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write experience

Updated: 2013-09-09 10:32
By Matt Hodges ( China Daily)

 write experience

Germain Droogenbroodt, a Flemish poet born in Belgium, recites his works while a young Chinese accompanies him on a Spanish guitar. Photos Provided to China Daily

A program brings foreign writers to Shanghai in hopes that the city would help shape their works. Matt Hodges reports.

Some came with specific goals: To find good places to kill, to get lost or to discover new characters. Others just came armed with an open mind.

But more so than in the past, the eight men and women (pictured) attending this year's foreign writers' residency program, sponsored by the Shanghai Writers' Association, have the potential to complete their tacit mandate of helping the city spread its culture to foreign shores.

Shanghai has many ways of promoting itself beyond China's borders. Some are epic in scope or funding, such as the 2010 World Expo, the Shanghai Formula One Grand Prix or Chinese-South Korean film co-productions set in the city. Others, like this, are more niche market - unless one of the writers strikes gold and produces a bestseller.

For Alan Carter, the two-month-long program that began this week is allowing him to synchronize his own living tutorial on the city with that of his hero-protagonist Cato Kwong. Carter is working on his third book of a series. In it, Cato, a Chinese-Australian detective, travels to Shanghai to discover his Chinese roots.

"So he'll learn about as much as I will while I'm here," the British-born Australian says, adding that his primary goal as an author will be "looking for good places and good ways to kill people".

According to Sun Yong, the association's vice-president, the idea was to bring a group of published writers from around the world and integrate them into local communities.

"They won't live in a hotel, cut off and isolated, but in normal neighborhoods with normal people. We give them a stipend so they can shop for food at local markets and go home and cook like Shanghai citizens," he said ahead of the program's official opening ceremony on Sept 2 at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center.

"We don't require them to write anything. We just want them to experience life here and write about whatever they're interested in. After all, they're writers - we can't give them orders."

Wang Anyi, chair of the association and one of China's most celebrated women novelists, believes the city's charms may find expression in new literary outpourings from its temporary guests. One of her books, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

"We hope to hear their opinions about the city and see the influence of Shanghai reflected in their writing," the Nanjing native says.

"I don't think I can give an objective account of the city anymore because I've lived here so long."

The foreign writers were invited from countries as far flung as India, Argentina, Mexico and Belgium.

Three share a common first language in Spanish, one is Portuguese and another has lived as an expat in Spain for more than two decades - adding a Latin flair to the writer's circle.

The one African invitee, Nigerian playwright and poet Zainabu Jallo, was unable to attend due to ill health. Cuban-American poet and journalist Victor Rodriguez Nunez will arrive in a few weeks.

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