Literary Conference to bring major figures from Asia to Madison

MADISON—Leading artists, poets, writers, and translators from India, China, and North America will gather in Madison the week of May 22 for a series of public events as part of a Summer Institute on “Chinese Literature and the Global South: Writing, Translating, Reading, Looking.”

Spanning four evenings, the public program will showcase the arts, including a public reading by the preeminent voice of his generation, Bei Dao, and a screening of an experimental film by the artist, Xu Bing. They are joined by the poet Zhai Yongming and novelist Han Shaogong, along with counterparts from India: the writers Sharmistha Mohanty and Allan Sealy, as well as the visual artist, Kabir Mohanty.

“This will be a unique opportunity to experience work by some of the most interesting and influential figures in China and India today,” said Conference Organizer and University of Wisconsin–Madison Assistant Professor of Chinese Literature Anatoly Detwyler. “Cultural ambassadorship is usually state-sponsored and can thus oftentimes ring a bit hollow. But in this case, writers and artists from very different backgrounds will get to interact and share work more directly, which will ultimately enrich all of us.”

The Summer Institute’s evening programming will be open to the public and take place at UW–Madison’s Memorial Union, Chazen Museum, and the Elvehjem Building. For Xu Bing, the visit to Madison is his first return since 1991, the year the Chazen organized the inaugural exhibition of his work outside of China. To commemorate the occasion, the museum will put its collection of Xu’s work on temporary display. During the daytime, the Summer Institute will run a closed-door workshop wherein writers and artists will gather with scholars from an array of North American universities to critically consider the connection between contemporary Chinese literature and the so-called “Global South.” For further program information, please visit the Summer Institute webpage for more details.

The conference will be the UW–Madison’s most significant event focused on Chinese literature since June 1980, when the campus hosted the First International Workshop on the Dream of the Red Chamber. That event drew scholars to Madison to discuss a single Chinese classic, while the 2023 conference will purposefully engage with a variety of different works and genres. But the present aim echoes that of the earlier gathering as Professor Chow Tse-tsung originally expressed: to study “not only Chinese literature, but also world literature.”

The Summer Institute is made possible by funding from the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, in partnership with the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. It is further supported by the Center for East Asian Studies, UW-Madison Libraries, and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.