Empowering and connecting Asian writers and readers. Everywhere.

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‘The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature,’ Edited by Yunte Huang

In 1906, while studying medicine in Japan, a young Chinese man called Zhou Shuren was shown a slide depicting a scene from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, which was partly fought on Chinese territory. It showed a crowd of Chinese watching while one of their compatriots was beheaded by the Japanese, accused of being a Russian spy. “They were all strong fellows but appeared completely apathetic,” Zhou recalled. “After this film I felt that medical science was not so important after all. The people of a weak and backward country, however strong and healthy they may be, can only serve to be made examples of, or to witness such futile spectacles. . . . The most important thing, therefore, was to change their spirit, and since at that time I felt that literature was the best means to this end, I determined to promote a literary movement.”

Soon after this Damascene moment — one of the most celebrated conversions in 20th-century Chinese culture — Zhou began his career as the self-appointed literary doctor of China’s spiritual ills. Across the next three decades, under the pen name Lu Xun, he became one of the founding figures of modern Chinese literature.

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Karachi Lit Fest: After Anupam Kher, Nandita Das drops out of Karachi Literature Festival

Anupam-KherBollywood actor Nandita Das said on Thursday that she would not be coming to Pakistan to attend the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) as she has been unwell since Wednesday.

She shared the news on her Facebook post, citing her health reasons for not being able to attend the seventh edition of KLF, which is starting from February 5.

“I have been unwell since yesterday [Wednesday] and unfortunately I am unable to go [to] Karachi. I felt terrible letting down the organisers but it’s beyond my control. I had offered to do the sessions via Skype to make sure one can participate and the intent with which the Lit Fest is organised, is upheld,” she said in the post.

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Calls for photographs for an arts project

India-based IG Khan Memorial Trust is looking for photographs of people who have moved from their place of birth for an arts project.
They want to create a wall of portraits for their annual event in Aligarh, India, on the theme of borders, with two bits of information – your place of birth and where you live currently. The trust is looking for around 1000 images. The images will be either be printed or suspended with strings or pasted on paper/cloth during the event. These will be simple printouts, in A4 size.
“The idea is to talk about how humanity travels or how we are all migrants,” said Assad Husain, one of the co-founders of the event. “I would be very happy to have your photos as part of this effort.”
Photos should be emailed here: igmemorialtrust@gmail.com

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jon Gresham

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Jon Gresham PixLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I find writing quite a painful, difficult experience but then there’s the exhilarating rush when things fall into place and something that never was comes into being.

I enjoy the delusions, and license to tell lies. There is a compulsion and a need to deceive myself in order to find deeper layers of truth. I try to rationalise the accident of being alive and end up questioning every sentence.

Tell us about your most recent book. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My debut collection of short stories, We Rose Up Slowly, was published by Math Paper Press in July.

The stories concern issues of escape and belonging in contemporary Singapore, Australia, and Jakarta. As worlds fall apart, each protagonist has to confront the gap between messy reality and romantic idealism. I wanted to explore loneliness, disorientation, the framing of narratives, the mishmash of race and identity, the significance of the past in an uncertain present, and the delusions and distractions that obscure meaning and self-awareness. Continue reading

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Pankaj Mishra on Arundhati Roy: Hindu nationalists ​have many ways to silence writers

Author Roy is facing criminal trial for contempt of court in India. Of course, Narendra Modi’s government has left no clear fingerprints on this scene of a crime against art and thought: The Guardian

arundhati_royThe governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.

Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.

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Indian actor Anupam Kher stokes visa row over his purported visit to Pakistan to attend Karachi Lit Fest

The actor claimed that he was denied a Pakistani visa, the Pakistani high commission said that he never applied, and social media cracks up: Scroll.in

Anupam-KherAnupam Kher, social media and controversy are inseparable these days. All three elements were at play again on Tuesday when the actor was miffed after he claimed that the Pakistani authorities had denied him a visa to attend the Karachi Literary Festival starting February 5.

Kher, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan last week, alleged that he was the only one of the 18 Indian delegates invited to the event whose passport hadn’t been stamped. Among the Indians who will attend are Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Rahul Singh, Om Arora, Urvashi Butalia and Ashok Chopra and Nandita Das.

Inevitably, it all began on social media, when Kher posted a tweet on Tuesday morning announcing that his visa had been denied.

The matter took a twist when the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi denied having rejected Kher’s visa: they said that he had not made an application in the first place. This prompted the actor to continue his Twitter commentary on the issue.

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How a ‘coward’ literary society is killing ‘good’ Indian writing

You cannot play it safe and expect good writing to come out of a place: Omair Ahmad in the Daily.O

arundhati_roy_20140310.jpgPretty much everybody I know in India has an opinion on Charlie Hebdo. Even if some of them are confused whether it is the name of a man or a magazine, they do know that Charlie Hebdo is French, and there were attacks, murders, and there is something to do with cartoons and Freedom of Expression. Actually that might be too much knowledge. Opinions are formed without even such details.

For example, most people know that Salman Rushdie is (in)famous for a book called The Satanic Verses. They would not have read the book, and they might – just maybe – know that the book is restricted in India. Most people will tell you it is banned. This is not true.

The book is not banned, but its import into India is. The distinction is important because, if you want to change the current state of affairs, you at least need to know who to approach, what to argue. The silly, self-glorifying spectacle of authors reading passages from the book – which they are entirely legally allowed to do – makes no change to an import ban, and leaves the debate on freedom of expression exactly where it is – murdered in a ditch by the side of the road while we clink wineglasses and express our horror at the barbarians at the gates. This is satyagraha as silliness.

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Jhumpa Lahiri: ‘I am, in Italian, a tougher, freer writer’

The author’s new book, written in Italian and accompanied by English translation, is the result of an infatuation with Italy that began with her first visit in 1994. Here, the Pulitzer winner recounts her journey towards fluency, and answers our Q&A: The Guardian

Jhumpa“Returning to America, I want to go on speaking Italian. But with whom? I know some people in New York who speak it perfectly. I’m embarrassed to talk to them. I need someone with whom I can struggle and fail.

One day, I go to the Casa Italiana at New York University to interview a famous Roman writer, a woman, who has won the Strega prize. I am in an overcrowded room, where everyone but me speaks an impeccable Italian. The director of the institute greets me. I tell him I would have liked to do the interview in Italian. That I studied the language years ago but I can’t speak well.

“Need practising,” I say. “You need practice,” he answers kindly.

In 2004, my husband gives me something. A piece of paper torn from a notice that he happened to see in our neighbourhood, in Brooklyn. On it is written “Imparare l’italiano”—“Learn Italian.” I consider it a sign. I call the number, make an appointment. A likable, energetic woman, also from Milan, arrives at my house. She teaches in a private school, she lives in the suburbs. She asks me why I want to learn the language. I explain that I’m going to Rome in the summer to take part in another literary festival. It seems like a reasonable motivation. I don’t reveal that Italian is an infatuation. That I cherish a hope – in fact a dream – of knowing it well. I don’t tell her that I am tortured, that I feel incomplete. As if Italian were a book that, no matter how hard I work, I can’t write.”

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Publishing industry is overwhelmingly white and female, US study finds

Survey of workforce at 34 book publishers and eight review journals in US reveals 79% of staff are white and 78% female – with UK numbers still unmonitored: The Guardian

A survey of American publishing has found that it is blindingly white and female, with 79% of staff white and 78% women.

Multicultural children’s publisher Lee & Low Books surveyed staff at 34 American publishers, including Penguin Random House and Hachette , as well as eight review journals, to establish a baseline to measure diversity among publishing staff. They found that 79% were white. Of the remainder, Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders made up 7.2% of staff, Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans 5.5%, and black/African Americans 3.5%. Continue reading

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Intizar Hussain, leading Urdu writer, dies aged 92

Author shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2013 was an advocate of what he saw as Pakistan’s ancient traditions of pluralism and tolerance: The Guardian

Intizar_husainPakistani author Intizar Hussain, widely recognised as one of the greatest Urdu writers in history, has died aged 92 following a period of illness, according to his doctor.

The prolific author, known for his novels, short stories, columns and poetry, belatedly saw worldwide recognition when he was shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize in 2013 and awarded France’s highly prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres a year later.

Born on 7 December 1923 in India, he migrated to the newly formed Pakistan in 1947 – an experience he wrote about 50 years later in his short story The First Morning.

Hussain’s acclaimed novel Basti, published in 1979 and later translated into English, also addressed the history of Pakistan and the subcontinent.

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