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September 26, 2013

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Foreign writers feel pull of their hometowns

The places where people are born and raised inspire memories and feelings, and that’s especially true of writers whose words are often inspired by their hometowns.

“Many writers have written their hometown into literary works, and as they grow up they compare their hometowns with other cities or countries,” says noted Shanghai-based writer Ye Xin, host of a seminar on “Hometown and Writing” on Tuesday in Wujiang District of Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province.

Ye is vice president of the Shanghai Writers’ Association.

The seminar is a part of the Shanghai Writing Program, which started in 2008 and invites foreign writers to live in the city for two months, visit surrounding areas and write. This time it involves eight writers from Argentina, Belgium, Cuba, India, Mexico, Portugal, the United States and the UK. A number of them live elsewhere, but memories of home persist.

The writers’ seminar was co-organized by Shanghai Daily, the Shanghai Writers’ Association and the Wujiang District Information Office.

Argentine novelist Samanta Schiweblin attributed her style, combining fantasy and realism, to her childhood in Buenos Aires.

“My artist grandfather loved showing me around my hometown in a strange and unfamiliar way, leading me to where trains and subways are hidden and taking me to meet artists. This helped me learn to describe realistic things in an abstract way,” she said.

Denys Woods, the Boston-born daughter of an Irish diplomat, has lived in many places, including the Middle East. “Writers are inevitably affected by places where they grew up, in the way they write and see things,” she said.

Woods live in west County Cork where she is inspired by the wild scenery.

This is the third year of the cross-cultural literary dialogue. For the past two years, foreign writers in the program traveled to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and took part in seminars on “Travel and Writing” and “Music and Writing.”

Before the seminar the group toured an ecological park and Tongli ancient water town. They attended a performance of Suzhou pingtan in Wujiang District. Pingtan is storytelling in dialect that combines speaking, singing and playing a musical instrument.

“This is the first time I feel I am in a foreign country completely different from other places I’ve visited,” Schiweblin said. “But I find human beings actually share very similar lifestyles, such as taking a boat to buy fruit and dressing up for a pingtan concert.”

In the two-month Shanghai Writing Program, writers live in average households and simple rooms, experience Shanghai, meet local writers and learn about China at the grassroots level.

Lina Zerón (right 2)

Born and lives in Mexico City, Mexico.

When I feel comfortable about a place, I write it into my pages. Now I am comfortable in Tongli and in Shanghai to read and to write, just as relaxed and peaceful as in my hometown. I’ve written 140 pages since I’ve been in Shanghai for four weeks.”

João Tordo (left 4)

Born in Lisbon, Portugal; lived in London and New York.

  I started writing outside of Lisbon, and I finally set my third book in Lisbon after I returned home and sensed my hometown. After foreign countries, I always find my way back home. Meanwhile, I can set a novel in a place like Shanghai.

Samanta Schweblin(right 3)

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina; lives in Berlin.

People in my country say I am not writing about Bueno Aires, but when my books get translated people say they are so Latin-America. I believe it’s the influence from my childhood. I want to share my grandfather’s advice: “Walk with one eye on the bright sky and the other on the ground because you don’t know where you are going to step.”

Alan Carter (right 4)

Born in Sunderland, UK; lives in Fremantle, Australia; writes mysteries.

I started “murdering” people from my hometown in my mystery novels. And everywhere I go I turn to “murdering” people. Since I am in Shanghai now, I may “murder” someone in Shanghai (laughs).

Denyse Woods (left 3)

Boston-born Irish; grew up in seven cities.

It’s good to have somewhere to keep my soul, and Ireland is where my soul lives. I also write articles about other places to take readers on a journey.

Anjali Joseph (left 2)

Born in Mumbai, India; lives in England.

My first novel was set in Mumbai, my hometown. Now Mumbai is more commercial but it used to have quiet streets and quaint customs. That’s the world I’m familiar with and interested in. That’s what I own and write about in my novels.

Germain Droogenbroodt (left)

Born in Rollegem, Flemish part of Belgium; lives in the Altea artists’ village on the Spanish Mediterranean.

I wrote one poem about my hometown, inspired by bells ringing from churches that I heard in the early morning. Since then church bells always make me think about my hometown and inspire my works.

Víctor Rodríguez Núñez (right)

Born in Havana, Cuba; lives in the US.

I grew up in a small island in southern Cuba. My hometown is a small, leafy, humid neighborhood. In fact, everything I write is from that point of view, though I now live in the US, with different weather and history.



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