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March 4, 2010

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Books to illuminate and mystify, to make us laugh - and to eat

SPREADING its wings far beyond the Asia-Pacific region, the Shanghai International Literary Festival opening tomorrow will attract authors from around the world.

Now in its eighth year, the festival will be spread over three weekends through March 21. It will offers almost 60 sessions with authors and many free events.

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

Nordic literature will be featured in several sessions. South African and Ugandan writers will describe their work and there will also be a special St Patrick's Day look at Irish writers.

While tempting Shanghai literary fans with its most international line-up of writers, the festival features Chinese and local writers as well. Topics are diverse as the history of photography in China and the days of Shanghai's swinging cabaret clubs.

"This is our biggest and most international festival yet - 60 authors from 22 countries and regions, speaking on topics from the Arctic to Mahatma Gandhi and Shanghai's newly renovated Botanical Garden," says Michelle Garnaut, festival founder and M on the Bund owner.

"We're thrilled to see how far the festival has come, and as always at this point in the organizing, we're immensely grateful to all the people who make it happen - sponsors, volunteers, audiences, staff and festival friends," she says.

In an effort to keep ticket prices down, entry remains very reasonable. All literary events cost 65 yuan (US$9.50).

In a new move for the festival, it will make all children's sessions free.

The festival will also hold lunchtime workshops on writing and publishing that will cost 120 yuan and includes a lunchbox.

Tickets to the literary lunches costs 188 yuan.

Festival-goers will have a chance to rub shoulders with visiting authors at the opening tomorrow night at Glamour Bar.

Saturday sees a bumper collection of authors to kick off the first full day. The first literary lunch of the festival showcases Nordic literature, titled "Northern Lights: Smorrebrod & Aquavit." The authors include Danish poet Lars Bukdahl, Finnish author for young adults Riita Jalonen, Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad and Icelandic novelist and poet Sjon.

Moderated by Rebecca Albinus, the panel will discuss trends in Nordic literature, identity and a global perspective on Nordic writing.

For those looking for a personal window on China's modern history, Yuan Tsung Chen will bring history to life through the epic story of her family.

Spanning three generations and three revolutions, her family was landless peasants during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), a member of the family was an adviser to Dr Sun Yat-sen and another a soldier of the Civil War.

The first day ends with an expert panel discussion on gay culture in Asia, "Framing Queer Asia: Cultural and Legal Perspectives," addressing culture, community,

Sunday opens with a focus on kids and writing for young readers, with successful children's author Sarah Brennan holding a workshop on writing for kids.

Award-winning teen fiction writer Riita Jalonen will talk about creating characters and emotions that appeal to adolescents.

The day will finish with a bang with Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz speaking about his award-winning novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and the eternal quest for home.

The trials and tribulations behind writing guidebooks and travelogues of destinations across Asia are one of the highlights of the second week.

The session on March 13 features Rough Guide writer David Leffman who has coauthored guides to China and travel writer Garry Marchant who shares tales from 30 years on the road.

On the festival's second weekend, Shanghai resident Andrew Field will take festival-goers back to Shanghai's famed cabaret culture in the first half of the 20th century. Field's book recalls the city's cabaret culture and urban politics from 1919 to 1954.

Another Shanghai resident, Tess Johnston, will introduce her recently launched book "Permanently Temporary: From Berlin to Shanghai in Half a Century." The memoir recounts her life that spans three continents and more than 45 years - seven in Germany and another 35 in Asia, including almost 25 years in Shanghai.

This Sunday sees Australian writer Graham Freudenberg discussing his 2009 Walkley Award-winning novel "Churchill and Australia" and famed Australian poet Les Murray reading his work.

African writer Moses Isegawa will entertain with stories from Uganda and the weekend will culminate with the second annual Great FT Debate.

Lovers of a ripping page-turner will enjoy blockbuster legal mystery writer Scott Turow's appearance in the third week of the festival, when he will discuss his well-known bestseller "Presumed Innocent," the craft of writing and the legal-whodunit genre.

Following on the weekend will be another collection of authors including Mo Zhi Hong whose debut novel "The Year of the Shanghai Shark" recounts the year of Yao Ming's rise in Shanghai, SARS and the Iraq War.

On the last Sunday Terry Bennett will finish the last day of the festival with a fascinating talk on the history of photography in China from its first recorded image in 1842, and how the discovery of photography was framed against China's tumultuous modern history of the latter part of the 19th century.

The Books2Eat section is an ongoing display of edible books - books, characters, titles, scenes, themes, famous lines - anything book-related, as long as it is made from something edible. It could be chocolate, cabbage or cheese.

Tickets are available through or by calling 400-620-6006. For more information, call the M hotline at 6321-3599 or check


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