You can forgive Jessie Cammack for being a little breathless when she begins to talk about the 14th annual Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which opened on Friday and continues through to Nov. 9 (followed by the Young Reader’s Festival from Nov. 9 – 20).
It’s been a whirlwind of activity for the former New York and Los Angeles resident, who moved to HK a year ago. Back then, the literary agency exec was just a volunteer for the festival. This April, however, she found herself tasked with managing it.
“I wanted to invite people that we were excited about and that festival goers are excited about,” she says. “I’m pleased with how it’s turned out.”
And with good reason. The festival features a formidable selection of international authors, including BBC conflict journalist Kate Adie (whose talk “An Evening With Kate Adie” is already sold out), Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz (responsible for “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and “This Is How You Lose Her”). It will also showcase mainland authors Chan Koon-chung and Chang Rae Lee and local writers like Dorothy Tse and Xu Xi.
Junot Diaz (Photo by Nina Shubin)
But it is the upcoming talks by graphic comic duo Marjorie Liu and Sonny Liew that mark a new frontier for the Festival in Cammack’s eyes. “Comic books are a major thread of this year’s festival,” she gushes. “Marjorie Liu wrote some of the ‘Amazing X-Men’ series and was nominated for a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award. Liu illustrates comic books (including ‘Iron Man’) and his most recent book was the ‘Shadow Hero’, which is about a mid-century superhero who is considered to be the first Asian-American superhero.”
If comic books are one of this festival’s main themes, ‘Sex and Feminism’ and the ‘First World War’ are others. Kate Adie, appearing in two events, is the driver behind both these loosely structured strands. Her talk about “Fighting On The Home Front” — based on her book about how the status of women changed during WWI — already has a full house.
“Kate Addy and Mark O’Neil are just two of the events we have on the First World War,” says Cammack. “O’Neil’s books are about Chinese labour working on the western front and in Russia. A lot of them ended up doing things they didn’t sign up for. It’s the centenary of the start of the war and we wanted to focus on a different side.”
Aside from some of the marquee names and events at this year’s event, there are several other breakout authors who are rising in the ranks. These include British author Joe Dunthorne, who will detail what happened when his 2008 debut “Submarine” made the big leap from page to screen.
Another author who is about to find out what that feels like is US-based Chris Pavone, whose debut “The Expats”, has just been optioned for a TV mini-series. He appeared as part of the “Intrigue and Espionage” session on Nov. 1.
“I’m really excited about Chris,” says Cammack. “I read his book when I first moved to Hong Kong and he’s so talented. I couldn’t put the book down.”
Cammack claims that response to this year’s festival is good so far. She attributes this to a strong literary culture in the city and considers this to be a “great era for writing in Hong Kong”. As a result, the Festival benefits from a wide array of sponsors and has been registered as a charity over the past year.
2014 marks a series of “firsts” for the festival, including the first time sales have been held online, an increased amount of talks about Hong Kong writing, and more of an effort to “centralise” events, with the majority held at the Fringe Club, the Kee Club and the Hong Kong Cultural Center (other venues include City U and Hong Kong University).
“I love this Festival”, says Cammack, with a distinct mixture of enthusiasm and most likely, exhaustion. “Everyone we invite is someone we really want and I’m really grateful for everyone who decides to come.”
The Hong Kong International Literary Festival will be taking place until Nov. 9 at several locations. Tickets are HKD80 – HKD800. For more details visit www.festival.org.hk.
Header image: Abhi Sharma via Flickr