Ever since the light bulb was invented, the night no longer re- stricted what humans could do. Writers participating in the 2015
Shanghai Writing Program were tasked with contemplating the link between city life and light. The 11 writers invited to live in Shanghai for two months for this year’s program can write whatever they want although it is hoped the trip will inspire their creativity and give them a deeper insight into the city and its people.
Wang Anyi, president of the Shanghai Writers’ Association, which sponsors the program, said this year’s theme is “City Light.”
She asked the writers, “So for us, citizens of city light, is this part of us also the reality? Or are we just shapes, shadows, ghosts or dust that flickers slowly in the lamp light?”
In the past two months, the writers from France, India, Britain, Turkey, Aus- tralia, Bulgaria, Israel, Sri Lanka and Thailand attended literary readings with readers and writers in the SWA, visited Shanghai Yuan Dynasty Water Gate Museum, heard the “Sounds of Shanghai” at the Shanghai Audio Video Archive, drank Chinese tea, learned to write their names in Chinese, and met students from Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School.
At the readings, French novelist Olivi- er Rolin read an excerpt from his novel “Paper Tiger,” which was translated into Chinese in 2012. Rolin, who joined the Maoist far-left in France in the 1960s, used his book to explore the complex intertwining of idealism and politics and humanity’s universal longing for peace and love.
Indian novelist Kavery Nambisan read from her most recent novel, “A Town Like Ours,” in which she takes read- ers into the heart of rural India. Also a surgeon who practices in rural India, Kavery’s career in medicine has been a strong influence in her fiction. Tanzanian poet and musician Char- lotte O’Neal, who also likes to be called “Mama C,” played the nyatiti, a tradi- tional eight-string African lyre, at the reading. As she sang she pointed to individuals in the audience and asked them to say the word “peace” aloud in his or her native language. Vermin Yildirim, a Turkish writer born in 1980, said: “I need to thank the SWA for giving me the chance to communicate with these writers from around the world. Though language is always a barrier, we can always sing and laugh. I believe we have more similari- ties than differences.”
Hu Peihua, deputy director of the SWA’s External Liaison Department, said: “We have hosted a series of liter- ary events in an aim to give our guest writers an overview of Shanghai and what nurtures the culture of literature in Shanghai. Despite the organized readings and trips, the writers are left more with their own time to explore the city as they like.”
British novelist Joe Dunthorene said he loved the program’s freedom. Every day in the afternoon, he would take a walk to a different part of the city. He kept a diary of the things he had expe- rienced like the Bund, an Internet cafe and eating xiaolongbao, a local snack of steamed buns. He especially enjoyed learning a traditional shuttlecock kick- ing game from an old man in a park. Dunthorene compared it to the tech- niques needed to play soccer.
Like Dunthoren, Bulgarian novelist Georgi Grozdev, too, found some fun in the city’s parks. He wrote a poem about the “dancing grannies” in Fuxing Park. He said: “... from toes to soles, they are in perfect unison; beautiful, exquisite ... people in the street join in and they become one with the music.” While the men were lingering in the park, Israeli novelist Judith Katzir tried to capture the essence of the city by vis- iting many of the exhibitions on display around town.
“There is beauty to see and how well the past is combined into the future by using new technologies,” she said after seeing the 3D remake of the original painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” at China Art Museum.
Sri Lankan novelist Thiranjani Sun- nethra Rajakarunanayake, on the other hand, was more interested in alley life. She greeted old ladies, held some ba- bies and used the little Chinese that she picked up while working with China Radio International in Beijing between 2000 and 2004.
She said she was working on a novel about a Chinese family who left Shang- hai in the 1930s for Sri Lanka and then tried to retrace their roots in China.
“I want to name the book ‘Shanghai Ren’ or just ‘Shanghai’ now that I have had such close observation of the locals living in the alleys,” Sunnethra said.
Australian novelist Adam W. Narnst lived in the city between 2008 and 2012 and was a lecturer at Shanghai Normal University. He had the chance to return through the writing program.
“It took me three years to meet my psy- cho-pass in Shanghai when I first came to the city. Everything’s been changing so fast that the challenge to write them down gives me a key burning sensation in the sun. But now it seems that I am experienced enough,” he said.
Though it is not required that guest writers write about Shanghai after the program, “it is our hope that the diverse experiences of living in Shanghai may contribute to their creativity and under- standing of the city and the people of Shanghai,” said Wang.
Beginning in 2008, the Shanghai Writing Program has so far hosted 47 writers from 30 countries. With its size and influence growing over the years, it has become a wonderful opportunity for writers to exchange ideas.