The 10th Australian Writers’ Week Held at Peking University

On May 11, the 10th anniversary of Australian Writers’ Week was successfully held at the School of Foreign Languages, Peking University. This event was co-organized by the Australian Studies Centre, Peking University, the World Auto/Bibliography Center, Peking University, the Australian Studies Centre, Beijing Foreign Studies University, and the Australian Embassy to China.

The Australian Writers’ Week was initiated by the Australian Embassy in 2007, aiming to promote the cultural exchanges between China and Australia. It was held annually at some universities in Beijing and other two cities across China. It is the 10th year for the Australian Studies Centre at Peking University to host the annual event. The Australian Embassy to China announced that this would be the last Australian Writers’ Week in China, however, similar activities would be carried out in other forms to further promote the literary exchanges and cooperation in the fields of humanities between the two countries.

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The 2017 Australian Writers’ Week Opens at Peking University.

As it was highlighted by the theme “Australian Eyes on the World”, the 10th Australian Writers’ Week was held in the conference room on the 5th floor of the new building of the School of Foreign Languages, Peking University. The internationally known Australian writers invited to this event include Mr. Thomas Keneally, the first Australian winner of the Booker Prize and the author of Schindler’s List, and Ms. Geraldine Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the writer of the international bestseller March. The Chinese translators of the two novelists, Professor Li Yao and Mr. Zhao Susu were also invited to attend the event. The distinguished guests also included Ms. Katherine Vickers, Minister Counsellor of Australian Embassy to China, and Ms. Maree Ringland, Cultural Counsellor of Australian Embassy to China. About 100 experts, scholars and students from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Renmin University of China, Nanjing University, Capital Normal University, Beijing Union University, and the Australian Embassy participated in the event. The opening ceremony was chaired by Professor Liu Shusen, Director of the Centre for Australian Studies, Peking University. Professor Zhao Baisheng, Director of the World Auto/Bibliography Center, Peking University, chaired the sessions of a high-level talk and questions and answers.

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Professor Liu Shusen Launches the Event.

As Professor Liu Shusen introduced, Centre for Australian Studies at Peking University have proudly organized the annual Australian Writers’ Week in the past ten years, as it could help advance the literary and cultural exchanges between China and Australia, an often disregarded cornerstone for the mutual understanding and relationship of the two peoples. He then introduced Thomas Keneally, Geraldine Brooks, and their Chinese translators, stressing that literature and literary translation have been playing an important role in promoting the exchanges,integration and common development of human civilizations. He also emphasized that literary translation could serve a society by enhancing people-to-people exchanges and understanding, just as a ferry in a river which connects the people on the two sides of the river. He compared the literary translator to the ferryman in the above metaphor. Thomas Keneally has written more than 50 literary works, including Schindler’s Ark, The Australians, and Lincoln, the first of which was made into film. Because of his outstanding achievements, Thomas Keneally is officially acclaimed as “Australia’s Living Treasure”. Geraldine Brooks has written world-famous novels such as March, Year of Wonders and People of the Book. She won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement and the Order of Australia. Apart from her devotion to writing novels, she is now working as a research fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University.

The event was divided into four sessions, in order to enable the participants to communicate with the Australian writers more deeply and widely. In the first session, Thomas Keneally and Geraldine Brooks talked about their writing experiences and literary thoughts as the keynote speech. It was followed by the bilingual reading, in which the two writers and their Chinese translators read some of the best parts of their novels in English and Chinese, respectively. The second session was a high-level dialogue, in which the two writers’ writing styles and the characteristics of Australian literature were discussed from the perspective of the world literature. In the third session of questions and answers, the two Australian writers interacted with the audience. The fourth session was a book launch.

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Thomas Keneally & His Chinese Translator Professor Li Yao Read bilingually.

Thomas Keneally and Geraldine Brooks both expressed their views on “literature and the world”. Keneally started by recalling his first visit to China in 1979 and then talked about the amazing changes in China over the past decades. He pointed out that in his writing over the past 50 years, he has been striving to reflect the history and life of Australians, especially on how they feel, and what they know about the world. Then he enthusiastically introduced his latest work Woman of the Inner Sea and read some of the best parts of the novel. As the Chinese translator of the book, Professor Li Yao also impressively read the same passage from his Chinese version.

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Geraldine Brooks & Her Chinese Translator Zhao Susu Read Bilingually.

Geraldine Brooks shared with the audience how she could make herself a professional writer from the daughter of a worker. She talked about her experiences of being a journalist travelling in the Middle East before she became a novelist. Then she read from her famous novel Year of Wonders a passage describing a small town and the close relationship between the locals and kangaroos. As the translator of the Chinese version of the novel, Zhao Susu read his Chinese translation accordingly. The brilliant reading of the two writers and their translators in two different languages formed a delightful contrast and highlighted the charm of the novel.

The high-level talk session was chaired by Professor Zhao Baisheng. His communication with the two Australian writers was, in his own words, “to study the comprehensive history and uniqueness of Australian literature by putting it into the context of the world literature, and only in this way can we understand thoroughly the distinctive features of Australian writers and Australian literature.” He asked the two Australian writers some questions ranging from general to specific, such as “What type of writer do you think you are?” ,“In the long history of the world literature, there emerged so many masters of historical novel, such as Wu Cheng’en in ancient China and the modern British writer Hilary Mantel. Then as you both write historical novels, what are your unique contributions?”, “what are the similarities and differences between biographical novels and historical novels?”, “what are the secrets to a writer’s prolificacy”, “the core motif and artistic innovations of Australian literature”, “The world origin of the ‘shame’ theme in Australian literature” , and “The artistic universality of Australian literature”. Instead of asking questions in a direct way, Professor Zhao combined his questions with his introductory analysis. He was good at guiding the writers to the questions, so that his questions and dialogues with the two writers amused both the writers and the audiences with unexpected delight.

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Professor Zhao Baisheng Speaks at the Dialogue Session.

In this session Thomas Keneally responded by sharing how his mother, a Catholic believer, had influenced him. He said that his mother’s concern about the Nanjing Massacre in World War II aroused his interest in studying and writing about massacres in the human history. He was also influenced by his mother’s “great world outlook”. For example, he believes that the Western literary classic Odyssey should be a model for writers in their writing. Starting with her life and writing experiences, Geraldine Brooks put more emphasis on the account and description of facts in her literary creation, chiefly because of her earlier journalist career. Speaking of the influence from other writers, Brooks said that the Russian writers Tolstoy and Mikhail Sholokhov influenced her most. When talking about the concerns of today’s Australian writers, they both said that Australian writers pay attention to their national cultural heritage as well as the world change and development.

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Geraldine Brooks & Thomas Keneally Talk at the Dialogue Session.

In the session of questions and answers, the audience’s questions from multi-perspectives and the two writers’ brilliant responses created a few climaxes and a lively and enjoyable atmosphere. The scholars of Australian studies from Renmin University of China and Nanjing University, the reporter from CCTV, and some Peking University students asked questions, including “how to avoid or bring into play ‘Australian English and Australian elements’”, “what do Australian writers expect of their translators”, “what are the secrets to writing international bestsellers”, and “will they include China in your new books?” The two Australian writers delightfully offered satisfactory answers based on their own experiences and feelings.

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Scholars of Australian Studies and a CCTV Reporter Ask Questions.

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Two Students Ask Questions.

The event concluded with a book launch chaired by Professor Liu Shusen. The novel Coal Creek is a latest work by the famous Australian novelist Alex Miller, which is translated into Chinese by Professor Li Yao. With his Chinese translation of this novel, Professor Li Yao was awarded Hu Zhuanglin Distinguished Translator Scholarship in 2016. As Deputy Editor-in-chief of Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press that published the Chinese version of Coal Creek, Ms. Zhang Siying spoke at the book launch. She expressed her thanks to Professor Li Yao for his years’ excellent translation, and she also hoped that more Australian literary works could be translated into Chinese and be published.

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Ms. Zhang Siying Speaks at the Book Launch.

At last, Peking University BHP Billiton Chair Professor of Australian Studies Greg McCarthy of the Centre for Australian Studies, Peking University gave a wrap-up speech. He spoke highly of the fruitful results of literary exchanges and cultural collaboration between Australia and China over the past 45 years, and then he shared the influence of the English language and literature on his own political studies. He also looked forward to more exchanges in the fields of humanities between Australia and China.

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Professor Greg McCarthy Makes the Concluding Speech.

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Thomas Keneally and Geraldine Brooks Join Some of the Audience for a Group Photo.

The 10th Australian Writers’ Week was made a great success because of the two Australian literary masters’ inspiring speeches and dialogues, the active participation of scholars of Australian Studies Centres, the enthusiastic involvement of the faculty and students of a few universities and the support of the Australian Embassy. This event was widely acclaimed as the most impressive and influential Australian Writers’ Week in the past ten years.