New Asia Now

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 4.32.31 pm‘New Asia Now’, a selection of essays, fiction, poetry, memoir and reportage by some of Asia’s most exciting writers today, will be published in August 2015 by the Australian literary magazine Griffith Review, with a selection of the work also published in the  Asia Literary Review

A special e-book edition of Griffith Review has enabled the editors to include more authors than can appear in the print edition. Both ALR and GR will also publish their regular print and digital editions. 

The authors who appear in these editions are, the editors believe, voices that matter. They are Dewi Anggraeni, Dea Anugrah, Romy Ash, Alice Bishop, Damyanti Biswas, Jarni Blakkarly, Candice Chung, Jessie Cole, Jhoanna Cruz, André Dao, Siddhartha Deb, Glenn Diaz, Romi Grossberg, Eliza Vitri Handayani, Siobhan Harvey, Anjum Hasan, Joshua Ip, Jin-sung Jang, Manan Karki, Elaine Laforteza, Michelle Law, Tammy Law, Michele Lee, Lian Low, Jenn Chan Lyman, Okky Madasari, Ted Mahsun, Majid Maqbool, Laura Jean McKay, Sally McLaren, Shandana Minhas, Cameron Muir, Muron Xuecun Murong, Omar Musa, Mohit Parkih, Sheila Pham, Ploy Pirapokin, Prodita Sabarini, Lavanya Shanbhogue, Sheng Keyi, Kirril Shields, Keane Shum, Danushka Silva, Miguel Syjuco, ko ko thett, Maggie Tiojakin, Ellen Van Neerven, Voranai Vanijaka, Merriden Varrall, Nicholas Wong and Annie Zaidi.

Jane Camens (Co-editor, New Asia Now and LEAP+)




Indigenous Australian Authors Tour Indian Literary Festivals

Mridula Nath Chakraborty is leading a bicultural literary project between Indigenous Australian authors and writers in India. Read about her exciting role-model project that spans four Indian festivals and seven cities.

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Indian literature offers an embarrassment of riches, not only in the literature in English that has been spectacularly successful in the West, but also in its 22 regional languages that have centuries-strong literary traditions.

In the past decade, a dozen or so literary festivals have cropped up on the Indian landscape. These festivals are wonderful opportunities not only for hobnobbing with some of India’s sharpest minds and for meeting international visiting writers, but also to see something special of each of the cities in which they are hosted. The states of India are divided linguistically, and each region offers it own special flavour.

Twelve Indigenous Australian writers are travelling to some of these festivals in the Indian winter of 2014-2015 as part of LITERARY COMMONS! Writing Australia-India in the Asian century with Indigenous, Dalit & multilingual tongues. The project is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, and convened from the University of Western Sydney. It will see luminaries like Alexis Wright, Nicole Watson, Ellen van Neerven, Jared Thomas, Marie Munkara, Brenton McKenna, Jeanine Leane, Anita Heiss, Lionel Fogarty, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Cathy Craigie and Dylan Coleman, travel to the various literary festivals.

Each festival is accompanied by a specially-convened engagement with regional universities to showcase Indian scholarship on Indigenous writing across borders.

Let me take you on a journey through these festivals!

Four of the project’s Australian writers went to the Bangalore Literature Festival in September where the focus was on issues of voice, marginalization, classical languages and the phenomenon of India Rising. BLF prides itself on being a no-logo festival, though the five-star hospitality, shining cast of writers, musical performances in the evening and engaged crowds that thronged it for three days, belies their modesty.

The Australian writers then traveled four hours amidst pouring rain to Mysore University with its lovely eucalyptus-lined avenues. There, they attended a special Australian Indigenous Literary symposium, After Dreaming ,where six books by Indigenous Australian authors were launched in translation into Kannada, a language spoken predominantly in the state of Karnataka.

Mysore Palace, and indeed the whole city, was gloriously lit-up for its famed Dassara festival. The writers also got to see the 13th century Somnathapuram Temple and the 18th century Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan. Our three days there were replete with the many delights of Karnataka food and tender coconut water on village roads. Book your engagement for next year’s BLF and Mysore’s Dassara festival now!

Five more writers are going to the much-anticipated, volunteer-run boutique Goa Arts and Literature Festival. In its 5th iteration, GALF promises to be extra-special this year, with significant representation from Singapore, Nepal, Pakistan and the Seven Sister states of India. Australia has pride of place as “Country in Focus” and our extra-special group of writers is sure to kick-up a sand-storm, inspired by Goa’s very own feni and pork vindaloo. And, if this isn’t enough, we’ll leave for another special Indigenous conference at the University of Madras in Chennai, listed in Lonely Planet as one of the top ten world cities to visit in 2015.

Our final destination is a ‘two-in-one’, as they say in India. Starting with the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival in India’s very own City of Literature, three of the Australian authors will also participate in a Jadavpur University workshop to have their work translated into Bengali, the sixth-most spoken language in the world. The writers will meet Santhali artists and activists in Shantiniketan where Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate in Literature, founded the Viswa Bharati University. After feasting on Bengali food for thought and stomach, the writers then head off to Jaipur Literature Festival, which in the space of seven years has carved for itself an enviable reputation as the world’s largest free literary event. If you go to JLF, to see-and-be-seen, your literary career is made!

The world flocks to these literary festivals. For more information, visit APWT’s Events page and Literary Commons and come join us in this exciting journey across India. Who knows, next year you might be undertaking your own exploration of the commons that unites literary imagination everywhere in the world!

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.59.08 pmMridula Nath Chakraborty was a speaker supported by the Australia Council at the APWT’s ‘Bridging Cultures’ conference in Singapore in July 2014.



There’s a wide gap between the West and the East when it comes to creative writing programs writes Xu Xi ( 許素細 ) who established Asia’s first low-residency MFA in creative writing.

In April this year Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Díaz published an essay in The New Yorker entitled ‘MFA vs. POC,’ (‘person of color’) in which he recounted his experience as one of the only writers of color enrolled in his MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) program in the 1990s. As an Asian writer who did both her MFA in the 1980s, much of this resonated.

Here in Asia, there are hardly any longstanding MFA programs – the exception being in the Philippines. Communities of writers are primarily local or national, with much smaller global readership or recognition. Junot Díaz’s contention that: ‘These days, you got fifth graders that can talk your ears off about MFAs. This is the Age of the Writing Program,’ may indeed be true in North America, and perhaps also in the UK, given the proliferation of MA’s and PhD’s in creative writing in those places. But in Asia (though I cannot speak for South Korea or Japan), the study of creative writing is still perceived as a kind of recreational pastime for children or the dilettante with too much time on his or her hands.

In Hong Kong, the MTR subway system still reminds riders to ‘mind the gap’, a quaint hangover from a British colonial past. Minding this gap should be the job of writers and translators here if we are serious about what we write and the influence we wish our work to exert. In other words, it is high time our part of the world played catch up to the world in the writing game.

Oddly, this is also a time when all of Asia seems obsessed with the idea of creative writing. Literary festivals are springing up throughout the region and workshops by the invited writers are constantly over-subscribed.
Everyone and their dog wants to be a ‘published author’, and given the ease of self-publication these days, and the long-standing practice in Asia of author-subsided publishing, a dog could easily be an Asian author today (and even a best seller).

Author Junot Diaz says that in North America this is the "age of the writing program".

Author Junot Diaz says that in North America this is the “age of the writing program”.

There are writer groups and informal workshops, retreats and residencies where you can couple yoga or travel with writing, and generally a lot of pent-up desire among young people to ‘be creative’ – writing being one of the obvious paths.

Yet the universities in Asia have been slow to respond to the interest in creative writing in terms of offering courses and programs that are not just electives or additions to a ‘real’ degree. The MPhil in English, for example, is one way some aspiring creative writers are allowed to do a creative submission as partial fulfillment for their degree. However, the serious academic work is still the ‘lit-crit’ (literary criticism) dissertation-cum-thesis. Having been an external examiner for such creative submissions, I can attest to the limited value for the writer if she is not able to focus on the creative work in a serious way other than to obtain limited feedback on a final product.

This is perhaps another hangover of colonialism, manifest in the British post-colonial world of much of Asia. The MFA, which is the writing game for a great deal of the English language writing and publishing in the world is, unfortunately for Asia, an American invention. Most of Asia is still beholden to the English university system that does not recognize the MFA as a terminal degree. Consequently, the trend in the UK and Australia has been towards the PhD in creative writing as a way to allow writers to work in the academy.

Most undergraduate creative writing teaching in Asia is still at only a very rudimentary level, some courses accepting students who have never read a book.

Yet, even in the UK, any writer knows they’re better off in one of the credible MAs in creative writing if they want to actually write.

Universities in Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia regularly invite international authors for conferences or readings, or to conduct workshops. The Chinese poet Bei Dao, who is based at Chinese University of Hong Kong, stages bi-annual International Poetry Nights, with poets invited from around the world. There are also now a few creative writing courses at the undergraduate level, but this is only the beginning of creating a writing culture.

Most undergraduate creative writing teaching in Asia is still at only a very rudimentary level, some courses accepting students who have never read a book.

The five-year old low-residency Asian MFA I helped to found at City University of Hong Kong has begun to contribute to the writing game in Asia, but I am daily reminded of how new that culture is here. It is not at all unusual to encounter interested applicants who are horrified to learn that a writing sample is required for consideration!

Unless there are more quality writing and translation programs in South East Asia the writing game in this part of the world will be limited to work distributed only at local or national level, written for the most part in South East Asian languages and remaining un-translated for the global marketplace.

Despite this slow development of quality creative writing and translation programs in universities in this part of Asia, I remain hopeful. Baptist University in Hong Kong introduced a BA major in bi-lingual (Chinese-English) creative writing as part of their Humanities curriculum, and brought onto their faculty the poet James Shea. James previously taught in a MFA program and holds an MFA from Iowa. And, despite the limiting self-financing strictures imposed by the Hong Kong Government on all Masters programs, both the MFAs in Hong Kong are still in existence.

Another positive step is the new Yale-NUS college in Singapore which has a visiting writer program and offers some creative writing to its students. The Singapore Government sponsors a significant amount of literary activities and, perhaps, will direct some of that funding towards creative writing education in the universities.

Asia also has the advantage of creating a writing culture in its universities with the benefit of the pedagogical models in the USA, Australia, the UK and elsewhere. They also offer lessons in what to avoid. The MFA is certainly not the only answer to becoming a successful writer.

Xu Xi 許素細 is the author of nine books of fiction and essays. The most recent titles are Access Thirteen Tales (2011), the novel Habit of a Foreign Sky (2010), a finalist for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize and an essay collection, Evanescent Isles (2008). A novel-in-manuscript, That Man in Our Lives, and an essay collection, Typhoon Mum, about living with her mother’s Alzheimers, are currently represented by the literary agency Harold Matson. She is currently Writer-in-Residence at City University of Hong Kong’s Department of English.



We could all do with a little help sometimes, and these tips from several top writers and creative writing teachers are just the thing to get you going if you’re struggling with procrastination. Be warned: they just might work! No excuses…

Hot Tips for Short Stories by Jessica Adams

• The first draft is The Swill Draft- it’s going to be pure pig swill so you might as well just get it all out!
• The writing is in the rewriting.
• How do you write a 5000 word short story in 10 days? Write 500 words a day. Break the 5000 words into five chunks. The set-up. The first turning-point. The second-turning point. The climax. The resolution. This is a tip adapted from a Hollywood script doctor.
• Write a back-cover blurb of 100 words to condense your book. It helps a lot.
• Remember the future is digital. How will your short story look on a smart phone screen? A Kindle? An iPad Mini? An iPad? Short story formats are changing to suit the size of the screens.
• Read the short story out loud. You’ll be amazed at how many continuity errors you spot, or how many false notes.

Jessica Adams is a team editor on the bestselling Girls’ Night In (Penguin) and Kids’ Night In (Puffin) series. In 2012 she joined Maggie Alderson, Imogen Edwards-Jones and Kathy Lette in editing the erotica short story anthology, In Bed With (Penguin).

Six Permission Slips for Short Story Writers by Jen Mills

1. You have permission to write. If you talk yourself out of the story or the time it takes you will never get it done. You’ll write better if you let yourself make it a priority.

2. More importantly, you have permission to write badly. Writing badly is the only way to get to writing well.

3. You’re allowed to take risks, even if they seem silly. Don’t worry too much about how you’re supposed to be writing and focus on the story you happen to be writing. Give yourself and your metaphors room to play. Idle in the margins. Let what comes of your head surprise you.

4. Go ahead and take your time thinking about the right word. You have permission to stop worrying about word counts. There are 500 word short stories that say and do more than a novel. Similarly, I’ve had terrible days where I wrote thousands of words I would later delete, and great days where I’ve written half a dozen that make perfect sense.

5. You have permission to love the sound of your own voice. I like to read my later drafts aloud, and often make final edits this way. (Reading to animals is also fine, so long as you give them permission to fall asleep).

6. You are allowed to stop writing. Often, putting a story to bed and ignoring it for a few weeks or months is the best thing you can do for it. Go for a walk. Look at people and things. Be lazy. Enjoy your life.

Jennifer Mills was named Best Young Australian Novelist 2012 by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Top Ten Tips for a Great Writing Process by Carol Lefevre

• Strive for clarity and precision, and style will follow.
• Write before dealing with email, housework, and shopping.
• The best fiction has truth at its heart. Write from what you know is true.
• Never use two or three words where one would do.
• Never underestimate punctuation.
• Read The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White at least twice a year.
• Read poetry and essays, one of each a day, for sustenance.
• Take gingko biloba daily to support your memory and improve circulation to the brain.
• At the end of a writing session, relax by finding and deleting adverbs.

And finally – write.

Carol Lefevre is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide.

Top Five Tweeting Tips for Writers by Michelle Prak.

• Follow and interact with other writers. Twitter works best as a place to have real conversations and to build support networks.
• Use your Twitter bio wisely. Make sure to tell the world you’re a writer, mention titles of your work or where to access it, and include your website address if you have one.
• Find and participate in relevant hashtags such as #writers #writing #poetry – and look out for relevant conference or event hashtags that emerge occasionally.
• Follow other writers’ Twitter accounts for encouragement and insights. You may find yourself chatting with Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan or Bret Easton Ellis…
• Consider Twitter as another space for story-sharing. While each tweet must be confined to 140 characters, don’t let this stop you from sharing multiple consecutive tweets to get your point across or to share a piece of work. You can include links to longer pieces of writing on your own website. Or you might enjoy the discipline of the character limit, finding it inspires creative approaches to communicating.

Michelle Prak is one of South Australia’s leading social media consultants and is a board member of the South Australian Writers’ Centre.

Top Tips for Successful Writing by Sue Fleming.

• Give yourself time in your life for your writing and do justice to your muse!
• Preserve the ideas as they come to you – scribble them down, cut them out or scratch them on the wall!
• Read, read and read.
• Always draft and re-draft your work until it shines like summer.
• Proof reading is vital!
• If you find yourself cleaning the bathroom instead of writing you know you’re in trouble!
• Talk to other writers and learn from them.
• Take a course- it may well include material you might have discovered on your own but you’ll discover it more quickly!
• Keep to deadlines.
10.If you feel out of your comfort zone when writing, be comforted that this is a good thing

Sue Fleming has coordinated the Professional writing program at the Adelaide College of the Arts (TafeSA) for more than four years and has taught more than 200 new writers the basics of creative writing. 

Article contributed by and reprinted with permission of the South Australian Writers’ Centre.