:: Starting next Friday, a quartet of literary love-ins will be rolling out in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou, each lasting two to three weeks. (March is looking that much brighter now, yes?)
Over 50 international and Chinese novelists, journalists, and writers of many a stripe will be presenting workshops and talks as part of the <insert city here> International Literary Festival series. (Note: the events are all in English.) While the Shanghai edition (organized by the M Group) and the ones in the other three cities (put on by The Bookworm) are not officially affiliated, the festivals do share some names. (Though I am curious, after comparing programmes side-by-side: why not more?)
Past years – and only speaking for the Shanghai incarnation here – have seen some heavyweights on the festival rosters. 2007 had esteemed man of letters Gore Vidal, fresh-from-the-Bookers Kiran Desai, author Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club, Saving Fish from Drowning), lefty Canadian badass John Ralston-Saul, and travel writers Jan Morris and Simon Winchester. (The former mentored the latter, and if you ever get a chance to hear these master raconteurs tell their tales themselves, jump on it.)
Last year, attendees included Arundhati Roy with Pankaj Mishra (whose talk on being an activist/author got the crowd nicely worked up); Hari Kunzru (who then went on trip to Moganshan, resulting in, among other things, this tale); architect Paul Andreu; and the Atlantic’s man in China, the ever erudite James Fallows, who spoke on his adopted home of the past few years – he’s lived in both Shanghai and Beijing since 2006 – as well as the Iraq War (he’d just published Blind Into Baghdad) and the 2008 US presidential campaign (then in the maelstrom of March primaries).
I’ll be frank – this philistine has not heard of many of featured names on this year’s bills, which seem to have fewer household names than in years past. This, of course, says nothing about the quality of the event, it merely that it’s time to do some homework. (In past years, all relevant titles have been available pre- and post-festival at Chaterhouse in Shanghai, and the Bookworm stores in the other cities. Call ahead, though, to make sure that’s the case for whatever you’re looking for.)
Some sessions that look interesting:
- “China on the Internet” with Andrew Lih, Vanessa Na and Simon Elegant moderated by Jeremy Goldkorn (March 3, 7:30pm, Beijing)
- James Fallows (Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China), journalist, author, national correspondent for The Atlantic, and – random fact! – youngest presidential speechwriter in American history (for Jimmy Carter; yes, he was even younger than Jon Favreau) (March 7, 3:00pm, Shanghai)
- Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes), the Pakistani journalist whose debut novel – a political mystery/comedy – was longlisted for the Booker (March 8, 3:00pm, Shanghai)
- The Inaugural FT Debate: China vs Obama’s America, with Simon Schama, Richard McGregor, Jonathan Fenby and Geoff Dyer (March 15, 5:00pm, Shanghai)
- Fuschia Dunlop (Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper): chef and food writer on Chinese cuisine (various dates and times; Beijing, Chengdu, Suzhou)
There are plenty of others sessions that may be worth checking out: Israeli writer Alon Hilu (Death of a Monk); That’s founder Mark Kitto (who many know, and who recently published his China Cuckoo memoir); adventurer Robin Hanbury-Tenison (The Seventy Great Journeys in History); American essayist and translator (for Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz) Eliot Weinberger (An Elemental Thing); hot new Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le (The Boat); Shanghainese historian and author Lynn Pan (Shanghai Style: Art and Design Between the Wars); and a host of journalists (Ian Buruma, Barbara Demick, HS Liu, Duncan Hewitt, Paul French) in various arrangements for the Bookworm’s “Committing Journalism” series.
For those saying “pass” because “the writers aren’t as big as you’re used to” or bellyaching about why we can’t have bigger literary festivals, newsflash: as English is not the main language in China, the English-language literary scene is – no surprise – not all that big. (In the same vein, no griping about why Chaterhouse doesn’t have that first edition Neruda you’ve been hankering for, please.) If you want more English-language cultural events in future, show up and support what is happening when it is happening, and help build the scene you want. </soapbox>
Hats off to AsiaMedia, The M Group, and the Bookworm family for making these happen. Not sure how long the Bookworms have been involved, but the Shanghai edition has been a labour of love for its organizers for now nine years and counting.
Programmes vary by city, and the above information will not apply to all four festivals. Please check the respective websites for full details.
Shanghai International Literary Festival. March 6 to 22. The Glamour Bar and M on the Bund (6/F and 7/F, No. 5 The Bund, 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu; Tel: +86 21 6350 9988). Regular sessions RMB 65 (includes one drink), prices differ for season tickets and literary lunches. Tickets through MyPiao.com or at 400-620-6006. Full details on the website.
Beijing International Literary Festival. March 6 to 20. The Bookworm – Beijing (Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing; Tel: +86 01 6586 9507). Most events RMB 50 (includes one drink). Full details on the website.
Chengdu International Literary Festival. March 6 to 21. The Bookworm – Chengdu (Yujie Dong Lu #2-7, Renmin Nan Lu #28, Chengdu; Tel: +86 28 8552 0177). Most events RMB 50 (includes one drink). Full details on the website.
Suzhou International Literary Festival. March 6 to 20. The Bookworm – Suzhou (Gunxiufang 77, Shiquan Lu, Suzhou; Tel: +86 139 1558 9753). RMB 30, pricing differs for workshops and literary dinners. Full details on the website. // PL
[Image by Vipul Mathur, used under a Creative Common license.]
[Panthea Lee is a guest contributor on 56minus1.]