THE LITERATI of Hong Kong gathered at a private dinner at the China Club last night to welcome Ian Jack, ex-editor of the legendary Granta journal to the stable of the Asia Literary Review. It was the famous pen-man’s first visit to Asia. “I’ve never been east of Dakkar before,” he said.
Granta is famous for spotting world-class young talent -- in 1983, it published a list of writers it tipped for the top -- the list featured Martin Amis, William Boyd, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwen, AN Wilson and so on. Today, all are legends.
The Asia Literary Review has brought Ian Jack, 62, to this part of the world to perform the same magic here.
One of Ian’s most famous “tricks” was when he and his team identified a woman called Monica Ali as a top author-to-be in 2003. This caused some controversy, since she had yet to publish a book. Fortunately, he was bang on target and Ali has become one of the names of the London writing scene.
Guests at the party on the top floor of the China Club included many of the movers and shakers in Hong Kong literature. The host was Ilyas Khan, publisher of the ALR and one of the chief sponsors of the HK International Literary Festival. At the risk of sounding like the “Tatler” magazine, I’m going to share the guest list:
HKLit Fest boss Melissa Long
Chris Wood, the editor of the ALR
South China Morning Post literary editor Stephen McCarty
Publisher Dania Shawwa of Haven Books
Literary prize shortlistee Xu Xi
The University of Hong Kong’s Douglas Kerr (husband of poet Elaine Ho)
Duncan Jepson and Marya J of Creative Work, the literary agency
Charmaine Chan of the SCMP
And too many others to list here.
With someone as Ian’s stature involved with ALR, it is definitely going places -- and taking a new generation of writers up with it. The next issue is out on December 1 or soon afterwards.
There was one rather humorous note to report. Many of the guests said to me that they would see me “on Saturday at the [Man Asia Literary Prize] prizegiving”. When I told them I wasn’t actually invited (I responded discreetly, keeping it out of the speech I made) there was an inevitable rolling of the eyes at the unwelcome intrusion of politics into what should be an entirely positive week for Asian literature.
Melissa Long (who is a wonderful person, totally upfront, completely non-political and straight as a dye), told me that there were actually two Man Asia Literary Prize events on Saturday. She was making the arrangements for the first, and was happy to invite me. I was thrilled.
In fact, I’m already booked on Saturday to do a fund-raising event for destitute children in China, so I couldn’t accept, but I was so pleased by her action, as was Xu Xi and the other people around. With someone as good-hearted as Melissa calling the shots, we can rest assured that the Hong Kong lit fest 2008 is going to be excellent.
In the meantime, we've got the pages, and we've got the editors. Now all we need are the texts. Any budding authors reading this may wish to get their submissions over to the Asia Literary Review as soon as possible.