VANCOUVER— Celebrating “a world of words,” more than 90 worldwide prestigious writers have come together at Vancouver’s Granville Island for what has come to be known as one of North America's finest literary gatherings.
Running for six days starting Oct. 21st, the 21st Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival features various authors’ interactive presentations of their books and inspirational experiences.
“The festival brings the writers with books together with readers for conversations about the important things we learn from books, the way we can understand the world through books,” said Hal Wake, Artistic Director of the festival.
“We often have 350 or 450 people at an event listening to the writers, and then getting a chance to participate themselves by asking questions. It’s a way of celebrating the written word.”
Around a dozen events are held each day covering a diverse range of topics. At an event entitled A Great and Terrible Nation, notable American writers Peter Matthiessen, George Pelecanos, Jonathan Raban, and Meg Wolitzer defined current events in the United States and analyzed the possible outcome of the upcoming election that has the world watching.
At Lost and Found in Translation, five authors from different countries read their works in their mother tongue, with an English translation displayed on a projection screen. The audience was able to hear the mellifluous flow of the original language while exploring the inner meaning in English.
Various other topics covered include the relationship between black, aboriginal, and white communities, the connection between North America and Great Britain, as well as cotemporary social issues around the globe.
“Each festival is different,” said Wake. “It has its own kind of character and flavour. This year a lot of the discussions and events are focused on different kinds of issues. When I sit down to put the festival together, I choose some writers and I always have a sense of the kinds of things that they write and then I start to look for other writers whose work will resonate or bounce off writers that I’ve already chosen.”
Invited to this year’s festival were three renowned Chinese authors, Qiu Xiaolong, Sheng Xue, and Ting-xing Ye, all of whom once led intriguing lives in China. They offered their insight on China in the event Chinese Puzzle at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.
Ye and Sheng commented on the Beijing Olympics which brought China into the global spotlight.
“I think the whole world is just too overtaken by the Olympic Games … I think the Olympic Games is so politicized and so commercialized,” said Ye. “Things changed a lot [in China], but the fundamental thing has not changed — the system itself.”
Now living in Toronto, Ye published many books in English including the memoir A Leaf in the Bitter Wind, the award-winning Throwaway Daughter, Mountain Girl River Girl, young-adult fiction, and the memoir My Name Is Number 4.
Sheng, the Beijing-born poet and journalist currently residing in Toronto, said the Games were “a big deal because the Chinese governent wanted to use it to show its rising power to the world. I do feel the Olympic Games was a tool used by the Chinese government to get attention … for their power to the world.”
Qiu, a poet, translator, and author of the award-winning Inspector Chen, a series of five detective novels written in English but set in Shanghai, spoke about the modern Chinese society depicted in his mystery stories.
“A lot of things happened in China that inspired me to write the stories,” said Qiu, who now lives in St. Louis, MO, with his family after leaving China in 1988.
“For one example, the corruption in China nowadays … is typical stuff for mystery. And also the trauma left by the Cultural Revolution, that’s also good stuff for logical mystery. Not too many Chinese writers are writing about these traumatic experiences and how they can really affect people even today.”
Sheng, a member of PEN Canada and the Canadian correspondent for Radio Free Asia, published three works in Chinese: Unveiling the Yuan Hua Case, a poetry collection Seeking the Soul of Snow, and Lyricism from a Fierce Critic, a collection of essays.
Sheng’s books contain vivid factual stories based on her own experiences and investigative research. Unveiling the Yuan Hua Case, about China's most prominent smuggling case of Lai Changxing, reveals numerous inside facts on the Chinese regime.
The renowned Chinese writer spoke of her early writing career back in Northeast China.
“I started to write poems when I was eighteen years old … because life was so miserable, so hopeless. I didn’t know what I could do, I didn’t know what was the meaning of my life. So I started to write poems for myself. It was like I got someone to talk to.”
Even though Sheng’s books gained notable attention within Chinese communities around the world, none of them were published in mainland China. The state-run General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which screens all Chinese literature to be published in China, banned her books simply because her name was on the Communist blacklist as an expressive writer.
“I am very happy [to be at the Writers Festival] because I have a chance to tell my story and to exchange ideas and to let people to know more about me,” said Sheng. “I think it’s nice for the audience to have different angles about the past of China and the present of China.”
Leslie Chang, a third-generation Chinese who attended Chinese Puzzle along with her daughter, was fascinated by the writers’ discussions and analysis on China.
“I found it quite informative,” said Chang, a teacher. “I have not read any of their books, [but] I am quite intrigued. They are putting a lot at risk — at risk of being so public. I really appreciate that they are spreading the word … They have a passion for writing, for their country and the history behind it. They want the westerners to know what is really there. It’s coming from the heart, I can tell.”
Books are sold following each event with the authors available for signing. In addition, the Festival Bookstore includes publications from 32 book publishers and offers all the books featured at the festival.
For more information on the event, please see: Writers Festival