WrICE at the Chinese Writers Festival


The Chinese Writers Festival, held today at Richmond Library in Melbourne, featured local and international Chinese writers, aiming to showcase Chinese-Australian literary achievements and celebrate diversity in Melbourne’s cultural landscape.

“Chinese-Australians now comprise the largest migrant community in Melbourne,” said Kate Larsen, director of Writers Victoria, who was supporting the event. “While being recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature, the majority of Melbourne’s literary activity takes place in English within the central business district,” she added. This bilingual festival gave audiences complete access to all presentations and panel discussions, whether in English or Chinese.

Author Xu Xi (WrICE 2015) and has returned to Australia to again take part in the residency and several literary events. During her keynote address, she talked about her identity. Raised in Hong Kong and speaking English as her first language, Xu Xi has been writing in English since she was a child. She’s the author of ten books, including five novels and five collections of short fiction and essays. These days she splits her time between New York and Hong Kong.

She discussed the intricacies of her Indonesian–Chinese–Hong Kong–American identity as a writer, which resonated well with the audience, many of whom seemed to be interrogating that same question of identity, being Australian or Chinese, Australian-born or immigrants. In the globalised world that we now live in, the question of identity is becoming more and more nuanced.

It is fitting, therefore, that “Identity” is also the theme of the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) this year. “Our identity allows us to think of ourselves as part of a group of similar people, locating us within communities of affinity. Our beliefs, our characteristics, our life experiences and our values inform our identity. Our identities can bring us together or set us apart,” MWF says.


Also at the Chinese Writers Festival, Alice Pung (WrICE 2016) spoke about reading books when she was young, which rarely, if ever, had Chinese characters set in Australia. “Growing up, I never saw any Asian kids in books, which made me feel like a foreigner despite being born here.”

This was also the crux of keynote address by Maxine Beneba Clarke (WrICE 2014) at the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Maxine, who is from an Afro-Caribbean background, said non-white children are rendered invisible in Australia. She argued for greater diversity in Australian literature, which should represent all children whether they differ in colour, ethnicity, religion, disability, demographic or whether they’re raised by single or same-sex parents.

“It is the right of every child to see themselves in story,” Maxine said. When kids don’t see themselves in a story, they may feel as though there’s something wrong with them or as though they don’t belong.

Ouyang Yu was another panellist at the Chinese Writers Festival. He’s a contemporary Chinese-Australian author, translator and academic, who came to Australia in 1991 to complete a PhD. During his study he researched Asian characters in Australian literature over a one-hundred-year time frame and he found very little representation of Chinese people. And whatever he did find was bad. This is surprising considering the Chinese people have been involved in Australian society since the Australian Gold Ruses of the mid-nineteenth century (more than 12,000 arrived in 1956 alone).

To date, Ouyang Yu has published eighty books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, literary criticism and literary translation in English and Chinese. But his early writing was “all virtually rejected by publishers”, due to censorship in China. He no longer faces such issues here in Australia, but he said: “Here, there is economic censorship”, where works are not published when there’s no market for them.

Though that hasn’t stopped him. “There may be no money in it, but you’ve got to do what’s in your heart,” he added.


Alice talked about her experiences doing talks in schools and the children who read her books. “Asian children say it helps their sense of identity,” she said, “because if you don’t see yourself represented, you don’t feel like you belong.” But her books also impact Australian students, who say her books bring them a better understanding about their Asian friends.

These discussions about identity and cultural exchange and understanding are the fundamental tenants on which the WrICE program is founded. The program of “Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange” gives writers the opportunity to spend time in Asia and then Australia, providing them with a deeper understand of each other’s culture, and how to then faithfully represent this understanding in their work.

We read books and literature to learn something about ourselves and the world around us. So, as Xu Xi, Alice and Maxine have all iterated, it’s important that everyone can actually see themselves in books, so they can relate – wherever they are from. It makes people feel like they belong to that society. And for children especially, this is precious.

Story: Ara Sarafian

WrICE: Stories from Near and Far

Monday 29 August
Stories from Near and Far
Celebrate (WrICE) as part of the RMIT Present Tense Program

WrICE, a program of residencies, workshops and events, is building an
international network of writers and writing to foster intercultural conversations, celebrate diversity, and change the stories we tell and listen to.
A stunning line-up of acclaimed and emerging writers from Australia, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines will perform an intercultural collage of readings, introduced by Lisa Dempster, Artistic Director, Melbourne Writers Festival.

Join us for ideas, inspiration, refreshments. Featuring WrICE writers: Alice Pung,
Eliza Vitri Handayani, Michele Lee, Maggie Tiojakin, Lawrence Ypil, Dai Fan, Xu Xi and more
WrICE is made possible through the generous funding of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

ChineseWritersImage smallFrom near and far flyer

Mon 29 August
RMIT Design Hub
Level 10, Long Room
Cnr Swanston and
Victoria streets
This event is free but registration is essential

MWF event: Queer Literary Salon

Queer Literary Salon

Sunday Sept 4 at 5:30pm, Bella Union

Come out with us and celebrate queer culture in a literary salon that combines revelation with revelry. Join special guests Adolfo Aranjuez, Ivan Coyote, Amy Middleton and Rebecca Shaw for interviews, readings, true tales and live illustrations. Hosted by Geraldine Hickey.

Note: Doors and bar open at 5pm for pre-event drinks; limited seating with plenty of standing room available. 18+ event so ID may be requested.


Bella Union
Corner of Victoria St & Lygon St, Melbourne


RMIT and WrICE present at MWF: The Near and Far book launch

Book Launch: The Near and Far

Sunday 4 September at 3:00pm, Beer Deluxe

From near and far flyerThe Near and Far collects new and previously unpublished works from established and emerging writers across Australia and the Asia-Pacific, including Maxine Beneba Clarke and 2014/2015 WrICE writer Omar Musa. Join editors David Carlin and Francesca Rendle-Short at the launch of this exciting anthology.


Beer Deluxe
Federation Square, Flinders Street

WrICE event: Writing Accross Borders, Sept 2

Writing Across Borders panel at the MWF

Friday September 2 at 5:30pm, ACMI the Cube

As part of the 2016 WrICE program, writers from across Asia and Australia will be contributing to the Melbourne Writers Festival in August. The Writing Across Borders event brings together seven WrICE writers on their visit to Melbourne.

ChineseWritersImage smallHow does cultural exchange in writing and ideas work? Fan Dai, Eliza Vitri Handayani, Michele Lee, Alice Pung, Maggie Tiojakin, Xu Xi and Lawrence Lacambra Ypil share their experiences of WrICE, an immersive intercultural program. See WrICE in action in this lively, performative session.


ACMI, The Cube
Federation Square, Melbourne
The main entrance is from the Fed Square plaza. There is also an entrance, via ramp, from Flinders St. 

WrICE’s Eliza Vitri Handayani at the MWF, Sept 2

Melbourne Writers Festival and WrICE:
Protest & Rebellion panel

September 2 at 1:00pm, ACMI the Cube

ElizaArtist Molly Crabapple came to prominence when she was arrested during the Occupy movement. Eliza Vitri Handayani’s From Now On Everything Will Be Different caused controversy in Indonesia for its critical stance on the government. They discuss the power of art as a protest tool.


ACMI the Cube, Federation Square, Melbourne
The main entrance is from the Fed Square plaza. There is also an entrance, via ramp, from Flinders St.

August 28: WrICE and the Chinese Writers Festival

From the Mountains to the Sea
10:00am-4:00pm, Richmond Library

On Sunday August 28 two of our WrICE writers will appear at and contribute to the Chinese Writers Festival in Melbourne, Richmond.
XuXi-Tree Cr PAUL HILTONalice
The festival is a bilingual celebration of Chinese and Chinese-Australian writing from the mountains to the sea. Featuring Lei Tao (Xi’an), Xu Xi (New York and Hong Kong), Alice Pung, Ouyang Yu, Belinda Jiang, Wang Ruobing and more.


Richmond Library
415 Church St



WrICE writers and the MWF: Change storytelling event, August 27

WrICE writer’s contribution to the Melbourne Writers Festival

Westside Storytelling Live Event: Change
5:30pm, FCAC

无标题AliceSome of life’s most interesting things happen when we’re on the brink of change. In this night of live storytelling, writers and performers from around the world – including Alan Brough and WrICE writers Lawrence Lacambra Ypil and Alice Pung – will share their stories of transformation.


Footscray Community Arts Centre
45 Moreland Street

WrICE and MWF : Muslim Feminism panel, August 27

Saturday 27 August, 1:00pm, FCAC 

Muslim Feminism

ElizaHow are Muslim women fighting sexism and working for change?

WrICE participant Eliza Vitri Handayani and Shakira Hussein explore the subject in their writing, while psychologist Monique Toohey helps patients access culturally appropriate services. In this session, they dissect the intersection of feminism and Muslim identity.


Footscray Community Arts Centre
45 Moreland Street


Group Writing Anxieties

Group writing can be painfully difficult. So much of writing is about exposing yourself to other people. Good writing often makes the writer and the reader feel extremely vulnerable, as if secrets are being told. Writing with imminent group-feedback on the horizon feels like preparing one’s dirty laundry to be publicly aired and critiqued. With that in mind, it takes an incredibly comfortable and supportive group of people to make workshopping a practical possibility, let alone a meaningful exercise. The support and friendship I felt coming from all my fellow Wricers is what made the workshopping, even the program itself, so meaningful to me.

20160410_173157The piece I began working on in Yangshuo is a very personal work. It’s a semi-fictionalised account of the few days I spent in Hong Kong on my way to Guangzhou, and the old friends I caught up with there. Through the work, I tried to go out on a limb and tackle discomforts I have about the ways I understand race and culture as an Australian. Many of us brought similarly personal stories to the workshop table, dealing with past traumas or deeply private beliefs which can be grating to have challenged. The feedback I received on my writing went further than helping with the formatting and story structure; the openness and honesty which the WrICE environment fosters made it possible for the other writers to actually challenge the morality of the work, even to the point of directly asking me to see the world differently, and I think the outcome of that is beginning to be visible not just in the writing but in my life generally.

There are a few things which I think contributed to this idyllic writing environment. First and foremost is that everyone who came along was a uniquely likeable and interesting person. Letting a group of people like this into an emptied out hotel for one week is a great way to build fast friendships. Secondly, the structuring of the group meant that our friendships were never tested against anxieties around seniority or who had the right to voice an opinion. David and Francesca never felt like our authoritarian “mum and dad”, they were (and still are) our friends. This lack of hierarchy and the fact that no one tried to default to either of them for opinions on what they were writing helped build the sense of mutual respect which was needed to create the fantastic workshopping environment. Lastly, the relative isolation of our writerly Eden in Yangshuo made me feel like I was living in a special creative universe, with different laws and possibilities. I was somewhat sceptical before I came about what the WrICE program could do for me, worrying that I might waste the time or just lose sight of my work when comparing it to established writers like Alice Pung, but this was not the case. The WrICE program helped me to be braver with my writing, and made me feel confident working with other writers.


Another really major thing that the intercultural experience of WrICE gave me was a chance to hear about the histories of Indonesia and the Philippines through a very personalised, cultural lens. Thank you to Larry Ypil, Maggie Tiojakin and Eliza Vitri Handayani for that. Hearing intelligent and emotionally sensitive people talk at length about the things which help define their country to them is one of the most moving intercultural experiences a person can have. I want to end this blog post with a link to a song I wrote while I was in Yangshuo. I wrote it after talking to Maggie and Eliza about the reign of President Suharto in Indonesia, particularly thinking about the persecution suffered by the Chinese Indonesian population during and in the aftermath of this period. I never would have written something like this if I hadn’t been given the chance to talk to these other writers. Not only would I have not known about what happened, I never would have had the courage to comment on the feelings people must have had through such a tumultuous time if it weren’t  for the support and encouragement I received in doing so. For me, this song is a personal achievement, marking what can be possible when working in the light of other writers.