6 Writers Not to Miss as Hong Kong's Biggest Literary Festival Returns
Taking place from November 5 to 15, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this autumn spotlights Hong Kong writers and stories alongside international literary greats
Taking place from November 5 to 15, the 21st edition of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival returns with events at the Asia Society, Fringe Club and Tai Kwun. Themed “rebound”, the festival focuses on mental health, resilience, and recovery from the past two years of the pandemic through the joy of reading and the excitement of discovering new books. As usual, the annual festival presents a star-studded line-up of overseas writers and their works.
This year features Paula Hawkins, the British author of the psychological thriller novel The Girl on the Train; South African playwright and novelist Damon Galgut, whose The Promise was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last month; Amor Towles, the American author of Rules of Civility; and young adult fiction writer Karen M McManus, creator of New York Times bestseller One of Us Is Lying.
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The festival is also known for shining a light on Asian talent. This year, it will highlight Hong Kong podcasts in a panel led by Regina Larko, the founder of #impact, an interview series about people making a difference to society with their work. In terms of the more traditional publishing industry, the festival will feature rising and established local and Asian writers, including a number of Hongkongers whose work spans genres and topics, including poetry, fiction, history and heritage writing, and wine appreciation.
“It’s an exciting time to be a writer—or a reader— with so many ways to create and access the written word,” says Catherine Platt, the director of the festival. “Asia is no exception, and is leading the way in some formats, with writers publishing their work online and producing content for online forums.” Here are six authors appearing at the festival this year.
Currently based in the UK, the Hong Kong novelist, poet and critic delves into some lesser-known but integral elements of Hong Kong society in his work. His debut novel Diamond Hill, published this May, revisits his pre-handover childhood and encapsulates the disappearing landscapes of old Hong Kong in Diamond Hill, the city’s last shanty town where drug gangs, Buddhist nuns, property developers, the government and foreign powers vied for power until it was redeveloped in the 2010s. This novel and Fan’s other works, including Paper Scissors Stone, which won the inaugural International HKU Poetry Prize in 2010, deal with colonialism, religion and displacement within the former British colony.
The Hong Kong-born and raised writer and film director promotes diversity and inclusion through her films, writing and outreach programmes. In 2013, Bent was chosen for the Ray Koppe Young Writers’ Residency, organised by the Australian Society of Authors, to work on her debut novel, which is set in 1997 Hong Kong. When Things Are Alive They Hum, published this July, follows Marlowe as she returns to her home city of Hong Kong to be with her dying sister, who was born with a heart condition. Bent spent ten years on this book, which dissects moral obligation and grief in the contemporary age.
Mary Jean Chan
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mary Jean Chan left the banking industry to pursue a more creative career in poetry writing, originally a hobby that helped her cope while dealing with mental health issues. Her 2019 debut poetry collection, Flèche, which takes its name from the French term describing an attack move in fencing and the phonetic connotations of the English word “flesh”, explores the struggles of being queer and having cross-cultural identities. In 2019, Flèche won the Costa Book Award for Poetry and was chosen as the Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Irish Times and The White Review, while Chan received the Eric Gregory Award, given to poets aged under 30.
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The Irish novelist moved to Hong Kong in 2016 after a stint teaching in Singapore, and finished her first novel, Exciting Times, the following year. Inspired by Dolan’sown experience, the book follows Ava, a directionless millennial expat from Dublin, who finds herself embroiled in a love triangle between a western male Oxford educated banker and a Chinese female lawyer, all while struggling to thrive in her new home. The book conveys the bubble-like existence of foreign workers and its accompanying privilege, which is a lesser-explored side of Hong Kong in literature about the city.
How do you grieve if your family doesn’t talk about feelings? That is the question prompted by New York-based Canadian writer Pik-Shuen Fung in her debut novel Ghost Forest. Told in vignettes, the story follows a woman coming to terms with her father’s death. The family emigrated to Canada before the 1997 handover, leaving the father behind to work in Hong Kong. Fung weaves a story of grief, family and enduring love, as the daughter turns to her mother and grandmother for unanswered questions about an almost stranger.
Jeannie Cho Lee MW
The Hong Kong-based Korean American wine critic has been encouraging wine appreciation in Asia for more than a decade. Lee, the CEO of wine lifestyle publication Le Pan, launched the Master of Science in International Wine Management programme in 2015 while she was a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She has also hosted television shows and written books about wine appreciation. Her 2019 book The 100 Burgundy, which won the 2020 Gourmand Award for best book on French wine, discusses her favourite Burgundies and provides information about the domaines that produce them.