Tuesday, 3 November 2015

APWT Manila Conference / Jane Camens

This has been a busy few weeks in the Asian literary calendar, with a variety of events on offer. See, for example, recent posts on the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, as well as the on-going series from the Singapore Writers Festival. Furthermore, the region’s literary network, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, which is currently based in Hong Kong, but which is soon to move its headquarters to Brisbane, held its eighth annual conference in Manila, from 22 – 25 October.  Here Jane Camens, co-founder and Executive Director, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, gives an account of proceedings.

Our multifaceted 2015 conference, Against the Grain, was hosted by the University of the Philippines and the Philippine National Commission for Arts and Culture. Some 140 writers from 16 countries took part. The event brought together emerging writers, creative writing teachers, literary agents, translators and publishers.

Award-winning Filipino author, and teacher of creative writing, Jose Dalisay (Butch), gave the opening keynote address, surprising some of the international delegates who weren’t aware the Philippines has led the region in teaching creative writing. The Philippines has held national annual writing workshops for at least 50 years. Unlike most countries in Asia, the Philippines offers writing programmes from the bachelor’s to the PhD level in several major universities.

Butch spoke of “a new wave of writing produced by young, brash, and brilliant writers” who are less connected to the Philippine’s old Spanish literature than to Japan’s Haruki Murakami, and who look “less to newsprint than to Wattpad”. He said this new literature “reaches deep into our rich trove of myths and mystic beliefs, into our varied ethnolinguistic traditions”. He added it is being produced not only in English but also in Filipino, and major regional languages.

Among the long-distance attendees was the director of the creative writing programme at the University of Iceland, RĂșnar Helgi Vignisson.

Kate Griffin, International Programme Director at the British Centre for Literary Translation, came from the UK. She said: “For me, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators is four days of privileged access to different ways of thinking”.  Qaisra Shahraz, whose novel The Holy Woman become a bestseller in Indonesia and Turkey, also flew in from the UK, her current base. She deemed the conference important for making connections in Asia, and said: “Since I joined five years ago it’s something I look forward to every year.”

The poet Ravi Shankar flew in from the USA, to run half a dozen writing master classes, offered at bargain prices! Ravi, founder of the electronic arts journal Drunken Boat and professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, said: “APWT enables me to connect with other writers from around the world, and that has proved remarkably important because those sorts of conversations are simply not taking place, even in a cosmopolitan city like New York. The relationships I’ve built with editors and other writers have been instrumental in shaping my own aesthetics and my sensibility and I don’t think I could have those experiences anywhere else. I think this is a profoundly important organisation.”

For Indonesian writer Eliza Vitri Handayani, APWT is indeed profoundly important. After reading her fiction at an earlier APWT forum in Bangkok she was approached by Vagabond Press. Handayani’s newly published novel, From Now On Everything Will Be Different, was launched at the Manila conference. Vagabond has since published other APWT members spotted at the conferences, including Japanese writer Kyoko Yoshida.

Singaporean residents who joined this year included author Irene Cristalis (East Timor, A Nation’s Bitter Dawn), Robin Hemley who is not only a director of APWT but also director of the writing programme at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, poet Aaron Lee who came with his new collection Coastlands, S. Mickey Lin, co-editor of Tales of Two Cities, the upcoming short story anthology by writers of the Hong Kong Writers Circle and Singapore Writers' Group, and Cheryl Robson, founder of Aurora Metro Books.

Australian-Filipino author Merlinda Bobis launched a Philippine edition of her latest novel Locust Girl. A Love Song. She said:” APWT is important in the light of current geopolitics. Story telling across cultures reminds us that we share a lot of things more than our differences and we are bonded in storytelling.”

APWT’s chair, Hong Kong-based author Nury Vittachi, stressed that APWT is important not just for Asia:  “Asia, in terms of population, is bigger than all the other regions put together. So what happens in Asia is important for the world”.

His thoughts were echoed by others. “I can’t think of any other organisation that brings writers together from all the corners of Asia, that gets them sharing their work, or gets them to think critically about what it means to write and to teach writing’ said James Shea, an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing at Hong Kong Baptist University.

The APWT Board is not particularly interested in so-called star appearances. The organisation has a flat structure and at conferences everyone is hailed by their first name.  The conferences aren’t academic and are not writers’ festivals either, falling somewhere in between. Speakers are asked not to read from written papers and to speak about topics that inform their creative writing, or are problematic to it. As well as keynotes, break out panels, and master classes, events at our conferences include book launches, and dinners.

Membership of APWT is free until further notice. So now is the time to join! The 2016 conference will be held in Guangzhou, China, 24 - 27 November, hosted by Sun Yat-Sen University. For more information about the 2016 conference email me at jane.camens@apwriters.com.  A special Filipino edition of APWT’s magazine LEAP+ was produced for Manila. Click here to take a look.