Beijing International Book Fair, Days 2 and 3: Writers Get Hot
By Eric Abrahamsen, published
After a fairly lukewarm showing on Day 1, attendance at the book fair spiked noticeably on September 1st and 2nd. A number of the major Chinese publishers (like Fonghong and People’s Literature) held their major events during these days, and the digital publishing booth had a fairly full schedule. Open Book, Ltd. gave two presentations on the 1st related to digital publishing in China, the first a market analysis and the second designed around the results of a reader’s survey carried out among online readers and bookshop visitors.
Day Two also saw the 10+10 Publishers Forum, the BIBF's attempt to coax naturally timid publishers out of their booths and into closer contact. It actually worked quite well this time: on the Dutch side was more or less every publisher of literary fiction in The Netherlands, while the Chinese were (somewhat oddly) represented mostly by university presses. Both sides were genuinely pleased to meet the other, though, and namecards fairly flew. One idle observation apropos of nothing: the Dutch representatives were all editors in their late thirties or up, men and women both. The Chinese side was made of almost solely of 25-year-old girls. Perhaps because they're all rights managers, and rights managers must speak English, and very few over 25 can hack English to save their lives? We'll never know.
In terms of writer involvement, Day 3 was definitely the climax. The Dutch pavilion featured conversations between Running Through Zhongguancun author Xu Zechen and Margriet de Moor, as well as between writer/director Zhu Wen (I Love Dollars) and Herman Koch.
At 2:00 that afternoon, People’s Literature Publishing House put on an event featuring the Chinese authors Li Lanni and Wang Gang alongside the German-language authors Sherko Fatah and Norbert Gstrein (Fatah is German, Gstrein, Austrian). Paper Republic had a front-row seat and got copies of each author’s latest book, published by People’s Literature: Wang Gang’s The Curse of Forbes (福布斯咒语), Li Lanni’s There is No One Out There (旷野无人), Fatah’s The Dark Boat (Die Dunkel Schiff) and Gstrein’s One (Einer). The theme of the conversation was “Entrapment and Flight (困境与逃离),” and it was bandied around relatively carelessly in the first half an hour before Wang Gang began asking Fatah about Iraq—who put Saddam Hussein in power, what Iraq would do now that he is gone—and things began to get interesting. Unfortunately, we had to come back to the News Center to write news briefings, so we missed the answer!
The BIBF Poetry Night was held that evening at Trainspotting, and even now we are apprehensive about how we should describe what happened. Canaan interpreted the event, which featured three well-known poets from The Netherlands (Anna Enquist, J. Bernlef and Ramsey Nasr) alongside three poets from China (Xi Chuan, Wang Jiaxin and Yan Jun). The moderator, Yan Zhongfang, was a radio anchor who might have been more comfortable on a television stage with a full script than among six poets with finicky literary expectations. The microphones s**t the proverbial bed less than halfway through the event, so when Yan Jun brought out a bullhorn (!) for his recitation that became the bully pulpit (ha!) from then onward. Ramsey Nasr, whose experience as an actor became evident in discussion, beat the audience with questions until they finally responded, and once unleashed the young listeners fired back at the poets with gusto. At least two poems were composed on scene, the jaded Bernlef doled out disdain with a large ladle and the uptight interpreter from New England experienced new levels of awkward.