"Walking through a crowd without anyone noticing you while you’re still aware of your place in the city is a subtle feeling I enjoy."
Thursday, September 14, 2023

Each year, the Writing University conducts 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 WANG Zhanhei 王占黑, a fiction writer from the People's Republic of China.

Wang IWP resident head shot

WANG Zhanhei 王占黑 (fiction writer; PRC) is the author of three  story collections:  Air Cannon (2018), which won the inaugural Blancpain-Imaginist Literary Prize,  Neighborhood Adventurers (2018), and Prima Donna (2020). Her award-winning works focus on the lives of China's urban working class; some of her stories have been adapted into films and plays. She participates courtesy of the Paul and Hualing Nieh Engle Fund.


Hello Zhanhei!

1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?

I haven't set specific writing plans or projects for myself during my residency. I intend to explore the neighborhoods here, experiencing the living environments and lifestyles of people from different cultures, ethnicities, professions, and age groups.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I define my daily writing practice as "project-based." When I'm preparing to write, I try to minimize external interactions, focusing solely on what's in my mind. At the same time, I engage in physical activities like household chores to balance my state of mind. After completing a project (sometimes within a month, sometimes half a year), I take to the streets again.

I don't need specific times or locations for my writing; everything is quite OK as long as I have water, a laptop and a charger. And I'm a typical morning person—early to bed, early to get up, and I usually don't stay up late (unless I'm in a passive state of insomnia).

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I brought only two paper books in my suitcase, both from the Croatian-Dutch writer Dubravka Ugrešić: The Ministry of Pain and Fox. It was a coincidence that the Chinese translations of these two books had just been published, and I received them just before departing. Interestingly, after arriving, I discovered that The Ministry of Pain was on the International Literature Today’s syllabus, so I borrowed the English version to read in parallel. Unfortunately, I had already left Iowa City when the book was discussed in class.

In addition, I also brought my Kindle, which contains some Chinese and English books I want to read. I'm now reading Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk and Vesper Flights, both related to birdwatching. I've noticed there are many large birds in Iowa city, and I even saw a “UI bald eagle camp” T-shirt at a thrift store.

Lately, I've been randomly reading the oral documents of local women at Iowa Women's Archives, starting with cases of Asian female immigrants. Perhaps one day in the future, these reading materials will have some magical connection with my writing. But for now, all these books and documents are just for leisure reading.

4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?

To briefly introduce myself, I'm a woman who will be celebrating her 32nd birthday in Iowa city. And I love dogs, sunny days and walking around. I've published three collections of short and medium-length stories, all focusing on the daily lives of the working class in China. I come from this group, am familiar with it, and constantly care for it. And I also pay attention to the renewal and changes of the urban space where this group resides.

Perhaps the most significant difference between this group and the residents of Iowa City is that we have long lived in far more crowded and cramped spaces.

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I was born in a small city near Shanghai which is called Jiaxing. It's ancient and charming, with lots of rivers and bridges, a long history, and it has nurtured many ancient and contemporary literary giants. I love every bridge in my hometown.

After turning 18, I've been living in Shanghai. Metropolis is vast and complex enough with so many complicated things coexisting and intermingling simultaneously. Sometimes, these phenomena can be confusing, sometimes make people feel lonely, and sometimes incredibly attractive. Walking through a crowd without anyone noticing you while you’re still aware of your place in the city is a subtle feeling I enjoy. (Perhaps New York and Chicago are similar? I haven't been there yet, and I look forward to it.) Oh, I have an ongoing hobby of picking up trash. I often see things lost or abandoned on the streets, but unfortunately, the trend in most cities is to become cleaner and cleaner.



Thank you Zhanhei!