NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.
Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.
Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).
“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”
According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,
Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.
Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.
The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天，他們經過六輪投票，決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西（原名張彥）可獲得一萬美元的獎金，紀念獎牌一塊，銅質獎章一枚，並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授（Tammy Lai-Ming Ho）。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下：康奈爾大學的安敏軒（Nick Admussen）提名了詩人於秀華，哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲（Eleanor Goodman）提名了詩人王小妮，香港大學的柯夏智（Lucas Klein）教授提名了詩人西川，阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思（Christopher Lupke）教授提名了詩人蕭開愚，萊頓大學的柯雷（Maghiel van Crevel）教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊，以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。
紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館，“今日中國文學”雜誌，“今日世界文學”雜誌，並定期主辦紐斯塔特（Neustadt）國際文學獎。
In a cover story for the Times Literary Supplement titled “Poetry of the suicide note,” or alternately, “It is useless to live,” she reviews five recent books of Chinese poetry–both modern and premodern–in English translation: Hawk of the Mind, the collected poems of Yang Mu 楊牧, edited by Michelle Yeh; Narrative Poem 叙事诗 by Yang Lian 杨炼, translated by Brian Holton; Michèle Métail’s study of “reversible” poems in Wild Geese Returning, translated by Jody Gladding for Calligrams; and the Calligrams re-release of The Collected Poems of Li He 李賀, translated by J. D. Frodsham and François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing, translated by Donald A. Riggs, with an anthology of Tang and Song poems translated by Jerome P. Seaton.
The essay begins,
There is a type of Chinese poem called the juemingci [絕命詞], which means, roughly, verses to terminate your life. Almost the poetic equivalent of a suicide note, the juemingci … is a formal acknowledgement of one’s negative relation to the present: the world in whatever configuration it finds itself will never be for you, will never work out for you, and the mark of a fine mind is that it will go to waste.
She also writes:
Perhaps this setting aflame, like all those elements of Chinese poetry that foil translation – its grammar, its sonic and visual elements, its “characters’ formidable power of suggestion” … – might be enfolded into the aesthetics of decadence, so that discussion of Chinese poetry in translation does not have to turn endlessly on arguments about translatability. Even if one is set on regarding translation as subtraction (a tally of what is lost or needlessly added), in decadent poetry you can lose almost all of the valences and still have more than enough meaning.
But what I think is her most moving passage is,
Maybe one does not have the training to catch all the allusions (to both Chinese and foreign literature and history), maybe one does not read difficult Chinese, or maybe one does not read Chinese (or poetry) at all. None of this is to suggest that we should not try. We should, not least because these particular books evince their translators’ responsibility and accuracy, and represent the best possible resources for becoming familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese language, and accessing levels of meaning previously closed to the uninitiated.
Today’s Book Review Seminar with Xi Chuan features Chris Lupke’s review of my translations, Notes on the Mosquito. Because it’s still forthcoming in print, I can’t reproduce the entire review, but here’s an excerpt of Lupke’s intricate and sensitive take on Xi Chuan’s poetry and its importance in China and the world:
The density of his poetry aside, the other trial facing me and any reader at this time is that we have no serviceable nomenclature for what Xi Chuan is doing, particularly his work of the past ten years or so. He is engaged in an unprecedented project to recast literary expression in contemporary China. And we do not know, cannot now know, whether the results of his project eventually will be the idiosyncratic work of one man, or whether he is setting a path, one possible path, for other poets to follow. Xi Chuan exists at a special time in Chinese literary history when form has finally matured in modern Chinese poetry, when the anxiety of influence can be tempered by several generations of earlier modern poets who bore the major brunt of being compared with the illustrious tradition of classical Chinese poetry and when experiments with Western poetic structures have by and large been cast aside. The successes of free verse poets from Taiwan such as Yang Mu, Yu Guangzhong, Wai-lim Yip (Cantonese, but educated in Taiwan), and others have established a solid corpus in the vernacular mode. Obscure poets from China have safely neutralized the once suffocating omnipresence of Maospeak. Through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic repetition, alliteration and assonance, Xi Chuan is able to forge his work in an environment in which the so-called avant-garde (which to date has not been adequately defined in China) is the norm. Liberated from the twin strictures of classical Chinese and Western prosody, Xi Chuan has become a successful bricoleur, a world poet who interacts with the tradition, engages literary giants of China’s past within his work, and also establishes a dialogue with Western greats such as Homer, Petrarch, Baudelaire, Rilke, Pound, Gary Snyder, and others. His work is the product of a creative dialectics that violates Hu Shi’s admonition to eschew literary allusion while embracing his demand to articulate things in the vernacular. The conflicts that Xi Chuan bespeaks in his poetry are not those of a clash of civilizations, of traditional and modernity or East and West. Rather, they are internal conflicts, conflicts of the soul. His work is completely personal and untranslatable to others, not just linguistically but emotionally. But at the same time, his problems are genuine and are no different than those that give pain to each of us: the death of friends and family, frustration over failure, difficulty communicating to others, weakness and ineffectuality, humiliation, fear, lust, and limitation. “The one with the greatest vision is blind” 最具视觉功夫的人竟然是个瞎子, he flatly observers, “if Homer wasn’t blind, then whoever created Homer must have been” 如果荷马不是瞎子，那创作了荷马的人必是瞎子. And he concludes at the end of the same poem: “Nietzsche the last son of Dionysus, never touching a drop, still went crazy in Weimar” 尼采酒神的最后一个儿子，滴酒不沾，却也在魏玛疯疯癫癫 (109). Genius has its consequences. It’s not a game.
Hope you can attend!
Date: 1 November, 2012 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Venue: G4302, Green Zone, 4/F, Academic 1, City University of Hong Kong.
“Can great lasting literature find a reader in America?” I think so, do you?
“Literature is not a boxing match, though sometimes it can appear that way given the polarizing passions it can generate.” So begins yesterday morning’s Times “View from Asia,” a piece by the reporter Didi Kristen Tatlow entitled “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China.” This is the second and more balanced piece she has published in the Times in a week. Indeed, over the last two months, three Chinese writers have won prestigious international awards, including the novelist Mo Yan (Nobel Prize for Literature), the writer/journalist Liao Yiwu (Peace Prize for the German Book Trade), and the Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (Newman Prize for Chinese Literature), but Tatlow’s piece misses some important opportunities that need to be addressed in one of the few forums where readers have access to such discussions. Tatlow’s piece includes fantastic comments from Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kwan (a/k/a PK) and scholar Michelle Yeh that go a long way toward complicating the “either/or” nature of her first piece which now rather famously ends with the hyperbolic question, “Can great, lasting literature come from there [China]? The Nobel committee thinks so. Do you?” Tatlow’s more recent piece still gives the impression that Mo Yan’s award was given to the PRC ruling party rather than an author. Tatlow simplifies her discussion of Mo Yan with a single quotation from a government official, and she implies that the other two awards were somehow less ideologically implicated—i.e., awarded fairly. I cannot speak to the selection process of the Peace Prize for the German Book Trade, but as the Juror Coordinator for this year’s Newman Prize, I would agree that the Newman Prize represents an important, transparent international award for Chinese Literature. This award is conferred by the University of Oklahoma (named for Ruth and Harold Newman and established by Pete Gries), where a jury of leading international literary scholars weighs literary merit to find the writer who best represents the human condition in written Chinese (from anywhere in the world). Yang Mu won the award because the jury saw his work as a reflection of these high ideals. What Tatlow did not mention is that the Newman Prize honored Mo Yan in 2008, the year a Newman jury selected him for representing the pinnacle of these humanist ideals.
Now, one week later, it seems as though it has been decided that this year’s Nobel committee has forgone the category of literature and simply awarded two peace prizes. Peace prize winners are heroes (to many though perhaps not all) as their lives reveal brave choices under unimaginable conditions. These choices and their ramifications become public record, and that record is the primary text of their cultural production (their writings, then often become paratexts that derive their import from the centrifuge of their lived experiences).
Novelists and poets, on the other hand, simply are not heroes in this sense, and they receive awards according to the cultural prestige they accrue based on their creative contributions to literature and culture. The Nobel Prize for Literature like the Book Prize, Pulitzer Prize as well as the Newman Prize and the Neustadt Prize (for which Mo Yan was a nominee in 1998), are conferred upon literary merit, an artistic basis that does not diminish Peace Prizes but complements them by way of further clarifying the work (and sacrifices) of political figures (who often are writers and/or orators). Such a distinction is essential and should be vigorously protected at such times as these. The value of literature lies in its innovative, creative labors, and running sensationalist pieces that reduce authors to simplistic pawns in geopolitical chess matches discourage people from engaging this labor (especially when it comes in the form of literature in translation) and this is simply not good stewardship of our common culture. This does not mean that geopolitical conversations should not take place, but that literaturists need to be bolder and assert the importance of the work writers do and why it is deserving of (critical) attention, for authors are linguistic technicians building the languages we need to describe the shifting, multiple worlds around us. I think that moments like these should entice literary critics to engage the public culture more directly and defend not Mo Yan alone, but literature more generally from the grip of language unable or simply uninterested in digging into the work literature is/does.
Chinese Literature Today
University of Oklahoma
Mo Yan 莫言, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, continues to be a topic of conversation. Following yesterday’s posting of “A Westerner’s Reflection on Mo Yan,” here are three other links to the relationship between Mo Yan–and by extension, Chinese literature, if not China–and the world.
Then Julia Lovell, translator and author of The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, weighs in on the political responses in China and the “intellectually lazy … Western observers” in “Mo Yan’s Creative Space.”
Then, looking at Yang Mu 楊牧 winning the Newman Prize, Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 winning the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and Mo Yan winning the Nobel–all in the space of a few days–Didi Kirsten Tatlow looks at “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China,” quoting observations from P K Leung and Michelle Yeh.
In the zone of rain shadows, at the moment of losing
My winding way, the star is the only guide
Your contemplation is an ocean, you are endless brooding
At night, in the morning, at the moment when mountain shadows
Retreat from my side table, we recall the time before exile
Click here to read all three.
Yang was nominated by UC Davis professor Michelle Yeh, co-translator with Lawrence R. Smith of Yang’s collection No Trace of the Gardener (another volume, translated by Joseph Allen, was published as Forbidden Games & Video Poems: The Poetry of Lo Chʻing [羅青]). The other nominees were Hsia Yü 夏宇, Yang Lian 杨炼, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, and Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, nominated by Jennifer Feeley (U. Iowa, USA), Michel Hockx (U. London SOAS, UK), Wolfgang Kubin (Bonn U., Germany), and Zhang Qinghua 张清华 (BNU, PRC), respectively.
Rare for contemporary Chinese poetry, all nominated poets have single-author collections available in English translation. Coincidentally, three of the nominees–Hsia, Zhai, and Ouyang–have had their only books in English published by Zephyr Press.
“The Pocketwatch,” a new translation of a Huang Chunming story (by Howard Goldblatt)
Translations of Yang Mu’s poetry (by Arthur Sze and Michelle Yeh)
Translations of Ye Mimi’s poetry (by Steve Bradbury)
Dylan Suher essay on Qian Zhongshu, that also serves as a review of Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: The Collected Short Stories of Qian Zhongshu (translated by Christopher G. Rea)
Also see the January 2012 issue for my translations of Xi Chuan‘s “Beast” 巨兽, “The Distance” 远方, and “Poison” 毒药, and hear a recording of “The Distance” read in Chinese by Huang Yin-Nan.