Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese and American Writers Explore Culture in the Desert

This caught my attention this week:
The city of Dunhuang in western China, desert gateway to the fabled Silk Road, drew a group of American and Chinese writers in May for a bold, two-week experiment in intercultural collaboration and literary exploration. In October, the second half of the pilot exchange project will gather participants in Iowa, Chicago and Washington to continue their creative collaboration.
The “Life of Discovery” program, funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and sponsored by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and the Chinese Writers’ Association, seeks to stimulate the creative process for a select group of artists. But the program also has another dimension: participation by writers and artists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The U.S. writers included Asian-American and African-American writers as well as a visual artist. For China, it meant writers and poets who are of Tibetan, Yi, Korean, Wa and Gelao backgrounds.
I look forward to seeing what the long-term results of this project are. I think cross-cultural exchanges are always important, especially in this day and age. It helps counter provincialism, and much like the previous post  regarding nonsense, good travel helps to shake the mind out of static connections and approaches to creativity.

An interesting observation:
Although Americans still conceive of writing as a largely solitary act, Petrosino points out, they are increasingly exposed to the workshop process of intensive group critiques and a sharing of drafts and ideas. Such collaborative exercises are central to creative-writing instruction throughout the United States.
“What we discovered is that the creative-writing culture is very different in China,” said Ferrer. “If we have a more personal, spontaneous writing culture, the Chinese have more of an author culture, where they feel responsible for what they write and want to take time with it. Both approaches are valuable, but different.”
Many of the Chinese writers were struck by this distinction as well. “The American writers often focus on a specific ‘personal self,’ whereas many Chinese writers take the larger ‘national self’ as point of departure in writing,” said writer Li Hui, who is also known by his Yi name Mushasijia Eni.
“The American writers have an unrestrained and relaxed attitude about writing,” said Cao Youyun. “The Chinese writers seem more concerned with historical factors and moral responsibilities.”
This may be something to revisit in the future.

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