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Taking a page out of their books

By Fang Aiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-10 09:43

Nobel laureate Mo Yan believes that every writer, no matter how influential they are, shares a similar course of growth, starting as a reader and literary enthusiast.

They encounter something they are really into and itch to try their hand at writing, imitating first, before eventually forming a style of their own, he says.

Mo Yan was sharing his memories of the days when he first picked up his pen, with 36 grassroots writers from around the country, at a seminar in Beijing on March 22.

The panel also included Liang Xiaosheng and Liu Zhenyun, whose works — many of which have been adapted into TV series and films — have reached a multitude of readers at home and abroad.

"I've experienced how literature appeals to a man in his youth and how its power manifests," Mo Yan said, nostalgic for an age when a literary boom saw young people flock to writing with dreams of seeing their words in print.

He recalled his days in the army in Baoding, Hebei province, giving lessons on Marxist philosophy, political economics and scientific socialism during the day, and writing at night.

Every day he waited for the sound of the postman's motorcycle, hoping it would bring good news. His effort paid off when, in May 1981, a local bimonthly literature magazine decided to publish his maiden work, an epistolary short story about a newly married wife missing her husband, who was garrisoned on an island, on a spring night.

Mo Yan then struggled for a while, before he figured out that his rural hometown in Shandong province — the prototype for the fictional Dongbei (Northeast) township of Gaomi that features in his works — and a place he's most familiar with, would provide an inexhaustible source of writing material. Every acquaintance could be a vivid character in that literary and geographic space.

He said that he has turned the obsession for novelistic art into a major part of his life.

"The most sensitive nerves of mine are all about literature. I would associate a certain event, sentence, story or a human face with literature and transcribe it into words," he said.

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