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March 3, 2011

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Book bash on the Bund

FOR the next three weeks, the city will be crackling with fresh ideas from around the world in the annual Shanghai International Literary Festival. Yao Minji turns the page.

The Shanghai International Literary Festival kicks off today with 85 writers from 17 countries tackling a variety of topics that include Chinese culture, current affairs, women's equality, detective novels and slapping children.

The ninth annual festival, which runs through March 20, packs a lot into weekends, such as literary lunches, and offers events during the week. There's something for everyone, including sessions for children.

Today there's a Women's Day literary lunch with novelist Ann Summers, author of "The End of Equality," "Damned Whores" and "God's Police." An opening cocktail reception will be held tonight.

All events are held at the Glamour Bar and M on the Bund.

The festival offers talks and discussions with authors, workshops, poetry sessions, literary lunches, walks through the old lanes of Shanghai, a film screening, children's sessions and the annual "edible books" competition.

In the "Literary Death Match" on March 18, four famous and emerging authors perform their works in seven minutes or less.

There will be a session titled "Women in Publishing" by four women writers next Tuesday, the International Women's Day, and a session "Poets Alive!" with Irish poets on March 17, the St Patrick's Day. On March 20, the last day, six sessions for children of all ages will be held.

"Our children's sessions have become one of the most popular over the years. Kids (and their parents) appreciate having something book-related to do on the weekend. This inspired us to dedicate a day to kids," Michelle Garnaut, festival founder and M on the Bund owner, tells Shanghai Daily.

One of the headliners of this year's festival is Australian literary legend Thomas Keneally, the Booker Prize-winning author of "Schindler's Ark" (later republished as "Schindler's List"), which was adapted into Steven Spielberg's film of the same name, winning seven Academy Awards including the Best Picture in 1993.

Keneally's most recent works include nonfiction "Australians: Origins to Eureka" and novel "The People's Train," about how a dissident who escapes from Russia to Australia in 1911 returns to fight in the 1917 revolution. He will give a talk tomorrow morning about his life and works.

Other award-winning participants include Irish-born playwright, literary historian and novelist Emma Donoghue, Indian-Bengali author Amitav Ghosh and Australian author Christos Tsiolkas. Donoghue's international bestselling novel "Room" (2010) was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and she will share the book's backstory with the festival audience next Thursday.

Ghosh, one of India's best-known writers, has won numerous literary awards, including Prix Medicis Etranger award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Dan David Prize. He will offer "A View of Antique Lands" on Sunday.

Next Saturday, Tsiolkas will describe his award-winning novel "The Slap," and discuss whether beating a child can be justified. The novel has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and has been adapted into an eight-part TV series.

It begins when a boy is slapped at a barbecue by a man who is not his father and follows the repercussions of that slap in the families attending the barbecue.

The festival features various panels, including the "Asian Crime Gang" on March 19, putting together acclaimed authors Qiu Xiaolong, SJ Rozan, Nury Vittachi, Colin Cotterrill and Vikram Chandra.

Qiu is the author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Chen series of mystery novels and a loyal attendee of the festival since 2003. A native Shanghainese and witness to the event since it started, Qiu considers attending the event "my way of paying tribute to the city."

"In 2003, not too many people came here or knew anything about it, but nowadays, it's well-known internationally. A number of writers have talked to me about the festival with great interest," says Qiu.

Apart from the panel on March 19, Qiu will conduct a Red Dust Lane Walking Tour on March 20, the closing day. It's named for his latest novel, "Years of Red Dust: Stories of Shanghai (2010)."

Organizer Garnaut urges readers to listen to talks by authors they're not familiar with and promises they will be pleasantly surprised. For example, South Korean author Kim Young-ha will talk about "The Continuing Relevance of Literary Noir" as related to his first novel, "I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, which won the Munhakdongne prize in 1996.

Playwright Tommy Nohilly was a security guard for 17 years and began writing scripts on his night shifts.

And H.K. Chang, former president of City University of Hong Kong, will share insights on "Cultural Exchange Along the Silk Road."

On March 20, the closing day, the third annual edible books competition will be held. Competitors will present their edible works that are inspired by books, and the delights will be consumed at the afternoon tea.


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