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The First Sun Yat-sen University International Writers' Residency Held

Last updated :2015-11-19

Source: School of Foreign Languages
Written by: Dai Fan, Philip Graham, Austin Woerner, Nazli İnal
Photo by: Wei Donghua, Austin Woerner, Dai Fan
Proofread by: Peng Dongmin
Edited by: Wang Dongmei

Organized by The Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing, and sponsored by Lingnan Foundation and Tourism Administration of Jiangmen Municipality, the first Sun Yat-sen University International Writers' Residency ran from Oct. 18 to Nov. 14, 2015. It is the first of its kind in China, through which 15 writers/translators from 10 countries met and wrote in Yangshuo, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province. The Residency strove to promote the reading, discussion, and writing of world literature by providing a space for international writers to read and write; by giving international writers a chance to engage with Chinese literature and literary translators, Chinese culture and people; by creating opportunities for students to interact with internationally renowned writers; and by showcasing the creative writing of Sun Yat-sen University's faculty and students.

Altogether, 14 events were held. Among them, three were reading, respectively held in West Street, Yangshuo on Oct. 26, 2015, on the Guangzhou campus of Sun Yat-sen University on Nov. 5, at Wuyi University in Jiangmen on Nov. 6. Three panels were held in discussing the teaching of creative writing, the craft of writing, and various aspects of literature in the global context. A total of 5 lectures/seminars were held on the Zhuhai and Guangzhou campuses of Sun Yat-sen University. A workshop and a poetry seminar were organized for students and faculty members of the Department of English. Furthermore, a lecture on contemporary literature was arranged for the international writers.

The cultural events included the mountain song fair in Yangshuo on Oct. 26, and Shamian and Shangxiajiu district in Guangzhou, as well as the Diaolou visit on Nov. 7 in Kaiping, Guangdong province. The visit to Xinhua College on Nov. 4 saw one of the highlights during the Residency, when writers began reading their poems at dinner.

Unlike residencies that are usually meant for writers to write in other parts of the world, the Sun Yat-sen University International Writers' Residency have three major characteristics: one is the presence of students, who benefited from the Residency through attending lectures, through taking writers around, and through interacting closely with writers in Yangshuo and Jiangmen. Another characteristic is that all writers participated in teaching either in the form of a lecture, or in a panel discussion, or a seminar, or a workshop, and came to know more about students through reading their creative work, and through their performances that were part of the reading events at Sun Yat-sen University and Wuyi University. Still another characteristic is the cultural visits in Yangshuo, Guangzhou and Jiangmen, through which writers were given first-hand cultural experiences.

Writers and students at the Residency

Yangshuo: Mountain Song and Reading

The first week of the first Sun Yat-sen University International Writers’ Residency was capped by a day of delightful cultural exchange in the town of Yangshuo on Oct. 26, 2015. The day began when the writers traveled to Yangshuo’s main park and observed a competition of Mountain Song Singers. Four small groups of beautifully dressed singers challenged each other with improvised lyrics that they added to traditional melodies.

Professor and writer Dai Fan translated the often teasingly playful lyrics for the benefit of the writers, and by the end of the competition some writers dared to share their own songs.

Prof. Dai Fan translating mountain song lyrics for writers
After lunch, Belgian nonfiction writer Lieve Joris, fiction writer and poet Jeanine Leane, fiction writer, poet and travel writer Catherine Cole, and translator and fiction writer Roberto Frías presented a public reading of their writing in the open courtyard of the Beer Fish Restaurant on West Street.

Writers Jeanine Leane, Catherine Cole, Dai Fan, Roberto Frías, and Lieve Joris (left to right)
Immediately following the reading, three local artists in the audience then gave an impressive display of their own artistic abilities. Zhang Changlian wrote out, in elegant calligraphy, a poem by Wang Wei, followed by Qin Guilan who wrote in bold broad strokes a four character poem as her emotional response to the public reading. And Wu Fangkui demonstrated his skills by painting a floral design on a fan. Everyone in the audience stood nearby, entranced as these artists produced—seemingly effortlessly—such impressive work.

Chinese calligraphy and painting by local artists

Guangzhou and Zhuhai: Panel Talks and Lectures

On Tuesday Nov. 3, 2015, the Sun Yat-sen University International Writers’ Residency kicked off its slate of Guangzhou events with two panel talks on world literature and writing pedagogy, culminating in a stunning performance of Kathakali dance by Indian actor and playwright Arjun Raina.

In the morning, Filipino writer Ricardo de Ungria and Australian Aboriginal writer Jeanine Leane joined Professor Guo Bingru of the SYSU Chinese Department for a talk entitled “Development of Literary Themes in China, the Philippines, and Australia.”

Jeanine Leane, Ricardo de Ungria and Guo Bingru (left to right)
In an afternoon talk entitled “Creative Writing: Pedagogies and Opportunities,” authors Patricia Foster from the University of Iowa, Philip Langeskov from the University of East Anglia, and Dai Fan of Sun Yat-sen University reflected on their own experiences teaching creative writing in highly different environments.

Finally, in what was quite literally a dazzling finale, actor Arjun Raina appeared in full Kathakali regalia, complete with glittering golden breastplate, colorful stage make-up and massive golden headdress, to perform a Shakespeare-inspired dance piece called “The Magic Hour.”

Arjun Raina performing Kathakali dance
American published writer Philip Graham, New Zealand playwright and poet Lynda Chanwai Earle, British short story writer Philip Langeskov, Egyptian novelist Khaled Khamissi, and Mexican author and translator Roberto Frias gave freshmen and sophomores on the Zhuhai campus a stimulating introduction to the writer’s craft respectively on the morning of Nov. 4, 2015.

Guangzhou: Opening Ceremony

The Sun Yat-sen University International Writers’ Residency was ready to hold its opening ceremony having brought together more than twenty prominent literary figures from all around the world on Thursday, November 5, 2015. Austin Woerner and Nazli İnal hosted the event.

Prof. Chang Chenguang giving an opening speech
In the Swasey Hall the ceremony started with brief opening remarks from Professor Chang Chenguang, the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and International Studies. Professor Dai Fan, the head of the Department of English and director of The Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing, whose brainchild the residency is, spoke next, and told the story of her project, which went from a mere idea to a very successful international writers’ residency in less than a year, of which people talked about often using phrases such as, “unlike any other” and “too good to be true.” Professor Dai reminded the audience of the Chinese proverb "有钱出钱,有力出力" (if you have the money, put in the money, if you have talent, put in the talent) and meticulously thanked all of the patrons, participants, as well as the administrative and student helpers before she left the stage to the writers and the translators, who had a couple minutes to introduce themselves, and took the opportunity to show their gratitude. Many of the writers especially commended the Sun Yat-sen University students both on their assistance during the residency and their perceptiveness in matters of life and literature.

A group photo in front of Swasey Hall
Later that night, Eileen Pun, Philip Graham, Khaled Khamissi, and Professor Dai Fan gave a reading as a part of the final event of the residency at the Guangzhou Campus. The reading was followed by The Banquet, a short film that borrows its name and concept from Feng Xiaogang’s 2006 adaption of Hamlet. The surprise of the evening was Zhang Jimo’s eight-year-old son Zhang Tianyi, whose elegance—he wore a red bow-tie—and confidence, immediately endeared him to the audience. He read a story about dinosaurs, which was the first chapter of “the book [he was] currently working on.” The evening closed after a number of environmentally and morally conscientious skits by the Big Tree Characters.

Jiangmen: Reading

On Friday, November 6, 2015, the residency arrived at the Wuyi University in Jiangmen. Ricardo de Ungria, Lynda Chanwai-Earle, Patricia Foster, and Madeleine Thien gave a reading to an audience of a hundred or more students and faculty that had gathered in the Alumni Room.

Reading at Wuyi University in Jiangmen
The students at the Wuyi University Department of English had prepared a surprise thank-you for the writers: a bunch of very funny, very professionally put together skits, that were executed with both ardor and gusto.

After the reading the writers were taken to the first of the three hotels where they would be accommodated during their stay in Jiangmen, their final destination in China, where the Sun Yat-sen University International Writers’ Residency would come to an end after four days of writing time in yet another gorgeous setting.

List of writers/translators for the 2015 Residency:
Catherine Cole (Australia), Lynda Chanwai Earle (New Zealand), Patricia Foster (U.S.), Roberto Frias (Mexico), Philip Graham (U.S.), John Hughes (documentary filmmaker, Australia), Lieve Joris (the Netherlands/Belgium), Khaled Khamissi (Egypt), Jeanine Leane (Australia), Eileen Pun (UK/US), Arjun Raina (Australia/India), Madeleine Thien (Canada), Ricardo de Ungria (the Philippines), Wei Donghua (guest documentary filmmaker, China), and Zhang Jimo (China).

Chinese literary translators as special guests: Bao Huiyi, Ding Jun, Xiang Dingding, Sheng Yun, and Zhang Yalin.