5Q interview: CHAN Lai-kuen  陳麗娟 (Hong Kong)

October 25, 2019

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 speaking with CHAN Lai-kuen  陳麗娟, a poet and essayist from Hong Kong, whose blog handle is “Dead Cat,” is a poet, a public speaker, and teacher. Her three books include [There Were Cats Singing], the winner of the Recommendation Prize at the 11th Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, a prose collection, and a bilingual Chinese-English volume of poetry. Chan’s work has been translated and published internationally. She participates courtesy of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.


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

I do not have a new project for the residency, but I am continuing with my autobiographical fiction that started one year before this residency, with the working title of Diary of a Vagabond Dead Cat, whose form and title are borrowed from Japanese woman writer Hayashi Fumiko’s Diary of a Vagabond. It started with a sudden divorce, days stranded in a hotel at the border of the city, and a struggle with anxiety disorder. Recent entries are about days in Iowa.
 

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

We have a busy schedule of attending readings, penal discussions and other activities, so days are not regular. I only sat down to write once in a few days whenever I feel something strongly. I also wrote some poems irregularly.
 

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

I’m currently straddling a few books. Most recent one is a manga I found in the University of Iowa Main Library – Biography of Izumi Kyoka by Mizuki Shigeru. It is very interesting and I’m instantly hooked. The others are, The Islands by IWP fellow Carlos Gamerro; he is crazily talented. The third one is Chandrahas Choudhury’s Clouds, which I encountered at the IWP alumni’s reading.
 

4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?

I think is the idiosyncratic choice of words, child-like imagination and humour that exist in my work. A writing sample is available here (link) and I hope readers can check it out if they haven’t already. And I think my personality is quite in sync with my writing.
 

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from - share some favorite details about your home.

Hong Kong is a very crowded place. It is a bit difficult to find favourite details, I mean if you can squeeze yourself into it. But anywhere here are a few things I like:

Tram ride in the Hong Kong island- if you are lucky you can get on an old one with wooden seats. The ride (you might have to squeeze) is still exciting and you can see some heritage buildings.

Traditional Chinese tea drinking places (not crowded dim sum restaurants but serious places for tea)– those are only places where you can find peace and seats anyway.

Old shops, for example along Shanghai Street. They sell kitchen wares, gold and jewelry, stationery, etc. With the crazy rise in rent, old shops are getting rare, and it is always better to see them than never.

 

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Thank you Chan!

CHAN Lai-kuen  陳麗娟, a poet and essayist from Hong Kong, whose blog handle is “Dead Cat,” is a poet, a public speaker, and teacher. Her three books include [There Were Cats Singing], the winner of the Recommendation Prize at the 11th Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, a prose collection, and a bilingual Chinese-English volume of poetry. Chan’s work has been translated and published internationally. She participates courtesy of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.