Overview of APWT 2015 Manila
‘A Profoundly Important Organization’
‘APWT is the largest, longest running, functioning literary network I know of in South East Asia and the Pacific,’ says Jose (‘Butch’) Dalisay in the video summary of the network’s 2015 conference in Manila. Click the photo above to watch the video.
Again the annual conference brought together more than140 writers, this time from 16 countries. These gatherings are unique in Asia: neither 100 per cent academic, nor duplicating the superstar nature of writers’ festival, the conferences provide opportunities for the region’s writers to meet each other and discover commonalities. They also provide a springboard to new readers around the region—and well beyond.
Butch, an award-winning Filipino author, gave this year’s opening keynote, surprising some international delegates with the Philippines’ long and impressive history of creative writing programs. The archipelago has led the way in offering writing programs from the bachelor’s to the PhD level in several major universities.
He spoke of ‘a new wave of writing produced by young, brash, and brilliant writers’ who are less connected to the Philippine’s older Spanish-influenced literature than to (Japanese author) Murakami, ‘less to newsprint than to Wattpad’. This contemporary literature ‘reaches deep into our rich trove of myths and mystic beliefs, into our varied ethnolinguistic traditions,’ he said. This new work is written not only in English but also in Filipino and major regional languages.
‘If you want to know what’s going on in Asia Pacific literature then APWT is definitely the way to go,’ Butch said.
As always, some writers came to the conference from well beyond the region. Among them, Rúnar Helgi Vignisson, director of the creative writing program at the University of Iceland. Qaisra Shahraz (best known for her novel The Holy Woman) funded her own way from the UK for the fourth time to attend the APWT conference.
‘For me, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators is four days of privileged access to different ways of thinking,’ said Kate Griffin, a program director at the Writers’ Centre Norwich, also flew in from the UK. She was en route to Singapore to help set up a new translation initiative with The Select Centre.
Ravi Shankar, founder of the electronic arts journal Drunken Boat and professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, flew to join us from the US, also en route to Singapore for the city’s writers festival. He ran one of the half dozen creative writing workshops we offered during the conference.
‘APWT enables me to connect with other writers from around the world, and that has proved remarkably important because those sorts of conversations are simply not taking place, even in a cosmopolitan city like New York,’ said Ravi. ‘The relationships I’ve built with editors and other writers have been instrumental in shaping my own aesthetics and my sensibility and I don’t think I could have those experiences anywhere else. I think this is a profoundly important organization.’
For Eliza Vitri Handayani, an Indonesia writer and founder of an Indonesian literary translation initiative, APWT is indeed profoundly important. After reading her fiction at an earlier APWT conference in Bangkok she was approached by Vagabond Press to publish her work in English. Handayani’s newly published novel, From Now On Everything Will Be Different, was launched at the Manila conference but was denied its planned Indonesian launch due to censorship at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Vagabond has also published Japanese writer/poet Kyoko Yoshida, also spotted by the publisher at an APWT conference.
In addition to Butch, our other keynote speakers this year were Romesh Guneskera (‘The Dangerous Arts of Fiction’), Indigenous Australian author Philip McLaren (‘Grasping the Indigenous Nettle and Owning It’) and, the closing address, by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (‘The Subversive Memory: Women Tell What Happened’). Romesh was partly sponsored by the British Council while Philip paid his own airfare due to a funding crisis in the Australian Arts sector.
Australian-Filipino author Merlinda Bobis who launched a Philippine edition of her latest novel Locust Girl. A Lovesong (Anvil) said APWT is important in the light of the current geopolitics.
‘This story telling across cultures reminds us that we share a lot of things more than our differences and we are bonded in storytelling,’ said Merlinda Bobis. Merlinda, and Australian-Filipino author, launched a Philippine edition of her latest novel Locust Girl. A Lovesong (Anvil Publishing). She is convinced of the value of this network particularly ‘in the light of current geopolitics’.
‘I can’t think of any other organisation that brings writers together from all the corners of Asia, that gets them sharing their work, to think critically about what it means to write and to teach writing’ said James Shea, an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing at Hong Kong Baptist University.
With Thanks to...
APWT thanks our 2015 conference hosts, University of the Philippines and National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The conference was also supported by Anvil Publishing and three other universities: De La Salle University and the University of Santo Tomas. Some writers were sponsored by the Japan Foundation, the British Council and Ateneo de Manila University.
Special thanks to Lily Rose Tope, Jose Dalisay, Shirley O. Lua, and Cristina Pantaoja Hidalgo and their teams of volunteers, including Isabela Banzon, Heidi Eusebio-Abad, Ronald Bayton, Gabriela Lee, Gerry Los Banos, Paolo Manalo, Francis Quina and many others who worked behind the scenes.
We are grateful also to the President of the University of the Philippines for making his Executive House available for a conference dinner. Thank you also to the Dean of UST who hosted a generous closing function treating us to the best of Filipino cuisine.