Visionary Future for APWT

APWT's incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the 'Look at Me' t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

APWT’s incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the ‘Look at Me’ t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

Sanaz Fotouhi writes about how her background led to a dynamic vision for the future of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators.

When I was a little girl growing up in Iran, it seemed to me that everyone in the country was glued to their new colour televisions on Saturday nights watching the epic Japanese drama of Oshin, dubbed into Farsi on one of the two state television channels. Sometimes, when the electricity cut out, or when the ‘red alarm’ went off and we had to run to hide in the basement while jet planes bombed our neighbours, Oshin and her far-away land provided solace. She was the topic of conversation amongst adults, and the dream of many children. Many nights I fell asleep dreaming of living in far away places, which to me, then, were indistinguishable.

As I grew older and eventually visited many far far away lands, I learnt that Japan was very different from Hong Kong, from Indonesia and so on.

Aside from living and travelling throughout Asia, it was the literature I picked up from each country that helped me understand the culture, history, social nuances, differences and similarities. Not in my entire lifetime could I master every language to read the literatures in the original. It is only through translations that people like me have access to so many insights into different cultures.

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Some of the products of Sanaz’s work to date.

My passion for the expression of cultural diversity through literature has pre-occupied most of my adult creative and academic life. So when I had the opportunity to work with Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) I knew I had found a home.

This long-running regional literary network and its now famous annual events are opportunities for people like me to really learn about the culture, history and unique aspects of a particular country and those in the Asia Pacific region in general. Every year, APWT brings together some 200 writers, translators, and others involved in the publishing industries. The result leads to outstanding opportunities to meet peers, exchange ideas, and perhaps gain inspiration for the production of new literary work.

APWT’s annual events are held in a different country in the Asia Pacific every year. It has had multifaceted conferences in Australia, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. This November (2016), we meet in Southern China, with the main conference at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, and follow-on readings and panels in Hong Kong and Macau. Next year (2017), we’ll meet in May in Indonesia in conjunction with the ASEAN Literary Festival. I am taking the lead to organize our Indonesian event.

Providing Keys to Asia Pacific Literatures

APWT offers much more than an annual conference. It feeds the curiosity of people like me. My plan is that by the time everyone arrives at the annual gathering in future years they will already know something more about the literature and culture of that country. I will work towards that.

If, like me, you like to know about the literature of a country, the first question is, but where do I even start? I aim to bring you a start, to ensure that our members receive exclusive information, interviews, reviews, and other material about the key prominent writers, translators, and creative people in the specific country that we will be hosting the conference.

For example, in the next few months, you can look forward to reading lists, interviews, and other material about heavy weights of Chinese literature, and those who are going to be featured and appearing in our gathering in Guangzhou later this year. This will be an additional feature of our literary online publication LEAP+.

I will be travelling to Jakarta to attend the ASEAN and Makassar Literary festivals in May this year, and aim to come back with lists of Indonesian authors, critics, and translators, who we will continue to feature, leading up to our event in Indonesia in 2017. If you are in Jakarta for these festivals, please introduce yourself to me.

I also want to hear from you. If you would love to explore, critique, interview, or write about a certain author, piece of fiction, or any other related material related for now to China or Indonesia, I would love you to drop me a line about yourself and your interests.

APWT Short Story Competitions

As APWT seeks to foster creativity and skills development, one of my aims is to run short story competitions around the themes of the countries where we will be taking the annual event. These stories will be judged by some of the top writers and creative people from the Asia Pacific Region and Australia. This would be a great chance for emerging writers to get their stories out there.

All of this material, including selected short stories from our competitions, will be featured through our exclusive members-only magazine LEAP+. (APWT members will soon have exclusive access to an updated version of this online publication.)

Partnerships and Emerging Writers

APWT seeks to encourage and support emerging readers and writers. To this end we are building partnerships with universities and emerging writers’ groups and festivals. This ensures that we feature not only those voices that are heard already but also lesser heard narratives, those from the margins, and those with less opportunity to find platforms for their writing.

My vision is for APWT’s annual events to become one of the leading literary gatherings of Asia in the next five years. This vision will reach its potential only through your support, and enthusiasm… so that one day, when many other little girls and boys sitting today at home — perhaps in Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Australian outback, or somewhere else in our vast Asia Pacific region — weaving stories and dreaming of writing and travelling to distant places, they will have greater opportunities and audiences to do so.

I encourage you to join us and stay with us in making this dream come true.

Sanaz Fotouhi is a writer, filmmaker, academic, one of the founders of the Persian Film Festival in Australia and APWT’s incoming Executive Director.  She holds a PhD in English literature from UNSW. Her first book The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora: Meaning and Identity since the Islamic Revolution was published in March 2015 (I.B. Tauris). Her stories and creative fiction, published in anthologies and collections are reflective of her multicultural background. 

Mark this Place

Jaipur BookMark: ‘Where South Asia meets the World’

Narain Niwas Palace, Jaipur: BookMark’s venue

Given the massive crowds at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s and the world’s largest free literary event, its sister event BookMark is a relatively sedate. But, for my money, BookMark is a better investment if you’re an emerging writer.

The Jaipur BookMark Festival, organized by the same crowd who organize the main festival, is held on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace. This is an upscale heritage hotel built in the 1920s in an Anglo-Indian style. It’s only a 10-15 drive from the lovely Diggi Palace where the main festival is held, but it’s a world away in atmosphere.

Some people, when they realized this wasn’t where they were going to see the festival’s superstars —Margaret Atwood, Steven Fry and the pantheon of other greats—turned tail and headed away.

But BookMark, which was held only for the second year, is where the who’s who of the worlds publishing industry gathered. This is where you could meet publishers, literary agents, literary event organisers, and other heavy hitters who are the faces behind the books we read.

The event was opened by the chairman of Penguin Random House (new York), John Makinsons, who a couple of nights later hosted a Who’s Who in the Publishing Industry cocktail party, at the fabulous Rambagh Palace, now a super-luxurious Taj hotel. Yes, Jaipur is full of fabulous palaces.

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BookMark festival director Neeta Gupta

Because the numbers were relatively low at BookMark, I asked festival director Neeta Gupta whether the event is open for general participation. To me, this is an ideal time and place for the festival to host publisher/agent pitching events, one-on-one consultations with industry professional, and other events that enable emerging authors to take advantage of the talent.

‘BookMark is indeed open for general participation,’ Neeta assured me. ‘But, given the exclusivity of the heritage venue where we host the event, we didn’t see much general footfall this year. I hope to change that in the coming year.’

If you’re thinking of heading to the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival in the future, and if you’re already involved in the publishing industry, you can buy a ticket that includes BookMark, including lunches and dinners. Or you can by a BookMark registration only, which includes lunch on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace and dinner at Clarks Hotel with the other festival delegates. Participation for students and ‘aspiring authors’ is free. Or it was this year.

‘I would love to host a workshop with emerging writers and agents,’ said Neeta.

So, there you have it. Opportunity awaits. Finding a publisher who will give you a profile in the Asian market is the way of the future. Asia boasts the world’s fastest growing middle class. Asia is where tomorrow’s readers will be.

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Jane Camens, founder of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Inc (APWT), was hosted to India by the Australia-India Council in her capacity as co-editor of ‘New Asia Now’, issue 49 of Griffith Review. Jane joined a group of Australian publishers and literary festival organisers on an Indian Exploratory hosted by the Australia Council for the Arts.

The Literary Consultancy Comes to Asia

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Rebecca Swift, Director of The Literary Consultancy, will be at the Hong Kong Literary Festival in November this year to talk about how her UK-based consultancy can help writers working outside Britain.

The Literary Consultancy (TLC), begun in 1996, was the world’s first editorial consultancy. Co-founded by writer and editor Rebecca Swift and Hannah Griffiths (now a publisher at Faber & Faber) it has sought to help writers gain in-depth, professional feedback. Some send their work before they submit to agents or publishers, others when they receive rejections and are confused about why. Nowadays, agents and publishers rarely have time to give detailed feedback to writers, so TLC filled in that gap. There are now other similar consultancies and ‘book doctor’ services, some more reputable than others.

Rebecca and her team currently work only in the English language, but they do work with writers outside the UK. They include Neamat Imam, a Bangladeshi-Canadian novelist, who with the help of TLC, signed with top UK agent David Godwin and whose book The Black Coat has been published by both Penguin in India and by Periscope Books in the UK; Damien Brown, whose account of working with Médecins sans Frontières, Band-Aid for a Broken Leg, was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia; Perdita and Honor Cargill, represented by Hannah Sheppard at DHH Literary Agency following a TLC assessment, who have just struck a two-book deal with Simon & Shuster; and Catherine Ferguson, represented by HHB Literary Agency who published her book Humbugs and Heartstrings via Harper Collins’ e-book first imprint Avon.

TLC’s editorial assessment service is suitable for writers who have started a project and would like guidance before continuing; writers working on a first draft; writers wanting an honest assessment of whether the work is ready to submit to an agent/self-publish; writers who are confused by feedback they have had. See the guideline to editorial fees. FEES

Mentoring

The consultancy’s online mentoring scheme, Chapter & Verse, for writers who want to see a book project through to completion; writers who need sustained support, with deadlines, encouragement, and constructive feedback. Chapter & Verse can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This scheme is designed to fit around a writer’s other commitments, providing over the course of a year six email feedback sessions with an experienced writing mentor who helps craft the work, help the writer find his or her voice and complete a full-length work. After the development process, writers receive a full editorial assessment of the whole work by a separate editor. This currently differentiates TLC’s service .

For those of you who can make it to London, TLC offers an Industry Day at its London base, the Free Word Centre, with an agent and editor as guests. Writers have attended from Bangkok, Canada and Europe. Those who can’t make it can access a PDF information pack with a write-up from the day.

Copy Editing and Proofreading

Matching copy-editors and proofreaders to writing projects is an area of our work we have seen increased interest in over the last few years,

As publishing options for writers proliferate and more authors decide to publish independently, TLC has seen increased interest from writers needing copy-editors and proofreaders. They will discuss with a writer whether this kind of editing is suitable before you part with any money. Writers who seek this service include those for whom English is a second language and who want help ‘cleaning up’ their work.

TLC does not advise writers to translate their own work into English unless they are an expert, as often this will result in a text that a copy-editor will have difficulty ‘fixing’. Copy-editing is corrective; not designed to re-write your text. It’s also not cheap, so make sure this is the final stage of editing, or you risk re-introducing errors which may need a further copy-edit to correct.

Who Uses Editorial Services?

‘We find that most of the writers coming to us are first-time or “emerging” writers wanting support to develop their craft and gain a better understanding of where their writing might fit into the market,’ said Swift. ‘But we also have regularly published or contracted writers come to us with books that, increasingly, their agents haven’t the time to help them develop.’

Most of the literary agents TLC works with are UK-based, but they also have contacts in Hong Kong, India, Australia, the USA, the Caribbean, and Africa, and they will do their best to support writers through these networks.

Finding Success as a Writer

Reaching publication success as a writer is in some ways easier than ever (via self-publishing), and in other ways more difficult than it’s ever been (squeezed editorial budgets, more focus on marketing and publicity when commissioning new titles within publishing houses).

On the one hand, the latest International Publisher’s Association annual report is encouraging; more books are being published than ever before. But this comes with a warning: Canongate Publisher Jamie Byng said in an article in The Guardian last year, ‘I think we publish too many books … and I think this impacts negatively on how well we publish books as an industry. It is very easy to acquire a book. Much harder to publish it successfully.’

There are some notably writers who disagree. Novelist Jenn Ashworth stated in the same article, ‘More books and more people talking about books is always excellent … it is a shame we have fewer and fewer librarians to help readers navigate their way through all this glorious literary chaos and find hidden gems.’

What’s clear is that good writing needs champions; those who can help not only source, but polish these ‘hidden gems’.

Says Swift: ‘When we find a particularly gifted writer, a “hidden gem” from any country, our professional reader or mentor flags the writer up to our in-house team. We will then look at the work, and think about the various pathways open to the writer; so what might be best for the book, according to the genre, the target readership, the market appeal, and so on.’

It’s an exciting time, and there are plenty of options for writers who are serious about writing, getting their work up to standard, and making it available to readers across the English-speaking world. The internet has opened up many possibilities, and it’s a thrill for all at TLC to be working at the intersection between the writing on the one hand, and potential readerships on the other, and finding ways to help writers form relevant links between the two.

By Aki Schilz

AkiSchilzTLCAki Schilz is a writer and poet based in London. She works as Editorial Manager at The Literary Consultancy.

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+)

 

 

 

What Colour is Your Writing Workshop?

Sreedhevi Iyer argues that her Masters in Fine Arts in Asian Writing at the City University Hong Kong answered Junot Diaz’s criticism about the lack of diversity in most writing workshops.

PULITZER PRIZE WINNING novelist Junot Diaz wrote in the New Yorker in May 2014 about his experience in an MFA creative writing program at Cornell University.

I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here.
So what was the problem?
Oh just the standard problem of MFA programs.
That shit was too white.
Some of you understand completely. And some of you ask: Too white … how?
Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of colour—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem.
‘That shit was too white’

Diaz was a visiting writer at the City University Hong Kong’s MFA Creative Writing program in 2011. On learning of the closure of this program, he told China Daily, ‘In my years as a writer I have found very few institutions that make the practice of writing into a global conversation. At City U you have writers from all over the world learning from each other, cross-pollinating, creating hybrid possibilities — and it’s no accident that this is happening in Hong Kong, long the crossroads of Asia.’

Others associated with the program took to social media and other newspapers to express their dismay at the announcement of the closure. Canadian short story writer and novelist Madeleiene Thien wrote in The Guardian about why she accepted a position on the faculty in 2010. ‘I wished to learn what a multilingual, multi-canonical literary workshop might look like.’

City U began its low-residency, distance learning MFA as recently as 2010. Xu Xi, the Director of the program, is a cosmopolitan writer who put the program together with global intentions. The program’s first summer residency had an international cohort of more than twenty nationalities, a model that has prevailed throughout the life of the program. Some of the students are of Asian origin, and some who have no Asian ancestry want to write about their experiences in Asia. The program explored and encouraged cultural engagement.

Staff included a diverse, international collection of writers, among them Robin Hemley, then also the Director of Creative Non-Fiction at the University of Iowa; James Scudamore, nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2009; Sharmistha Mohanty a novelist from India; Filipino author Jose Dalisay who was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize,;Jess Row from the United States; and Tabish Khair from Denmark. They brought with them a wealth of literary traditions and pedagogical knowledge. With so many faculty members and students from many parts of the world, new things happened in the program that went beyond label of origins.

In my experience, the beauty of multi-canonical workshops lies in how, when everyone in the program is so different from each other, differences disappear.
If someone is publicly labeled long enough and often enough, they come to see themselves that way. Asian-American. African-American. Chinese-Australian gay male. British-Indian straight female. I am a doubly hyphenated writer–Indian-Malaysian-Australian. This came to mean nothing in an environment with so many identities.

Diaz wrote in his essay: ‘Simply put: I was a person of color in a workshop whose theory of reality did not include my most fundamental experiences as a person of color—that did not in other words include me.’ But this was not so in the workshops I attended at City U.

The MFA Xu Xi headed in Hong Kong personified the ideal Diaz spoke of, by the sheer force of its diversity. When labels collapse, the writer can unload that baggage and just focus on the craft. In workshops, we were just people. We were given story samples and suggestions in line with how we would already tell our stories, instead of converting them to fit privileged aesthetics. It no longer mattered where we had come from, or how we self-identified. We no longer explained to the dominant paradigm because that paradigm was no longer there.

MFA faculty members gave us innovative craft ideas that reflected our cosmopolitan, post-label reality. Instead of learning to fit into the labels, we learned to overturn them. A workshop with Jess Row included a short story by Chimamanda Adichie called ‘Jumping Monkey Hill’. It was a searing piece on the racial undertones in a creative writing retreat in Cape Town. In class discussions, we realized power imbalance influenced the creativity of the disadvantaged. This was real. Our writing exercise was to produce a satirical piece critiquing our own MFA program. Bite the hand that feeds you. It was an odd, but genius, act of self-permission.

Another example was the use of point of view. For example, I had a story in mind during my time as a student. I had been writing it for a while. It had an interracial newlywed couple from Melbourne, Australia. They were on their honeymoon in a small village in India. They realize during the trip their marriage is already breaking down. The wife, Rachel, is an Anglo-Australian, and the husband, Mohan, a South Indian. Both of them become slightly different versions of themselves during the trip. Rachel has the biggest character arc in the story and the most focus. But could I write in the voice of a white woman? Do I dare? Could I even hope to have this published in any decent literary journal that would take the story on its merit ?

The MFA pedagogy understood my collectivist way of viewing the world, and helped manifest it in my craft. Instead of the individual point of view, Xu Xi raised a question of a collective point of view. Instead of first person singular, how about first person plural?

I could write the exact same story but change the vantage point to the village. Not one person, but every person, tells this story, which is how stories last over time in the first place. And if the village is telling this story, it will be a ‘we’. We see. We feel, we think.

More recently, Madeleine Thien conducted a Generative Writing Workshop that evoked the hand of the Buddha in its ‘abhaya mudra’, or to ‘have no fear’. Going by the Japanese form called ‘Palm of the Hand’, the idea was to generate five separate pieces of flash fiction, rather like the five fingers of the palm. Eventually students weave them into a singular tale during the editing process, just like fingers that close into a fist. The creative process takes the many and forms it into one – much like the program itself.

Such aspects in this program made it innovative. It considered writers who came from many places and spoke in many voices. It nurtured alternate perspectives and understood the need for more diversity in the literary world.

In announcing the program’s closure in her blog, Xu Xi wrote that ‘we look at the world with a different lens from many other MFAs because we’re not about one nation, one language, one culture, one race, one religion, one anything.’ On Brevity magazine’s blog, faculty member Ira Sukrungruang wrote: ‘This was a program like no other, producing writing like no other. It was not only shaping literature in Asia but also adding diversity to the western canon.’

All those involved with the program knew it was a gift the world should continue to value.

 

SREEPHOTOBWSreedhevi Iyer’s work has appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Hong Kong), The Asian American Literary Review (US), Hotel Amerika (US), Free Word Centre (UK), and Two Thirds North (Stockholm).

Closure of City University of Hong Kong’s Creative Writing Programme

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25 Distinguished Authors Protest


April 29, 2015: TWENTY-FIVE internationally recognised authors from around the world, including US Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Díaz, Rae Armantrout, and Robert Olen Butler, have signed a letter to the President, Provost, and Chairman of the Council of the City University of Hong Kong, protesting the university’s decision to close its highly successful and admired MFA Programme in Creative Writing.

The MFA Programme, established only five years ago by Hong Kong-based novelist Xu Xi, has brought many distinguished writers (including the signers of the letter) to the university’s Kowloon Tong campus, and has already resulted in six books and hundreds of published poems, essays, and short stories by MFA graduates and current students.

The only reason given for the closure (which was announced, with no previous discussion, by the acting chair of the Department of English on 27 April) was that “the programme has only been able to enrol a small number of students every year.” However, the current size of the program (approximately 40 students) is well within the model proposed by Xu Xi when the university established the program in 2010. The program is financially self-sustaining as of 2015.

In their open letter protesting the university’s decision, the writers state: “The CityU MFA Programme is the first truly global creative writing program anywhere in the world. It has attracted students from 20 different countries, and a writing faculty that represents literary traditions of Asia, the Americas, and Europe…In the future, we feel that the MFA Programme promises to make CityU a widely recognised centre of global literary and cultural dialogue, which will in turn contribute to Hong Kong’s growing importance as a international centre of arts and culture.”

Current students and alumnae of the MFA Programme have reacted with shock and disbelief to the news of the programme’s closure. Many of them have taken to social media, noting that the MFA Programme offered them the only opportunity to pursue a degree in creative writing without relocating to the US or UK, that it has given them an opportunity to explore their roots or connections to Asia in a welcoming environment, and that it provides a rare haven in Hong Kong for free, imaginative expression. A petition from current and former students and supporters will be delivered to the university administration within days; other protest measures are under discussion.

The authors who signed the letter are: Jess Row (USA), Tabish Khair (India/Denmark), Nami Mun (USA), Evan Fallenberg (Israel), Robin Hemley (Singapore), Jose Dalisay (Phillipines), Suzanna Paola (USA), Shawn Wong (USA), Marilyn Chin (USA), Luis Francia (USA), James Scudamore (UK), Ravi Shankar (USA), Rae Armantrout (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA), Tina Chang (USA), Bob Shacochis (Pulitzer Prize finalist, USA), Junot Díaz (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA), Robert Olen Butler (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA),Ira Sukrungruang (USA), Sybil Baker (USA), Sharmistha Mohanty (India), Madeleine Thien (Canada), Chang-rae Lee (USA), Richard Blanco (US Inaugural Poet, 2012, USA), Richard Jackson (USA), Rawi Hage (Canada).

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For more information, contact
Jess Row, MFA Programme faculty: rowjess@gmail.com (USA) +1 718 490 4203
Xu Xi, MFA Programme leader: xuxi@me.com (Hong Kong) +852 9175 2839