The Second Reading of the 2016 Sun Yat-sen Universityl Writers’ Residency

November 9, 2016

By Nazlı İnal


On Sunday, November 6, 2016 the second reading of the 2016 Sun Yat-sen University Writers’ Residency organized by the Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing took place in the School of Foreign Languages at 7:15 pm. George Szirtes and Rúnar Helgi Vignisson of the residency were joined by our very own Dai Fan as well as Mrs Jiang Shumei in an inspiring reading.


The reading began with Austin Woerner’s remarks, one of the two foreign instructors of the SFL, a writer and a translator himself, who was serving as the MC for the night. Woerner said, “I think you will all agree that it is something of a miracle that we are all sitting in this auditorium together. Not just that these writers are with us, but that the Sun Yat-sen University School of Foreign Languages is the only department of its kind in China, the only one to have built a community around creative writing in English. If it had not been for the person I am about to introduce, not only would these writers not be here today, but this unique community would not exist to welcome them.”


Professor Dai gave a short speech comparing the last two years of the Writers’ Residency and emphasizing its growth on many aspects. She thanked “Lingnan Foundation and Jiangmen Tourism Bureau for sponsoring the Residency, and for the Dutch Consulate, New Zealand Consulate, German Consulate in Guangzhou for facilitating international travel for their writers,” and ended her speech by saying, “I'm very grateful for Yangshuo High School, Guangxi Normal University, the Association of Arts and Literature of Yangshuo County, Xinhua College for their collaboration on our cultural events and public events. I want to thank Mr. Huang Lihai, the general editor of the journal of Peotry and People, and Chen Dingfang, the general manager of Xue'eryou Bookstore, for our joint events. My gratitude also goes to my colleagues Nazli Inal and Austin Woerner, for their expertise and support in teaching and event organization, for Huang Guanwen, or Paul, as some of you know him by, and Hua Yi and Lin Lu, for the administrative support, and the many colleagues who have supported my work at different stages. I thank all the students for their help in Yangshuo, Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Jiangmen. Last but not least, I want to thank Mr. Wei Donghua, who has been documenting all our work.”

George Szirtes, who won the 11th People and Poetry Award, was the first reader, and he read five of his poems, representing many of modes he works in, such as restrained forms, found poetry, and ekphrastic poetry. A third year student, 陈英(Janet) who was in attendance said, “I appreciated the poems of George Szirtes. I think he was not reading but singing on the stage, and it impressed me a lot. I’ve always believed that a poem is beautiful and magical, though it is only when it is read by the right person, its charm can be visible.” She also said the next piece, a short story by Rúnar Helgi Vignission, the best as she novels and short stories are her favorite literary forms.


Vignisson’s Sandals was translated from Icelandic to English, and from English to Chinese, and both translations were projected on the screens. In fact, throughout the reading the audience could see English and Chinese translations of all the works that were read, which was one of the many ways the Residency had improved this year.


Professor Dai Fan read after Vignisson by a piece of creative nonfiction. Another student 张文丽 (Evelyn) said, “I’m deeply impressed by Professor Dai Fan’s reading. She shared stories of her three classmates in elementary school, Qiu Qiang, Xie Jin, and Big Head Brother, who were all disadvantaged children and suffered a lot from prejudice. Her reading convinced me that all lives deserve equal respect. Good stories do have the power to evoke in their readers the kindness within our hearts, which is what makes us human.”


Following the three very impressive writers was the one who became the star of the night, Mrs Jiang Shumei. Jiang Shumei learned to read and write when she was sixty years old and went on to publish the first of her four books when she was seventy-five. This was her first public reading, which greatly moved her audience, old and young. Among the students, 张苗苗(Mandy) said that, “Her story was very similar to what my grandma told me; but her story had many details that my grandma didn’t tell me. She read in a Northern dialect, and it felt more cordial and funnier than reading in Putonghua or English for me because I come from North China. I admire her very much,” while 李桔墁 (Vicky) commented on the usage of Chinese elements and compared her to other writers. “Jiang Shumei was the most impressive reader, partly because of her old age and her extraordinary story of becoming a writer, but also because she worked on the “traditional Chinese elements” like Mo Yan and Jia Pingwa,” she said. 冯浣莹(Lucky) said, “The most impressive piece of writing for me was the last gentle lady’s. Not only it was a Chinese piece and brought me a sense of familiarity, while deepening my sadness and shock for the old Chinese society, but also it was my first time to hear a written piece recording the detailed process of “guojiao” including many shocking details about it. It really left me with a strong emotion which I believe will last for long.”


This year’s Residency hosts Larissa Boehning (Germany), Merlinda Bobis (Australia), Barbara Colio (Mexico), George Szirtes (Britain), Rúnar Helgi Vignisson (Iceland), Daan Heerma Van Voss (the Netherlands), Alison Wong (New Zealand), and Ravi Shankar and Katherine Scott Nelson (USA), who have given lectures, workshops, and readings in both the Guangzhou’s South Campus and in Zhuhai, and they will be heading to Jiangmen to conclude their stay in China.