Anna: American with a Nepali Heart

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A translation of Tulsi Pravas’s article about me (original linked to here), which is a condensed version of the speech he gave to introduce me at the Ali Miya Prize ceremony.

Anna: American with a Nepali Heart

Tulsi Pravas

Pokhara, 26 February 2016

Samadhan News

Equally dedicated not only to research on Nepali folk and dohori but also to singing and musical creation, Dr. Anna Stirr’s facility with the Nepali language is so impressively fluent that when she speaks it is as if she is actually speaking her own mother tongue. 

On the occasion of the 98th birth anniversary of the late poet Ali Miya, who dedicated his entire life to Nepali folk song, folk poetry, and folk music, the Ali Miya Folk Literature Academy of Pokhara will give the Ali Miya Prize 2072 to this tireless devotee, who despite her foreign name and citizenship, has become fully Nepali in her scholarly work and field of creative interest.

One who has dedicated her life to Nepali folklore, its study and research, and the promotion of Nepali folk music and folk literature, who has been committed to it throughout her life, who has experientially understood the pathos of Nepali folk song and who has perhaps even overtaken us, this is Anna Marie Stirr. As she receives the Ali Miya Prize from the Ali Miya Academy, which is dedicated to the uplift of Nepali folk song, folk music, and folk literature in general, I would first like to give Anna Marie Stirr words of congratulations, from myself and from the entire Academy – I would like to dedicate them with a pure heart, and with the good feeling that the entire world of folklore is honored and proud to dedicate this prize to her, I personally and the whole Academy are happy to express these sentiments. Also, our honored individual is celebrating her 37th birthday* this month, and on this joyful occasion we would like to wish her good health, long life, and prosperity.

It is certain that Anna Marie Stirr was not born a Nepali. 36 years ago in the Nepali year 2036, on the 27th day of the month of Phagun, and the 12th day of March 1980, the daughter of Richard Lee Stirr and Gail Marie Stirr made America her homeland, coming into the world and having her first sensory experiences there, and, I feel, her diverse body of work confirms that she was blessed with a rainbow of talents. Now, she has made her home in the country of her birth, living in Honolulu and making her living as an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii; Anna has also worked in the Netherlands, England, Nepal, and other countries at various universities and schools, lecturing on language, music, culture, and other subjects.

With a deep interest in learning about music, folk customs, and folklore studies from an early age, she completed her Master’s level education from America’s world-famous university, Columbia University in New York, and received her PhD from the same university on the subject of the various symbolisms found in Nepali dohori songs. She is working tirelessly in her field of interest, treating her work as true religion, and because of this Dr. Anna has received academic grants from various institutions, in a list whose details are very long. And as she has only reached the 36thspring of her life, in light of the wonderful work she has done, she is now not only an individual, but has become an entire institution, and I do not feel it would be superlative to say that the work she has done would even be difficult for an entire institution to complete on its own.

Equally dedicated not only to research on Nepali folk and dohori but also to singing and musical creation, Dr. Anna Stirr’s facility with the Nepali language is so impressively fluent that when she speaks it is as if she is actually speaking her own mother tongue. With an extraordinary love for Nepali songs, music, and folk culture, Dr. Anna’s book on Nepali songs, entitled Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal is being published by Oxford University Press, and her articles about Nepali songs, music, and culture have been published in many academic journals.**

Likewise, her research articles on this subject have found good places in various books. For her studies, performance, and community service she was honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Mortar Board in 2002, and has received other honors as well; the multitalented Anna has experience spread throughout the fields of journalism, grant-making, reviews, criticism, and research direction. Her mother tongue is English yet in addition to Nepali she also has knowledge of Spanish, Hindi, French, Dutch, and Tibetan, and expanding her horizons as a multilingual researcher, she has given presentations of research in multiple places, the list of whose titles would take a long time to read.

A truly extraordinary rainbow of talents, tireless work ethic, and absorption in intensive fieldwork and research with ease are her main features, in my view. Although she is an American citizen whose mother tongue is English, the depth of interest and ongoing activities she has demonstrated on behalf of the folk song and folklore of an underdeveloped country like Nepal is exemplary and will remain so.

At a time when today’s generations are caught up in the novelties of western culture, the work she has done on Nepali songs, music, and culture and their originality, depth, and profundity is not simply that of providing information, rather, I feel, her contribution to promoting Nepali songs, music, and culture all over the world cannot be expressed in words. She has sifted through the seeds of Nepali songs, sorted the feelings of the Nepali heart found therein – happiness and sorrow, glances of joy, love and loss, meeting and parting, etc., measured their depths and heights and placed them within her heart as her own; she has embraced and enjoyed Nepali language and melodies, worked and continues to work for their uplift, and expresses her commitment to continue this work even further.

We can now find that a Nepali heart has come to beat within her. Her tireless footsteps have traveled far in pursuit of worlds of authentic songs in Nepali language. In studying and researching Nepali songs and music she has undergone many enjoyable challenges, and perhaps at some points she may have even endured some insults, yet she has been and will continue to be honored. In the coming days we have no doubt that many hidden aspects of Nepali songs and music will have the opportunity to come to light in her publications. Finally, I offer her my warm congratulations again for receiving this honor. Long live folklore!

(Author Tulsi Pravas is a PhD Candidate in Nepali Folk Song).

*Nepalis often count the year in the womb so in Nepal I am sometimes presented as a year older than in the US. My birthday’s correct!

**Yes, the book is not yet published and the number of articles I’ve published is fewer than that expressed in the Nepali version of the article (and you can read some of them here).