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February 29, 2012

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Literary festival opens young minds

EVERY March for the past nine years, Shanghai has been flooded with ideas from both renowned and upcoming writers at the annual Shanghai International Literary Festival.

Now in its 10th year, the festival promises to provide more food for thought and spirited discussion, not only at its official venue at M on the Bund, but also at Concordia International School Shanghai, which has invited a number of authors to deliver talks and engage in lively debate.

The festival runs from Friday to March 18.

Last year, 85 writers from 17 countries and regions attended the festival. Many Shanghai-based expatriates also join the discussions, as moderators, volunteer helpers or members of the audience.

Nicholas Kent, history teacher and assistant principal at Concordia International School Shanghai, became interested at the festival soon after arriving in Shanghai in 2006. Last year he moderated a sold-out discussion with Leslie Chang, author of "Factory Girls."

In 2009, Kent and his colleague Mark Johnson started Concordia's lecture series, inviting many authors from the festival to speak on campus. Further, some authors from Concordia's separate lecture series were later invited to the literary festival.

"I was amazed by the number of important authors at the festival and the intimate settings in which the public could interact with them," Kent tells Shanghai Daily.

"Our goal in starting the lecture series was to expose our students to intellectuals beyond the classroom so they would be inspired by experts in various fields," he says. "It has been an extremely popular series bringing hundreds of people to Concordia."

Kent says he knows the campus lecture series has achieved something special when he sees students attending a lecture outside their coursework and talking about the topic for days. Parents often attend as well.

"We choose authors who provide an insight into the world for our students. Lectures tend to be aimed at older students, but we have brought in children's authors to speak with our younger kids," he says.

Students often ask very insightful questions that surprise and impress authors, he says.

This year's literary festival begins this weekend, and Kent has already invited a number of authors to give lectures.

Students are especially looking forward to Mara Hvistendahl, an award-winning writer and journalist focusing on the intersection of science, culture and public policy. At Concordia, she will discuss her book "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men."

"Our students are actively involved in Model United Nations, " Kent says.

"So the questions about gender imbalance and subsequent women's rights are topics in which many of our students have a deep knowledge and interest."


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