To provide a place for writing that is home, but not only. This idea is the very heart of the literary residences. A new one opens its doors in Kyoto, the first with an international vocation, which gathers writers and translators.
Writing is like a muscle. You have to train it with a fitness program that supports consistency with a huge dose of inspiration. Writing Residencies are perfect gyms: places where you can write deeply concentrated not only thanks to the “buen retiro factor”, but also and above all thanks to the magic of interaction with other writers, with an unknown dimension, with unexpected sources of inspiration. There are several around the world, some in suggestive locations such as Kerouac’s house or a former fish factory on the Icelandic fjords. They all have in commons a new experience of in-depth analysis, a virgin ground to let fresh ideas flourish.
With the same intention, the Kyoto Writers Residency opens its doors, the first residence for writers and translators with an international vocation. We asked its director, Kyoko Yoshida, to tell us more. “We are aiming to provide a full month of boarding and stipend plus a round trip fee to the participants. In the first few years, we will accommodate 4 to 6 writers and translator(s) in downtown Kyoto. The first residency will take place in early fall in 2022”.
How did the idea of the literary residence come out? And why Kyoto?
My experience as a fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa influenced my career. This first-hand experience in the literary residency has stayed with me. Also, when I came back to Kyoto where I spent my college and graduate school years, I could see it is an ideal place for residency. First of all, Kyoto is a cultural city with a history of 1200 years—it’s where “The Tale of Genji” and other major Heian Literatures were written. Kyoto welcomes both tradition and innovation, it’s a big city, but the downtown area is sizable and walkable, and it is surrounded by rivers and mountains. It’s a college town as well. There are 38 colleges and universities in the city of Kyoto alone. This means that we have many young people interested in contemporary literature and cultures and languages around the world. We also hope to arrange exchanges with other residencies around the world.
Is it the first literary residency in Japan?
Art residencies have been growing in number in Japan. Some of them accommodate poets and writers. There are also literary residencies for writers from specific countries (EU, etc.), but as an international literary residency, yes, Kyoto Writers Residency will be the first in Japan.
Which international projects have inspired this initiative?
International Writing Program, as mentioned. International Writers’ Workshop at Hong Kong Baptist University was a great example—a sizable literary residency run by a university. Sing Lit Station has been an inspiration for its creative and vibrant ways to mobilize young writers and readers. I’ve been attending APWT (Asia Pacific Writers and Translators) conferences for the past 15 years. This has opened my eyes to the creative energy of Southeast Asia.
Who is the target?
We would like to bring early-mid career poets and writers of different languages so that Kyoto Writers Residency will provide a quiet time and place to focus on their writing to boost their literary career. We are hoping that the residency experience will bring them back to Kyoto and Japan, and that will generate more future projects. We will bring a few young Japanese authors to the residency as well. As I said before, Japanese writers are not familiar with literary residency. But I sense some writers are curious and even eager to write outside Japan. We are hoping that their experience at Kyoto Writers Residency will encourage them to seek other opportunities outside Japan, and other Japanese writers become aware of such opportunities. And of course, foreign writers benefit from Japanese authors joining the residency.
Describe contemporary Japanese literature with three adjectives
Hybrid, post-Japanese, audacious.
What do Japanese people think of Italian literature?
It’s a major source of light! First of all, its direct lineage from the ancient heritage and Renaissance is very well recognized and respected. Modern Italian novelists are widely translated–Natalia Ginsburg, Primo Levi, Dino Buzzati, Antonio Tabucchi…. And of course, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco are big stars here in Japan, too. Elena Ferrante’s serial novels have been successful…. And Jhumpa Lahiri’s new career in Italian has been drawing attention. Avant-garde writing in the Italian language has been regarded as important. There’s an amazing translation of Amelia Rosselli in Japanese, for instance.
Atsuko Suga (1929-1998) was a scholar and translator of Italian Literature. She worked at Libreria Corcia Dei Servi in Milan for many years and introduced Italian poets and writers associated with the resistance. Her essays on her life in Italy are very popular. Today we have Suga Atsuko Award for outstanding Japanese translations of Italian Literature.
Few Japanese writers are famous in Italy, could you name some interesting authors?
Since I cannot tell which Japanese authors have been translated into Italian, this list might come too late, but Kanako Nishi, Hiroko Oyamada, Kaori Fujino, Aoko Matsuda — there is an upsurge of powerful women writers.
There is also a bunch of comic fantasy writers who bend literary conventions and are a lot of fun to read. Tomihiko Morimi and Manabu Makime are the top examples that come to mind. They both set their stories in Kyoto.
And most of all, I hope post-national writers of Japanese literature would get translated more widely. I’m sure Yoko Tawada is well known. I already mentioned LI Kotomi. Miri YU, a writer of Korean descent, has a long, impressive career. WEN Yourou explores her hybrid identity as a Taiwanese raised in Japan, in the Japanese language. Akira Higashiyama has an adventure novel set in the historic turmoil of Taiwan, inspired by his grandfather’s life.
Can we trace parallels with cinema, which maybe get more attention in Italy?
In representation of Japanese culture, cinema and literature complement each other. Cinema still tends to be dominated by male directors whereas we see many powerful female authors; the new Japanese cinema is created in international production and setting while literature requires translation to cross the borders. Nonetheless, they both address the changing tide in the Japanese society—widening economical gap, gender issues, ageing population, immigrant and refugee issues, and the young generation facing uncertain times.
Interview by Daniela Giambrone