill from the island's residents.