Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai

Shanghai writers' residency program invites foreign writers to experience the city. Many of them find their way back to the city through their creative works.   

Fall is said to be the best season in Shanghai when the unbearable heat gives way to delightful breeze, and the sweet-scented osmanthus and red maple leaves cover the roads.

Foodies look forward to hairy crabs, crayfish and chestnuts and much more. It is also the time when the Shanghai Writers’ Association hosts its annual residency program for expat writers.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Shanghai Writing Program has accepted 69 writers from countries like Belgium, Canada, India, Tanzania and the United States. The city has also changed dramatically over the last ten years, so the expectations and experience of the guests change every year. Many of those who arrive here come with little idea about the city or the country.

This year, the program welcomed eight writers in September, many with clear subjects to research. Shanghai Daily spoke to some of them and got their impressions and thoughts on their stay here.

Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong
Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong

“On the Edge”

Galit Dahan Carlibach, Israel

Creative writing instructor, essayist, novelist, poet and literary tour guide

Q: Is there a recurring theme in your writings?

A: My writing is mainly about the unit called family and the fact that it is so fragile. I research relationships between mothers and motherhood, kids, etc.

Q: How did you prepare for the residency in Shanghai?

A: I didn't do much except for reading the novel "Frogs" by Mo Yan.

I never read reviews before reading a book, so in the same way, I didn't want to have advices before arriving and experiencing the unique city myself.

Q: What did you expect and did it turn out to be different?

A: Everything is so different and refreshing, and yet, we share something in common — the audience of the culture.

I come from Israel — a young state, and a small one compared with China. But you smell history like you do here when you travel to Jerusalem.

Q: What has been the most puzzling experience?

A: The size of the population! I have never seen so many people before, and often feel like I am inside a movie. I was very inspired by the distinct experience and I have completed the first draft of my next poetry book.

Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong
Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong

“Cocaine: A User’s Manual”

Julian Herbert, Mexico

Novelist, poet and essayist

Q: Is there a recurring theme in your writings?

A: It may be a technique rather than a theme – the memory – personal, historical, anthropological or the memory as a cognitive process.

Q: How did you prepare for Shanghai?

A: It turns out that I wasn't prepared for Shanghai, even if I thought otherwise.

I was writing an auto-fictional novel about my recent divorce mixed with the story of Frederick Stibbert, an Italian-English art collector from the early 20th century. At the end of the first part of the novel, I die with a heart attack and my soul goes to the Country of the Dead. That country, in the novel, is Shanghai, where my fictional character meets Oscar Wilde and Stibbert, among others.

I was expecting that Shanghai will give me some material as a background for the scenes, but then I missed my flight, was down with food poisoning, and on top of that was stuck in bed with lymphatic fever for almost two weeks. I completely lost control of my health. Not what I expected, but at the end, they are now all part of my novel.

Is the residency in Shanghai same or different from the other writing programs you participated before?

It is different (and ideal for me) because you don't have to commit to social compromises. There are some activities and lectures, but most of the time I can wander around the city and dedicate long hours to writing. My days in Shanghai are the most productive ones that I have had this year.

I am grateful to the association not only for the opportunity to travel overseas, but also the ideal time and space it gave for creativity. I will certainly miss it when I go back.

Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong
Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong

“The Hunt”

Marina Porcelli, Argentina

Writer, publisher and teacher

Q: Is there a recurrent theme in your writings?

A: I am writing a novel about anxiety, and the funny thing is that the program and my stay in Shanghai have managed to cure my anxiety completely.

Q: How?

A: My encounter with the watercolors in the museums was really amazing. I come from Buenos Aires, a stressful city with high levels of anxiety and fast-paced lifestyle typical of modern life.

Suddenly, I found watercolors, and was amazed by the patience it takes and the beauty that results from such patience. It was like finding a mechanism of being good.

Q: What has been the most impressive thing about the city?

A: Another great finding is about space and how it works in the city. I'm impressed by the vastness and immensity of buildings here, and how they have unique and intimate rooms inside. Every building is a particular planet, and I feel they have plenty of stories inside.

I also took some Chinese classes and the language's syntactic and grammatical constructions of tenses have inspired me to think a lot about the idea of time, a kind of timelessness made by this radical modernity coexisting with ancient expressions.

Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong
Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong

“Tell the Truth”

Nicolas Kurtovitch, New Caledonia

Playwright, novelist and poet, history and geography teacher

Q: Is there a recurring theme in your writings?

A: With plays, I question the society I am living in New Caledonia, in terms of its political and social situations.

My fictions are not only of my country, but based on relations between small groups of friends and the contemporary history of the world behind it.

Poetry is a state of mind, and a path I am walking along too.

I often link my writing with walking. Strongly anchored to the areas and places about which I speak, I write as I walk and I walk as I write. We have known since Plato's time that walking facilitates thoughts. A walk of initiation serves to call forth words, to open the sense and to listen.

Q: Did your stay here inspire you creatively?

A: I got inspired here mainly for poetry. Not that I am writing poems strictly about Shanghai, but even when the city is not mentioned, the energy of it and its people come into my poetry and into the way I understand daytime "human condition."

Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Making time and space in 'refreshing, puzzling' Shanghai
Ti Gong

“Undying Echoes of Silence”

Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, India

Writer, poet and scriptwriter

Q: Is there a recurring theme in your writings?

A: My writings, be it poetry, fiction or film script, are about my struggle to come to terms with loneliness of all sort – personal, social, historical, political and sometimes metaphysical.

Q: What did you expect of Shanghai and did it turn out to be the same?

A: I didn't expect anything in particular. All I wanted to have is a feeling of the life and culture here. I have been getting that. I also believe it would widen the horizon of my understanding of the world and enrich my writerly repertoire.

Q: What has been the most impressive and most puzzling thing about the city?

A: The silence, beauty and the elegance of the city impressed me beyond words.

The human imagination and intelligence that so meticulously designed the wonder called Shanghai is a puzzle.

Each program is unique in its own way of openings and exposures. This is my first residency in an Asian country, so days in Shanghai really add new pages to my experience.

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