The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are talking with HUANG Chong-Kai 黃崇凱, a fiction writer from Taiwan.
1. Hello Kai! Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?
I might complete the final short story (the no. 26th) of the project Alphabet Lab. This experimental project is a collective of writers and critical theorists in Taiwan. First the theorist proposed the discourse of 26 keywords in alphabetical order, then the writers composed short stories responding to each keyword, finally the critic came in. We had published 19 anthologies, one idea for one volume, which included 6-8 short stories, discourse of the keyword and critical essays in every volume.
Also, I have an idea of my next novel, but I do believe what the novelist Garcia Marquez said: If the writer talk about his writing with somebody, that means his writing is in trouble.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
If I had to write something, I would write a little a day. Therefore, your health should be good enough to write everyday.
I don’t have studio, I always take my laptop and several books out and write outside. Actually, I wrote most of my works in coffee shops.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
Reading is like the weight training of writing, you should know how to use your writing muscle.
There are always a pile of books on my desk, some are literature in Taiwan edition: Danilo Kiš, The Encyclopedia of the Dead; V. S. Naipaul, A Way in the World; Kim Young-Ha, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.
I always want to know what do people care about in other places. There are some humanities and social sciences books, like the Taiwan historian Wang Fan-Sen, Thinking is One Kind of Life Style; Germany sociologist Hartmut Rosa, Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality (simplified Chinese edition); Belgium economist Philippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (Taiwan edition).
4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?
Writing fiction means that you somewhat like to tell stories, actually I like to listen to stories myself. Though from my point of view, fiction is not just about telling a story. Rather, it is more like a kind of thinking experiments. Through writing fiction, I can imagine various situations and try to guess people’s reactions, actions and choices under these circumstances.
Taiwan has been an immigrant society for hundreds of years. To me, writers in Taiwan must try to communicate with the histories, memories and languages of various ethnic groups. My writing is actually a kind of self-education, which allows me to explore and understand more deeply of where I stand. At the same time, if someone read my works and got interested in these thoughts, I think that would be a great reward.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
Taiwan experienced the colonial rule of the Dutch, the Chinese and the Japanese for hundreds of years, and we have the indigenous peoples, it all mixed to complex hybrid cultures. Now I live in Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan. There are quite a lot of ancient temples and architecture, featured cuisines, many coffee shops and second-hand bookstores, and plenty sunny days. Being a writer, all I need is here.
Thank you Kai!
Kai will be reading with IWP Resident Haifa ABU AL-NADI
and Iowa Writers' Workshop student Jorrell Watkins (Brotha Jorrell)
at Prairie Lights, 4pm on Sunday, Oct. 14: Link
HUANG Chong-Kai 黃崇凱 (fiction writer; Taiwan) is the author of four novels including 黃色小說 [Blue Fiction] (2014), voted one of the Ten Best Books of The Year by The China Times Book Review, and 文藝春秋 [The Contents of the Times] (2017), winner of the 2018 TIBE Book Prize for Fiction, and one of Mirror Media Review’s Ten Best Books of 2017. He is a member of 字母會 [Alphabet Lab], a collective of experimental writers and critical theorists in Taiwan. Huang’s participation is made possible by the Taiwan Ministry of Culture.