Shanghai, 2012: We, your international literary correspondents, have once again put our lives on the line in defense of literature. This March we traveled to China to participate in the Shanghai International Literary Festival, where we risked life and limb by eating soup dumplings (at great risk of projectile fluid leakage, but yum!) among other daring literary and culinary exploits, including wearing pink wigs at the glamorous nightclub M on the Bund (see photo).
Literary festivals matter because they bring readers and authors together, and the Shanghai International Literary Festival impressed us because it was so well run. The two primary organizers, Michelle Garnaut and Tina Kanagaratnam, went above and beyond the call of duty to make the authors feel valued and to creatively combine the participants many talents.
We shared the stage with Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Nury Vittachi, and many other authors. Sam also had the honor of playing music with Wu Tong, the acclaimed master sheng player, who had just performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma the evening before. (Interesting musical note: The sheng is an ancient ancestor of the harmonica.)
For many Americans, Shanghai may seem a world apart from their local libraries, bookstore, and favorite authors. But if the reception of Matt Groening, creator of the The Simpsons, Futurama, and Life in Hell is any indication, art transcends international boundaries, demonstrating that we are far more connected than we generally acknowledge.