Revolutionary Script Road

Can an event like a literary festival really change the life of a city? The Script Road – Macao’s Literary Festival – has returned this year aiming for just such a goal. Organised jointly by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Macao and the Macao Foundation, this year’s festival boasts more venues, more Chinese authors, and an emphasis on the younger generations.

“I believe it’s important for people to get to know how a literary festival can help change the life of a small city,” said Ricardo Pinto. Indeed, The Script Road started in 2012 as a civil initiative of the Portuguese newspaper Ponto Final, owned by Pinto. It was the first ever literary festival organised in Macao. Inspired by South America’s biggest literary festival – Brazil’s Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), Pinto invited Mauro Munhoz, director of Brazil’s festival, to Macao to give his input. “It had to do with our desire for diversification, and of bringing the experience of South America’s festival over here,” Pinto explained to Macao magazine.

It was Munhoz’s first time in Macao. With the similarities between Macao and Paraty in Brazil reaching much further than simply festivals, Munhoz was fascinated to discover Macao life for himself. “Like Paraty, Macao emerged as a trading centre for Portugal, creating a history full of parallels despite the geographical distance,” he said.

From his experience with Flip, Munhoz knows the huge amount of connections and challenges involved in structuring a festival. He was delighted to have the opportunity to work with Chinese writers with whom he usually had less contact, and rediscover writers who had already featured at the Flip festival, such as the Portuguese Dulce Maria Cardoso and Valter Hugo Mãe, “of whom I am a deep admirer,” he confessed.

Ricardo Pinto says he believes that this kind of get-together between festival organisers can yield great results, including sharing guests between events.

“It is something that can benefit everyone,” he said. His Brazilian counterpart agrees. “Surely this is particularly the case with representatives of Chinese literature. We had the presence of Ma Jian and Xinran in 2009, but there is still a long way to go in working on the connection between the two cultures.”

Flip, founded by British organizer Liz Calder in 2003, was the first literary festival in Brazil and reached its tenth edition in July 2012. It is visited by around 20 thousand people every year. Together with similar events in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and India, it served as a vital role model to The Script Road.

“The festival in India (the Jaipur Literary Festival) is maybe the biggest literary festival (in terms of writers of English text, at least) in Asia and it has grown a lot in recent years, not only on the literary side, but also in its music programme. It’s probably the festival that’s the closest to our Script Road,” Ricardo says.

Second Round

The Second Script Road, held this year from 10th–16th March, has brought to the city more than 30 renowned writers, publishers, translators, journalists, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and more.

For Ricardo Pinto, things are “not that different from last year” in terms of scale. There are differences, though, in the number of music shows, activities with educational institutions and the locations of the events. “At the first event, the ideas were there but things were still too embryonic, and it was necessary to consolidate them more effectively. I think we have evolved, and everything encourages us to think that, especially in terms of participation – we’ll see a big increase.”

This year’s programme includes more Chinese authors than last year’s. One of them is Han Shaogong, author of A Dictionary of Maqiao (1996, translated into English in 2003), whose writing is influenced by Kafka and the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez.

“Writers, publishers and translators are all participants and creators of literature so it’s good that everybody can make friends through literature, the interchange of thoughts and the communication of emotions,” he said to Macao magazine. Awarded the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Han Shaogong has translated authors like Czech writer Milan Kundera and the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa into Chinese.

“Pessoa is a great author, his words touch hearts. It’s a style of writing that comes from souls and reaches souls. He had a great imagination, acute insight, great perception and understanding of issues related to humanity, culture, life, history, religion and science,” the writer said, confessing that he is also a fan of José Saramago and Eça de Queirós. “Many Chinese readers enjoy their works,” he assures us.

The Script Road programme also features other prominent contemporary Chinese writers such as Bi Feiyu, winner of some of the highest literary awards in China; Hong Ying, one of the best internationally known Chinese writers; and Yi Sha, a controversial contemporary poet. “Since the first event in 2012, the Chinese authors’ reactions to our invitation has been surprising,” said Pinto.

Prose from Portugal

For this year’s festival, The Script Road invited Dulce Maria Cardoso, one of the greatest novelists of her generation; Francisco José Viegas, former Portuguese Culture Secretary of State, writer and publisher; Valter Hugo Mãe, recent winner of the Portugal Telecom Prize; writer and journalist Alexandra Lucas Coelho; journalist and translator Carlos Vaz Marques; publisher Bárbara Bulhosa; and novelist Deana Barroqueiro.

Humour is a key theme of the festival, represented by Ricardo Araújo Pereira and Rui Zink.

“We wanted the festival to be alive and grow every year, and for this year’s event we chose humor because we find it’s important to show its relationship with literature,” Ricardo Pinto explained.

Writer, university lecturer and popular agent provocateur in Portugal’s cultural scene, among other things, Rui Zink told Macao magazine that the festival’s concept of joining together professionals from Asia and Portuguese-speaking countries “is always good, but will we find a common language? Will there be mutual interest? That is the question”.

The author of Dádiva Divina, awarded Portugal’s prestigious Pen Club Award, told us that before the festival he knew two Chinese authors. Outlaws of the Marsh, by Shi Nai’An, was given to him as a gift from a friend. The second writer, the “very interesting” poet Li Wei, was someone  he met in New York almost thirty years ago.

“We became friends although we never saw each other again. His ability for synthesis fascinated me. Once he wrapped up in a single sentence three hours of a debate about the old question of writing being art or technique,” he recalled.

Portuguese-speaking countries

José Eduardo Agualusa from Angola and Luís Cardoso from Timor-Leste are two of the five Portuguese-speaking guests at the festival.

The Angolan author and one of the best-known Portuguese-speaking contemporary African writers, has joined what is probably the most important literary voice from East Timor in their first visit to Macao.

“I was so pleased with the invitation, the chance to get to know Macao and the story of those East Timorese that one day decided to go there to live,” Luís Cardoso said to Macao magazine. Finding the event “magnificent”, he admitted it would be good to be able to return to East Timor with more knowledge about the literature created in China.

One of the few books by a Chinese author that Agualusa knew before the festival is set in East Timor – The Redundancy of Courage (1991), by Timothy Mo.

“Asian literature is still little known in Portuguese-speaking countries,” said Agualusa, also contacted by us.

“Despite the presence of China in Angola, there has not been a greater cultural awareness. I believe that the Chinese presence would be better accepted if the Angolans knew more about Chinese culture.”

Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane, Brazilian writer and journalist Vanessa Barbara, the poet Regis Bonvicino, and Paloma and Cecília Amado, daughter and granddaughter of Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado (1912–2001), are other guests at the event. The latter two pay homage to Amado’s work by showing a documentary and a fiction film based on his life and his books.

Writers Tong Mui Siu, Chek In, Lou Mou and Wong Man Fai represent Macao authors. And because the festival decided to open up gradually to other Asian and Latin authors, French authors Antoine Volodine and Claude Hudelot made the list this year.

More to do and see

One of the highlights of the festival is the launching of a book of short stories set in the territory in Chinese, Portuguese and English.

“It’s our biggest legacy, I believe, a piece of literature about Macao, not only with the contributions of the authors that participated in the festival last year (such as José Luís Peixoto, Lolita Hu, João Paulo Cuenca, Jimmy Qi and Rui Cardoso Martins) but also from anonymous writers.

This year there is less music – Portuguese fado singer Camané and folk band Dead Combo – but in the movie projections section, two of the movies were filmed in Macao and are premiéres in China: the award-winning film The Last Time I Saw Macau, by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, and On The Dragon’s Flake, from Macao-based director Ivo Ferreira.

For the first time, two artists have also worked in residence, creating works that reflect their experience of Macao: painters Chen Yu from China, and Theodore Mesquita from Goa.

“Like I said, there has been no huge step forward in terms of ambition, the ambition was already there last year,” said Ricardo Pinto, “what has changed is the activities distribution, and the planning, which has been the result of lessons learned from  last year’s event.”

“We were surprised at the lack of participation by students last year so instead of waiting for them to come to us, we have decided to take the festival to them.” Chinese schools, Portuguese School and Macao University are some of the places to benefit from this move.

Positive feedback from Macao society to the festival “is a thrill and a consolidation” for The Script Road organisers.

By Filipa Queiroz
Photos by  Gonçalo L. Pinheiro and archives
(Issue N. 15, March 2013)

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About Filipa Queiroz

Jornalista. Nascida em Coimbra, criada em Braga e a viver em Macau.

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