Editor in Chief of Transportation Press, Rachel Edwards, visited China to discuss international publishing collaborations, this is the first installment of her account of the visit.
At the other end of the table and at a rakish incline, a double bass leans against the wall, outside there are sounds of sweeping, industrial hammering and birds. The wind that arrives each year from icy Siberia arrived yesterday with a sodden, relentless rain and this morning I accidentally ordered intestine noodles for breakfast. I’m in Guangzhou for the 9th Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) summit/conference/confab. The sun’s coming up on the apartments opposite where I’m staying with young jazz musicians, a cat in a jumper and a big black dog, too playful for the space. The apartment is up the road from Sun Yat-Sen University where I’ve spent the last two days immersed in discussions, debate, challenges and interviews with other literary activists, writers, translators, editors, event producers from the Asia Pacific Region.
Day one, part one.
There is a bookshop in Guangzhou called Libreria Borges, Institute of Contemporary Art that houses a bookshop dedicated to the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet and other post ’45 thinkers. The second story of the bookshop is home to Chinese video art (more on this arcane space later). Nicholas Jose, editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature and author of novels and short stories opened the conference with a short introduction to APWT and their inception in a thatched hut, in a rice paddy in Bali in 2007. He talked about the flexibility and fluidity of the gatherings that have followed, and that is manifest in the difficulty of naming these gatherings – ‘conference’ is wrong, there is a beautifully collapsed structure, a sharing of information between audience and panelists, not a one way flow, ‘summit’ may work and is used on the program, ‘gathering’, too casual for an event that has had months of planning, organisation, and production. Jose talked about Libreria Borges and about MAK Halliday, a linguist who began his work in China in the 1940s and has a building at Sun Yat-Sen named in his honour. A recent essay of Halliday’s, is called ‘That ‘certain cut’; towards a characterology of Mandarin Chinese’. Jose asked just what would be the ‘cut’ of a literary community, what mixing, what verbal play could define a characterology of such a gathering. A ‘cut and a splice’ he concludes, may be an apt description.
He referred to a recent piece on Time Out Beijing, where experts choose the best Chinese fiction books of the last century. Alongside a number of Chinese writers including Nobel Laureate, Mo Yan and his novel, Red Sorghum, sit JG Ballard for Empire of the Sun, The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck (another Nobel Laureate). This a beautifully inclusive interpretation of ‘Chinese’ novel, anyone is able to write one. The only thing that these books have in common, apart from their setting, is that they are readily available in English translation. Which begs the question, what books were left out of this list?
He talks about the increasing recognition of both Asian writers in the West, and their translators, noting Madeline Thien’s shortlisting for the Booker, and the presence of Han Kang’s translator Deborah Smith alongside her when she was awarded the Man Booker International for her grueling novel The Vegetarian and he reminds us that we must engage as advocates. He has set a perfect, international, warm and distinct tone for us to continue conversations, some of which began for me at APWT summit in Bangkok in 2013, including one with Kulpreet Yadav, editor of Open Road Review, of which I now am the non fiction editor.
The confabulation has begun, this is only the beginning. Where to next?
Rachel received a grant from Arts Tasmania’s ArtsBridge program to visit China.