On Thursday 23 April we organised East meets West: Authors Talking to Authors - the most ambitious of our events in London. For the film of the event, click here. We brought together four authors, three based in the UK and one Chinese author – Han Dong, and to talk about writing, in a bookshop in Central London (Oxfam Bookshop, 91 Marylebone High Street, for you Londoners). It was to be a cross-cultural sort of discussion and we were aiming at a general audience, the sort of person who loves books but hasn't any specialist knowledge of 'world literature'.
From left: Aamer Hussein, Xinran, Richard Lea
So this was scary stuff because it didn’t really fit into any of the usual categories of London literary or translation events. Would anyone come? I was confident that our speakers – an articulate lot – would produce some interesting opinions, but everything Han Dong said or heard would have to be interpreted. Would that stymie the discussion?
We had a really good panel:
- Han Dong, novelist, essayist and poet.
- Aamer Hussein, born in Pakistan, moved to the UK in his teens, writer of short stories and a forthcoming novella. (Also, we discovered, occasional translator from Urdu).
- Xinran, who writes in Chinese but is published almost entirely in English (and other) translation. She is well known to UK readers particularly for non-fiction such as Good Women of China.
- Judith Kazantzis, poet, artist and novelist.
To hold things together and guide the discussion, we had Richard Lea from the Guardian newspaper, who has a strong interest in contemporary Chinese literature.
Last but not least, we had a brilliant interpreter, Joy Ma.
The discussion got pretty lively: What does it mean to be a writer from East or West? How do writers find a personal creative space within the societies in which they live? How does the linguistic tradition which they have inherited, influence their writing? How do they choose a form – poem, novel, short story, non-fiction? How much, or little, do they consider the market and their readership?
We filmed the first part - to see it, click here and download, or view here.
Yes, people did come – not in their hundreds, but enough to fill the room, which was very gratifying. All in all, it was a really special occasion, at least in part because we had such articulate speakers (including the audience). The format worked. We need more of it - it will make a difference.