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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Xiaolu Guo at The Burgess Foundation

MLF blogger Nanette Thompson stands next to writer Xiaolu Guod

  • MLF blogger Nanette Thompson stands next to writer Xiaolu Guod

In the companionable surroundings of the Anthony Burgess Foundation, the pleasant ambience was mirrored in the friendly dialogue between award winning writer and film maker, Xiaolu Guo and host Katie Popperwell. Xiaolu read from her book, I am China, which is due to be published in April. Without giving the plot away, I can say she described unrest in London beautifully and produced a teasing anticipation for the book’s release.

Xiaolu spoke about the complexities of translating her work into English, revealing how she kept a diary of vocabulary and different meanings, and enjoyed the revelations of stories these unfolded. This contributed towards her Orange Prize-nominated book, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Xiaolu spoke passionately about growing up in a remote part of China and her thirst for knowledge and learning which eventually drove her to travel. Asked why she had chosen to continue writing in English, Xiaolu revealed that it was down to survival as a writer. Moving on to the topic of censorship, she thoughtfully added that the worst type of censorship is when you write something that no one wants to read. Xiaolu also discussed the relationship between food, identity and culture.

Discussing her influences as a writer Xiaolu revealed a wide range of writers and poets, including classic Chinese writing. Katie touched on the issue of China’s displaced rural population moving into urban areas. Xiaolu reflected how the west has digested transition over three hundred years compared to the twenty years of development in China.

Asked if she wrote specifically for a film or a book, Xiaolu compared the processes of making films and writing books. She told the audience that when writing a book you only need your imagination; When making a film it is a collaboration of many people. Talking of her contribution to the collection Because I am a Girl, focusing on the plights of girls across the world, Xiaolu spoke of the pressures of being asked to write on a specific political topic. Even though she is comfortable with writing on politicial issues, she feels it is a personal choice and should be done on a person’s own terms.

Speaking about her future, Xialou talked compassionately about creating her own family and reflected on how things were put into perspective for her with the birth of her child. Xiaolu left the audience with a warm insight into her life and work.

About the writer: Nanette Thompson is currently hurtling through a degree in creative writing at the University of Hull. She has spent ten years teaching in further education and much longer pursuing her dreams.