Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2014

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Oct 31-Dec 9

Kate Adie, Junot Diaz and Chang Rae-Lee mix with local writers for this year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival, organiser Jessie Cammack tells Ysabelle Cheung

It may be former literary agent Jessie Cammack’s first year at organising the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, but she’s approaching the task with nothing but enthusiasm and determination aplomb. Those in literary circles know the festival’s funding issues reflect many of Hong Kong’s problems with money in the literary sector. Significantly less cash is devoted to this medium in comparison to other arts. However, Cammack is undeterred. “I think it’s hard for people to see how money is spent on literature,” she muses. “I’d like to demonstrate that writing – not necessarily the finished product, but the creativity of it – in Hong Kong is vital.”

For this year’s edition, Cammack, who previously worked at New York’s Jabberwocky Literary Agency previously, brings over a scattering of writers defined not necessarily by topic or theme, but by organic interest. “Our board talks about what’s exciting that’s on their reading list, and then we go from there,” says Cammack. “It’s a combination of programming and beginning with really good writers – sometimes when we invite a writer, they’ll end up suggesting another they know.” In the mix is stalwart BBC conflict journalist and writer Kate Adie, whose much-anticipated talk An Evening with Kate Adie sold out instantly. She also appears in a second event to discuss her latest book, Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One, in a series where other female authors explore topics of sexuality and femininity (or the absence-slash-subversion of it) in society, namely Indian writer Ira Trivedi (author of India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality) and British writer Shereen El Feki (author of Sex in the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World).

Despite the ‘international’ aspect of the festival, Cammack, like othermanagers before her, keeps aclose eye on Hong Kong’s tinybut thriving English writing culture. Local writers such as Dorothy Tse, Nigel Collett and Xu Xi feature. Events Voices Through Hong Kong and The Queen of Statue Square deal with, respectively, translation and the exploration of ‘mother tongue’. “These are talks that shouldn’t just happen anywhere,” comments Cammack. “I think it is so important to consider writing for Chinese and English speaking audiences and what those differences are.”

Looking across the cultural archipelago that crosses Asian continents, Tash Aw, the Malaysian-born author of China-set Five Star Billionaire, joins other festival authors (Alison MacLeod, Philip Hensher, Justin Hill and Mishi Saran) to extrapolate the creative writing processes in the composition of historical fiction. And of course, Chan Koon-chung and Chang Rae-Lee, literary heavyweights in their fictional commentaries on urban life in China, mesh the fray together.

Among those appearing on the international front is British writer Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine, now a major motion picture), American writer Chris Pavone (author of The Expats) and Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz (author of Pulitzer-prize winning novel Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), whose critically acclaimed anthology This is How You Lose Her is possibly this year’s most tangled and finely wrought volume on love and loss. One new aspect of the festival is its graphic novel and illustrated text component, of which Marjorie Liu and Sonny Liew heads. Liu speaks on her experiences writing for the Amazing X-Men series and Liew talks about The Dark Shadow, the origin story for 1940s Asian-American superhero – the first ever – Green Turtle.

The festival became a charity last year, which marks just one of the small changes being made within the company structure. Cammack hopes to build upon the festival’s reputation and with the lineup offered this year, there can only be good reads ahead.

HKILF Various locations, Oct 31-Nov 9. Tickets: $80-$800; eventbee.com.

See also

Q&A: Joe Dunthorne
We meet the author of Submarine and Wild Abandon during his appearance at the HK International Literary Festival. Read more



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