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Hong Kong Literary Festival: Feeding a hunger for words

There were some authors wandering around the FCC in early November, taking a break from appearing at this year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival which has a new permanent home just a stone’s throw from the Club.

Writer Geoff Dyer - no, not that one - talked about his work at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Writer Geoff Dyer – no, not that one – talked about his work at the FCC and also appeared at the Hong Kong Literary Festival. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The 18th festival ran from 2 to 11 November at the recently opened Tai Kwun Centre, the old police and prison compound on Hollywood Road, Central.

One of the oldest and largest literary festivals in the Asia-Pacific region, the Festival doubled its programming and audience from 2015 to 2017 and was predicted to reach a projected 10,000 people this year.

FCC had two talks with visiting authors scheduled at the Club: British author Geoff Dyer answered questions about his vast experience as a travel writer at “Not a Reporter: A Lunch with Writer Geoff Dyer” on November 1; and British TV Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller talked about his new book, Duterte: Fire and Fury in the Philippines at a lunch on November 5.

At the time of going to press, the Club had also slotted the evening of November 8 for a “meet the authors” event, and was considering again issuing 20 temporary membership cards to authors who want to use the FCC facilities during their stay in Hong Kong, as it did last year.

The broad themes of the 2018 Festival were feminism, inspired by the #MeToo movement, LGBTQ+, and travel writing.

Memoirist and novelist Cheryl Strayed headlined this year’s Festival Gala Dinner at the China Club, where she spoke about female voices in literature. Psychotherapist Susie Orbach spoke about her seminal book Fat is a Feminist Issue – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year – over lunch at Tai Kwun’s Old Bailey restaurant.

In “LGBTQ+ and Inclusivity in the Arts”, Australian poet Jesse Oliver and Canadian artist Ivan Coyote discussed the state of LGBTQ+ representation in today’s international literary scene.

Other highlights included Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh discussing Dead Men’s Trousers, his latest addition to the Trainspotting universe, and exiled author Ma Jian speaking about his latest novel, China Dream, a satirical portrait of Xi Jinping’s China.

Writers Dung Kai Cheung, Ng Mei Kwan, Tammy Ho Lai Ming and Mithu Storoni, among others, represented Hong Kong’s literary scene. The city has hundreds of book clubs and many literary and spoken word groups and the Festival partnered with Hong Kong Stories, Women in Publishing and the Peel Street Poets this year.

There was also a series of small workshops to help people who are starting out on writing careers or who want to see where their talents lie. These included “Start Your Own Podcast Workshop” with Jarrod Watt and Mercedes Hutton of the South China Morning Post, and “Why Editors Don’t Reply: Pitching Workshop” with former CNN Travel editor James Durston.

Festival director Philippa Milne said: “Over the last year the festival has undergone some important changes – an expanded board of directors, new branding and a new home. We are delighted to be holding all of our events, excluding the annual gala dinner, under one roof.

“Now on my fourth year at the festival’s helm, I’m encouraged by Hong Kong’s hunger for the written word. In these somewhat complicated times literature is more necessary than ever. Not only does it provide a gateway to cultural exchange, but it allows us to absorb the importance of empathy required to build better societies.”

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