Xu Xi’s latest novel, Habit of a Foreign Sky
When you’re around the world’s literati, you’re usually a little lit. A bit inebriated. Slightly slurred. Deliciously drunk. Oh, on words of course (Mais oui! What else?). Or if you’re running an international, low-residency MFA with Asian characteristics, you’re intoxicated in multiple Englishes and other languages.
Let’s talk about that lit life (and being lit). It’s such a precarious one (I’ve had full-time jobs, free lance assignments, part-time jobs, no jobs and scrambled for cash . . . married, divorced, re-married, divorced again, moved here, there, back to here, on to over there, and there and there . . . juggled friends and lovers in order not to lose the ones I cared about. Haven’t you?). I don’t know a writer who doesn’t balance work, family, friends with their writing, never mind all those obsessions that made you a writer in the first place. Yet when you’re out there on the circuit – at festivals, giving readings, launching a book, being celebrated (in those grander, luckier moments) – it can sometimes feel like being the writer is all you can be, as if the rest of life no longer exists.
So my blog posts will take you along on my lit, lit life, which has been here, there, and everywhere given my peripatetic history. Last November, my ninth book was released, Access Thirteen Tales (which includes a story “Famine” that first appeared right here in Ploughshares). That book took my lit life from Hong Kong to Perth to Macau to Tempe, Arizona to Shanghai to Makassar, Indonesia to New York to Chicago to Little Rock, Arkansas. And we’re still on the road.
Two years ago, my latest novel Habit of a Foreign Sky (this title is courtesy of Emily Dickinson, first line “Away from home are some and I”) took me on a similarly global itinerary, to some different cities and countries, of festivals, universities, art spaces, reading series, book fairs.
In between were all the symposiums, conference panels (AWP for instance), workshops, MFA residencies (just completed a 3-year, elected term as faculty chair at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ low-residency MFA program attended, taught at or led, also with global characteristics.
So come fly with me, or sail, or go via rail, on board buses, by car or by foot as we run, jog, walk, stroll to meet and confab with those others on this lit, lit life. They write too, like you and me, and are juggling, balancing, doing whatever it takes to produce their books or stories or poems or essays or other genres that are in the process of still being defined and refined for our inter- and intra-netted sphere. You can facebook, twitter, link-in or email me. You can even write me a letter via pigeon post (assuming we’re not feasting on that pigeon in Guangzhou as I likely will be in December). Or invite me to join yet some other global connective tissue before it flutters off into ten thousand shreds. Ancient Chinese (and Asian generally) wisdom has it that being human (even those on the lit, lit life are more or less human, we think) is all about corralling those “ten thousand things.”
“Thing” is such a useful word. It does not defy translation.
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Lit, Lit Life: Intercontinental Itinerary
You want an itinerary??? And you call yourself a writer?
We’re in Hong Kong in July while the annual book fair is on so you can meet an emerging poet and native son of the city Nicholas Y.B. Wong. His first poetry collection Cities of Sameness was released in February by Desperanto. He’s also one of the first graduates this July of the MFA at CityU Hong Kong, part of the original 2010 pioneer cohort.
Or as one bright young thing from Shenzhen, China quipped, at the summer residency student reading – “I was going to read a piece called WTF is a ‘cohort’???? But ran out of time to write it” from a fiction student in the 2013 cohort. This group raised the nationality count to 20 and countries of residence to 15 for the student profile of the program (71 students since 2010 and counting).
Meanwhile, there were Jose Dalisay and Jill Dawson to amuse and instruct and enlighten us. What genie summoned these two fabulous J.D.’s simultaneously to Hong Kong in July from Manila and London?
Jose Dalisay is truly a working writer, in every sense of the term. He’s a leading Asian author writing in English out of Asia, and represents the culture of his native Philippines on many fronts. Besides his 20 books of fiction and nonfiction published to date, he is also well known as “Butch” Dalisay to the readers of his regular Penman columns in the Arts and Culture section of the Philippine Star. In addition to that, you’ll find Jose all over the world speaking on Philippine culture, politics and literature at universities and literary festivals, when he’s not directing the UP Institute of Creative Writing, that is.
Jill Dawson is truly a novelist, and it is through her seven novels (eighth one forthcoming soon) that we know her best. She is an eloquent writer, one who produces literary page turners – read any one of her books and you will not be able to put it down, even while you’re charmed by the poetry of her sentences – and the awards, fellowships, short listings and long listings of her novels for some of the most prestigious literary awards in Britain are testament to the esteem with which her work is regarded.
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Signing off now. Next posting from Byron Bay, Australia along the coastline by the Pacific of the East as we go to the lighthouse (less tentatively than Woolf) and talk to the literati down under, under the big top tents of the annual Byron Bay Writers’ Festival that did NOT get rained out this year.