February 2022: Yan Ge 颜歌
Yan Ge was born in Sichuan, China in 1984. She is a fiction writer in both Chinese and English, and is the author of thirteen books in Chinese, including five novels. She has received numerous awards and was named by People’s Literature magazine as one of twenty future literature masters in China. Her work has been translated into eleven languages, including English, French and German. The English translation of her latest novel The Chilli Bean Paste Clan was published in 2018. Another translated novel, Strange Beasts of China, was published in 2020/2021; both won English PEN Translates Awards. She was on the judging panel of the International Dublin Literary Award 2019. In 2021, she was on the final selection panel for the Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Yan’s English writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Irish Times, TLS, the Stinging Fly and elsewhere. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was the recipient of the UEA International Award 2018/19. Her English language debut short story collection Elsewhere will be published by Faber in the UK and Scribner in the USA in spring 2023, followed by a novel Hotel Destination. Yan lives in Norwich with her husband and son.
This year we’re going to have a special focus on writing from the Chinese diaspora, and we’re delighted to begin with one of our Centre’s very own ‘Author Ambassadors’, Yan Ge. Yan has been an important part of the Centre from the very beginning, taking part in some of our earliest events, and she’s even written a story inspired by her first visit to Leeds!
We’ve featured her on our Book Club twice before, and you can read an early chapter from her novel The Chilli Bean Paste Clan（我们家), translated by Nicky Harman and published by Balestier Press, as well as her novella White Horse, also translated by Nicky, and published by HopeRoad Publishing.
This month we feature two pieces written in English. The first is an essay which appeared in our special ‘Chinese Journeys’ issue of Stand magazine in 2017 – ‘The Panda Suicides‘. The essay moves between Macau, Dublin, and Chengdu, exploring cultural clichés and the cosmopolitan life of a writer.
‘So the pandas, the pandas are just lazy. On top of that, spoiled with the sense of privilege, they are mostly nihilists these days.’ I was outside a glittering nightclub, telling this to the group of Portuguese writers.
And the second is a story originally written for RTÉ Radio 1 and broadcast in February 2021, ‘An Authentic Conversation’. Two friends attend a Dublin language school, and in the course of carrying out an assignment for their teacher, they explore the idea of transcultural exchange, foreignness, and authenticity. You can read the story here, and listen to it here, read by Ashley Xie.
‘Stop being so Chinese!’ Akmaral wailed, gripping my arm. ‘Plus, think about it: would you like to be friends with someone who’d be interested in a stranger wearing an erotic t-shirt or someone who enquires about your opinions on the Chinese economy?’
Yan’s novel Strange Beasts of China has recently been published by Tilted Axis Press, translated by Jeremy Tiang. It’s gained a lot of attention and praise in the media, and was runner-up in the 2021 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.
In the city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its fabled beasts. These creatures — with their greenish stomachs or gills or strange birthmarks — live alongside humans in near-inconspicuousness, some with ancient forbears, others engineered as artificial breeds.
Guided – and often misguided – by her elusive university professor, and his scrappy student sidekick Zhong Liang, our narrator finds herself on a mission to track down each species. And as she blunders from one implausible situation to the next, she comes one step closer to revealing her own inner beast…
Blurb from Tilted Axis Press
You can listen to both Yan and Jeremy discussing the book with Angus Stewart in episode 45 of the brilliant Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast.
And Yan also features on the Feb 11th episode of Writers and Company, with Eleanor Wachtel. You can listen and find out more here!