SPITERARY AM­BI­TIONS

一群国际文艺青年的文学梦

The World of Chinese - - Contents - BY HAN RUBO (韩儒博)

A lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, a comic book, and a soon-to-be al­bum pro­ducer: Mem­bers of arts col­lec­tive Spit­toon dis­cuss the many facets to re­vi­tal­iz­ing Bei­jing's lit­er­ary scene, and how trans­lat­ing Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture is “like car­ry­ing sand through a river”

China's in­ter­na­tional lit­er­ary scene has felt some­what di­min­ished lately, with Qian­men's Cap­i­tal M restau­rant pack­ing up along with its ac­claimed an­nual lit­er­ary fes­ti­val, and the Bei­jing Book­worm fol­low­ing suit in 2017 (though the lat­ter re­turned, on a slightly smaller scale, ear­lier this year).

De­ter­mined to re­verse this de­cline is a col­lec­tive of young writ­ers who pub­lish

Spit­toon, a lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, or­ga­niz­ing events to help keep the cap­i­tal's lit­er­ary lights aglow. TWOC spoke to po­ets Matthew Byrne and Si­mon Shieh, and mu­sic edi­tor Michael Mar­shall, about these col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts.

WHAT IS SPIT­TOON?

Matt: Spit­toon has grown into an arts plat­form based in China with events in Bei­jing, Chengdu, and soon Shang­hai. Spit­toon made its first in­ter­na­tional move re­cently by be­gin­ning an events base in Gothen­burg, Swe­den. Spit­toon pub­lishes the Spit­toon Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zine and the CUE (China Ur­ban Ex­pres­sion) comic book. We hope to bring cre­ative peo­ple to­gether in com­mu­ni­ties, and re­flect an un­der­ground per­spec­tive to cre­ate a di­a­logue be­tween our Chi­nese or­ga­ni­za­tion and Spit­toon satel­lites that spring up.

CAN YOU EX­PLAIN HOW YOU MET AND ENDED UP PUB­LISH­ING A MAG­A­ZINE?

Matt: When I was a stu­dent in Man­ches­ter, I founded a col­lec­tive called Un­sung to pub­lish young writ­ers in the city who weren't nec­es­sar­ily let into the “academy.” We had a rau­cous po­etry night ev­ery month that we used to launch a small pam­phlet that we called the Un­sung Mag­a­zine. The spe­cial in­gre­di­ent of Spit­toon was that it brought an in­ter­na­tional crowd to­gether and united them through po­etry and fic­tion. The mag­a­zine arose or­gan­i­cally to ac­com­mo­date them.

Si­mon: After three won­der­ful is­sues, we re­flected on what we were do­ing and why. From Is­sue 4 on, we have sharp­ened the mag­a­zine's fo­cus to trans­lat­ing new and ex­cit­ing Chi­ne­se­lan­guage writ­ers into English.

AND CUE?

Michael: CUE is a se­ri­al­ized comic an­thol­ogy. Its pur­pose is re­ally to serve as a cre­ative in­cu­ba­tor for artists in China. Many of our artists are ex­plor­ing comic books as an artis­tic and sto­ry­telling medium for the first time. For our first is­sue, we are proud to say that we had a 50/50 gen­der bal­ance be­tween men and women, as well as Western and Chi­nese artists. The di­ver­sity of back­grounds makes CUE stand out and makes the project mean­ing­ful to a wider range of peo­ple.

Matt: CUE is the first in­stance of Spit­toon act­ing as a plat­form to fa­cil­i­tate and pro­duce an idea that was pre­sented ex­ter­nally by CUE'S manag­ing edi­tor, Michael Mar­shall. Now CUE is very much a pub­li­ca­tion within the Spit­toon fam­ily and a very en­cour­ag­ing suc­cess story for Spit­toon's abil­ity to act as a fa­cil­i­ta­tion plat­form for great ideas in the fu­ture.

SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK. IS THIS PURELY A PAS­SION PROJECT?

Si­mon: Ab­so­lutely. After two-anda-half years, the pas­sion is still there in all of us, per­haps now more than ever. Money, on the other, is not as abun­dant. We are ac­tively look­ing for fund­ing to keep mov­ing the project for­ward.

Matt: For most of us, the only pay­ment usu­ally re­quired is the sat­is­fac­tion of a job well done.

WHAT MADE YOU BE­LIEVE THAT BEI­JING NEEDED AN ENGLISH-LAN­GUAGE LIT­ER­ARY JOUR­NAL?

Si­mon: When I came to Bei­jing, I wanted to read a jour­nal like Spit­toon, but it did not re­ally ex­ist, ex­cept for Path­light, which fo­cuses more on es­tab­lished, in­sti­tu­tion­ally ac­cepted writ­ers. There is a def­i­nite lack of pub­li­ca­tions ded­i­cated to trans­lat­ing Chi­nese-lan­guage writ­ing into English, [so] Spit­toon is re­ally a unique and valu­able ad­di­tion.

DOES THE MAG­A­ZINE HAVE A SO­CIAL AGENDA AS WELL?

Si­mon: Our mag­a­zine is con­cerned im­plic­itly with giv­ing voice to tra­di­tion­ally marginal­ized voices. This in­cludes women, eth­nic mi­nori­ties, and LGBTQ voices.

WHAT LIT­ER­ARY FORMS WORK BEST IN CHINA?

Si­mon: Com­pared to the US, po­etry is more re­spected and

more seam­lessly in­ter­wo­ven with main­stream me­dia and dis­course. Chi­nese read­ers and writ­ers are also in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in the genre of cre­ative non­fic­tion—an in­ter­est which, I imag­ine, emerges from the genre's in­ter­sec­tion with so­cial me­dia that broad­casts every­thing and any­thing, from the mun­dane to the ex­traor­di­nary… cre­ative non-fic­tion might be [so­cial me­dia's] nat­u­ral coun­ter­part, in its abil­ity to tell the sto­ries be­hind the im­ages.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FA­VORITE (OR MOST POP­U­LAR) PIECES PUB­LISHED IN SPIT­TOON?

Si­mon: I love Henry Zhang's trans­la­tions of Yu Yoyo's (余幼幼) po­ems in the fourth is­sue, and Irene Chen, Chen Bo, and Brad Philen's trans­la­tions of Suo Er's (索耳) short story, “All the Whales Be­low the Sur­face”《所有鲸鱼都在海面以下》( ). Both pieces re­ally show what trans­la­tion can do when you have an ex­cel­lent edi­tor (Stephen Nashef) work­ing with a team of skilled Chi­nese lit­er­ary trans­la­tors (Irene and Chen Bo) and an English-lan­guage writer (Brad). Lit­er­ary trans­la­tion is a tricky thing; it's like car­ry­ing a hand­ful of sand through a rag­ing river. Our team does an ex­cel­lent job of car­ry­ing Chi­nese writer's voices through the cur­rent of the English lan­guage so that they come out trans­formed, but in­tact.

WHAT KINDS OF DIF­FI­CUL­TIES HAVE YOU FACED?

Si­mon: Of course, we have to be aware of our en­vi­ron­ment when pub­lish­ing writ­ing and art that is hon­est and pow­er­ful, but it's re­ally not dif­fi­cult when you're sur­rounded by tal­ented and mo­ti­vated writ­ers and artists. Spit­toon is a col­lec­tive, not a col­lec­tion of in­di­vid­u­als, and that's ul­ti­mately what makes us work.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR REG­U­LAR EVENTS

Matt: Ev­ery Thurs­day we have a dif­fer­ent event at a num­ber of venues, each with their own or­ga­niz­ers and com­mu­ni­ties that or­ga­nize and at­tend: Spit­toon Book Club, Spit­toon Fic­tion, Spit­toon Slam, and Spit­toon Po­etry. In Chengdu we have a monthly read­ing night or­ga­nized and run by the won­der­ful An­nie Leonard [and] we're cur­rently mak­ing in­roads into Shang­hai. We also host in­fre­quent events like Spit­tunes, which bring to­gether mu­si­cians and po­ets to cre­ate spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tions. We're work­ing on pro­duc­ing our first Spit­tunes al­bum with lo­cal pro­ducer Nasty Wiz­ard Records. We're work­ing with arts groups to fa­cil­i­tate dif­fer­ent events, from pro­duc­ing a queer sto­ry­telling event to or­ga­niz­ing a mas­sive Grand Slam Po­etry tour­na­ment with BLK GEN (rep­re­sent­ing the black di­as­pora in Bei­jing), the first event of its kind in the city.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE SPIT­TOON COL­LEC­TIVE?

Si­mon: I want the mag­a­zine's vis­ual de­sign and iden­tity to be com­men­su­rate with the qual­ity of the writ­ing. I am con­fi­dent our fundrais­ing cam­paign can make Spit­toon a world-class pub­li­ca­tion.

Matt: I gen­uinely be­lieve that both Spit­toon and CUE are go­ing to be­come an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant force. In­ter­na­tion­ally it is an­other story—our events based in Gothen­burg, Swe­den are in­creas­ing rapidly and its leader, Ma­tias Ruiz-tagle, has been do­ing an amaz­ing job de­vel­op­ing a com­mu­nity and the re­sults are very en­cour­ag­ing. We're cur­rently plan­ning an ex­change, so watch this space!

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