Our partners: Manchester Literature Festival

5 October 2015

In 2011, St Peter’s High School established a partnership with Beijing School 66, a very successful 11-18 school in China’s capital city.

The literature festival circuit can be a daunting place. With thousands of new publications out there, how do you know which author to invite, how to invite them — and better yet, what roles should they play!? Luckily we’ve got friends with answers.

Q&A with Cathy Bolton and Sarah-Jayne Roberts, Festival Co-directors

When and why did you decide to bring Chinese writers to the MLF? Why choose to work with CI?

The Festival is committed to introducing Manchester audiences to literature from around the world. We had already showcased writers from many European countries, the Middle East and the Caribbean and we were keen to expand our reading horizons to China and other parts of Asia. It seemed a natural fit to work with the Confucius Institute which has very generously supported events for the past eight years: helping us to identify suitable writers to invite, covering travel and translation costs, and bringing new audiences to the Festival. Our first Chinese author event was in 2008 and featured two very inspirational speakers, Liu Hong and Xinran.

Which Chinese author(s) impressed you most and in what ways?

My favourite events so far have featured Zhu Wen (the dry wit of his prose came through in his hilarious conversation with writer and translator Julia Lovell) and Wang Anyi (I was very impressed with her sharp intelligence and the way she engaged a very mixed audience of English and Chinese speakers).

How do you come up with the list of authors to invite? Who do you like most to come to MLF in the next five years?

We always start by making out a wish list of authors we’d like to come to the Festival and identifying who has new books coming out. We also get recommendations from publishers and other colleagues. It’s then a case of sending out invitations and seeing who is available.

We have been very fortunate in attracting many of our dream authors over the past ten years but there are still quite a few in our sights including: Paul Auster, JM Coetzee, Yan Lianke, Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk and Vikram Seth.

What roles do you see festivals like MLF play in bringing Chinese literature to the UK general public?

I think it’s very important to expose audiences to literature from other countries – it’s a fun and effective way of opening dialogue between communities, exchanging ideas and nurturing an understanding and empathy for each others’ culture. Sadly the UK does not have a great record for translating literature from other languages into English, but bringing Chinese authors to Festivals does play an important role in generating demand for more books to be made available.

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