The Shanghai Writer's Association is a non-profit organization with over 1700 members, aiming at sharing Chinese culture and Shanghai literature with visiting writers-in-residence at their Shanghai Writing Program. We have talked to Hu Peihua about their Shanghai Writing Residency Program.
China Residencies: How and when did the residency through the Shanghai Writing Program start?
Hu Peihua: Ms. Wang Anyi, the President of the Shanghai Writer’s Association, participated during the 80s in the American Iowa Writing Program. Inspired by how much beneficial it was for her, it was her initiative to officially launch the Shanghai Writing Program in 2008.
CR: What is your role in the program? How did you get involved?
HP: The Shanghai Writing Program is sponsored by the Shanghai Writer’s Association. I’m the Deputy Director of the External Liason office of the Shanghai Writers Association, which is in charge of coordinating the exchange with foreign writers.
CR: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
HP: I am the Deputy Director of the External Liaison Office of the Shanghai Writers Association.
CR: How was Shanghai chosen as the location for the program?
HP: Our hope is that writers will experience daily life in the city not as ordinary tourists but as close as how real Shanghainese people live. This is why writers stay in apartments close to the city center, where most people live.
CR: How many people are on staff? What is each person responsible for?
HP: In addition to hiring a professional literary translator, a total of two people are responsible for the liaison, itinerary and event arrangement during the city, to take care of living issues and needs during the writing process of the writers in Shanghai.
CR: What kind of writers do you host? Do you have a preference for early career writers or people who’ve been writing for longer?
HP: Our resident writers include novelists, poets, playwrights, etc., but we are more focused on novelists. The selection criteria are more inclined to young writers who are growing or have potential for development in literary creation.
CR: What is the shortest and longest residency lengths of stay you'll consider?
HP: In order to gain a deeper understanding of Shanghai, we hope that our resident writers will be able to live in Shanghai for 2 months.
CR: How many writers have you hosted so far?
HP: Since 2008, 80 writers from more than 40 countries have been invited to participate.
CR: Do all writers you host have to write a book while in residence?
HP: We do not have a requirement for writers in residency, that is, they do not need to submit the works after attending the residency.
CR: What have writers created during their time in the program? Can you give us an example or two of some of the most interesting projects by residents?
HP: Most resident writers have their own writing plans before coming to Shanghai. Some of them will finish their original writing progress, some will collect materials for the works in the brewing, and some will have new inspiration during the stay in the city. Amongst the most special cases, residents published a book introducing Shanghai. For example, Swiss writer Phillippe Rahmy published a collection of essays titled "Shanghai" after returning to China. As another example, the British-Chinese Malaysian writer Tash Aw's "Five Star Billionaire" piece is a story about a group of Malaysian Chinese living in Shanghai.
CR: The advantage of Shanghai is its thriving creative industry. Can you tell us a bit more about the opportunities you provide for residents to meet people in the local creative scene?
HP: We help as much as possible according to the writing needs of different writers. For example, the Irish writer Denyse Woods plans to write about the traditional Chinese instrument "笙" (Shen) in her new work. We contacted the Shanghai National Orchestra to introduce the instrument "笙" in detail. Another example is the Australian writer Alan Carter's series of novels, a Chinese detective novelist. At his request, we arranged for him to interview the police in Shanghai.
CR: Have collaborations taken place between the writers in the program?
HP: Since the writers in the same period lived in the same building, they live together and got to know each other in different aspects. Sri Lankan writer Sunethra Rajakarunanayake introduced the translation of the work of the Thai writer Prachakom Lunachai to Sri Lanka readers after returning home.
CR: Have collaborations taken place between the writers and local Shanghai creatives from different fields like art or film? Is that something the program seeks to facilitate?
HP: The exchanges between Chinese and foreign writers are more reflected in the translation of works. For example, the Bulgarian writer Zdravka Evtimova translated the works of several Chinese writers into Bulgarian publishing, amongst three poems of Chinese poet Zhao Lihong. Swiss author Annette Hug, Argentine writer Marina Porcellli, Indian writer Thachom Poyil Rajeveevan and other works were translated into Chinese and published in the electronic journal "Chinese and Foreign Pen Correspondence".
CR: How do you promote your residency to attract international artist applications?
HP: This is our English website http://www.shzuojia.com/zhuanti/writing/index.html. We have also reached agreements with some foreign literary institutions to send writers to the city, and keep in touch with the consulates in Shanghai. I hope they can recommend the right writer to participate in our program.
CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists?
HP: We will provide as much assistance as we can in accordance with the different needs of writers in residence in Shanghai.