Splitting her time between London and Berlin, British-Chinese author and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo deals with the spaces between countries, cultures and languages in addition to her native China in her work. Hear her speak at Berliner Festspiele on the September 8, 10:30pm about her recently published memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East, which recounts her fairytale like path from a small fishing village on the east of China, where she was abandoned by her parents, to globally renowned author.
Describe your first memory of writing…
I was about 13 years old in my Chinese province, trying to write poems in my dairy. I wrote about trees, the autumn season and something to do with the feeling of loneliness.
The three Ws: Where, When, Why do you write?
In the last 10 years I wrote in my kitchen and in cafes, as well as on many planes and European airports and different hotels. I’ve never used an office to write.
And I wrote / read whenever I could – which means whenever I am left alone and I am not engaged with some practical, social or domestic tasks.
Why do I write? The short version is: I find myself reshaping this shapeless reality with more personal and artistic language. A better language to live in.
Describe the genesis of your books. How do you get started?
Each time with each book it is a different experience. I usually rewrite my opening lines again and again over a long expanse of time.
Least favourite praise/favourite criticism about your work?
Funnily enough, they are often connected to comparisons with old or dead writers I liked or disliked.
Books and politics: What should the connection be? What makes writers good/bad activists?
Coming from China myself, I automatically think that arts are closely linked to politics and we are all conditioned by our social environment. If you are truly sensitive then you will pay attention to the artistic path between politics and narrative forms.
Your favourite literary character. Why?
The French girl in Marguerite Duras’s novel The Lover. And/or: Professor David Lurie in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.
Which book do you wish you had written?
A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes.
Best recent read…
John Berger’s last book, From A to X.
Choose an epitaph…
Oh God, nothing please! As an urban Zen Buddhist, I don’t believe that all this narrative in physical life is worthy to write down.
A question you wish we’d asked…
Berlin: the first thing that comes to mind?
A wall with graffiti and flowers.