Script Road literary festival in Macau set to be biggest yet

Madeleine Thien and Krys Lee head a line-up of more than 60 writers from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Ireland, the UK, France and Brazil

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 3:53pm

Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Madeleine Thien and acclaimed Korean-American writer Krys Lee are among more than 60 influential literary figures attending The Script Road this year, Macau’s literary festival, making it the biggest since the event was launched in 2012.

Getting bigger was not intentional, says the festival’s programme director and co-founder, Hélder Beja. Last year’s festival turned out to be almost bigger than the festival team could manage and the plan was for the 2017 edition to be smaller. But with more writers asking to attend this year, it just didn’t turn out that way.

“Last year was the biggest edition – we had more than 50 guest authors, and we did 104 events in 15 days,” says Beja, a Portuguese journalist who has lived in Macau for seven years. All the events were well attended, he says. “This year, we thought it may need to be a bit smaller, as our people had been under a lot of pressure. But then, things come together.” He smiles broadly and shrugs his shoulders. “We can’t say no to good offers.”

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This year’s programme runs from March 4 to 19, and is impressive not just for its size, but also for the stature of the attending authors and geographic coverage. The line-up includes writers from mainland China, Portugal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Ireland, the UK, France and Brazil and beyond. Apart from Thien, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker for her acclaimed novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing, and fellow Booker nominee Graeme Macrae Burnet, there is Tony-award winning theatre director Garry Hynes, and Natália Borges Polesso, winner of the 2016 Jabuti award, Brazil’s most prestigious literary prize, as well as many other well known names.

One of the festival’s core aims is to bring together the world’s Portuguese and Chinese-speaking communities through literature and to be accessible to everyone. All the festival’s output, events and press releases are available in English, Portuguese and Chinese, a mammoth undertaking that is also one of the festival’s most culturally important features. “It’s one of our biggest challenges,” says director and co-founder Ricardo Pinto.

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The Script Road also creates a vibrant trilingual record of each festival by inviting participating authors to contribute a piece of writing after the festival on the theme of Macau. The pieces are then translated into the other two languages and published as a book each year, in three separate language editions.

The festival was started in 2012 by Beja and Pinto, who is the publisher of Macau Closer and Portuguese language newspaper Ponto Final, and who also runs the Portuguese Bookshop in Macau. They started the festival after discovering a shared love of literature while Beja was working as a journalist for Ponto Final. The pair aim to achieve as diverse a line-up of international authors as possible while also maintaining a balance between languages and keeping the quality high.

Over its six-year history, the festival has grown organically rather than methodically, says Beja. In its first year, the festival was held at the Macau Polytechnic Institute. “It started really small,” he recalls. “We had little know-how, little experience, a lot of passion, and good connections in terms of writers.”

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In the years that followed, the number of events grew and sessions were spread out over several diverse locations. In 2015, the festival gained a stronger footing after being given the use of the centrally located Old Courthouse Building, an imposing 1951 construction on Macau’s Avenida da Praia Grande whose facilities include a conference room, side rooms, a black box theatre and a bar. Most of the festival’s events now take place here. “It was a game changer, when we got that,” says Beja.

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As well as book talks, author interviews and writing workshops, the festival also includes concerts, plays, poetry performances and film screenings. Most of the events are offered free of charge, with a small charge for concerts. A schools programme keeps the authors busy during weekdays, and the weekends are filled with talks and workshops with writers, which run in the afternoons and evenings and are held on a first-come, first-served basis.

Festival highlights

Yu Hua

The son of doctors who grew up in medical compounds during the Cultural Revolution, Yu Hua worked as a dentist before switching to fiction writing. He has since been awarded a string of prizes and awards, including the James Joyce Award and the Giuseppe Acerbi International Literary Award. His books include Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, The Seventh Day and China in Ten Words, a collection of essays.

“Harvest and the Importance of Literary Magazines in China”, with Cheng Yongxin, March 16, 6pm, Old Court Building

Interview, March 18, 6.30pm, Old Court Building

Madeleine Thien

The Canadian author’s latest novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, tells the story of a family of musicians during the Cultural Revolution. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and was one of the New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2016.

“Writers in the Press”, with Bruno Vieira do Amaral, March 9, 7pm, Old Court Building

Discussing Do Not Say We Have Nothing, March 11, 3pm Old Court Building

Bruno Vieira do Amaral

Poet, literary critic, translator and author, Vieira do Amaral won all of Portugal’s top literary prizes in 2016 for his first book, As Primeiras Coisas, (First Things), including the prestigious José Saramago Prize.

Discussing As Primeiras Coisas, March 10, 6.30pm, Old Court Building

“My Favourite Characters” with Juan José Morales and Grace Chia, March 13, 7pm, Old Court Building

José Rodrigues dos Santos

A television anchorman, dos Santos started his career in Macau as a journalist working for Radio Macau and then the BBC in the early 1980s before returning to Portugal. Renowned for his thrillers set around historical events, he is currently one of Portugal’s bestselling authors and is often referred to as the country’s Dan Brown. He is currently working on a trilogy set in Asia.

Asian trilogy interview, March 6, 7.30pm, Old Court Building

Sérgio Godinho

Described as a national institution in Portugal, Godinho is a singer-songwriter and pianist with 28 albums under his belt. He became famous for his songs about social issues in 1960s Portugal. A former actor, he is a prolific writer of plays, poetry, children’s books and short stories. His first novel, A Heart Too Perfect, will be launched in Macau during the festival.

Discussing A Heart Too Perfect, March 12, 6.30pm, Old Court Building

Live in concert, March 15, 8.30pm, The Venetian Theatre, 100 patacas

Krys Lee

Following a rapt reception to Drifting House, a collection of short stories, the Korean-American author’s first novel, How I Became a North Korean, inspired by her work with North Korean defectors, has been widely acclaimed internationally.

“In Between Two Koreas”, March 18, 3pm, Old Court Building

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Sofia Leite

The festival will screen three of the Portuguese filmmaker’s documentaries, including a portrait of renowned Cape Verdean singer Cesária Evora, and A Lista de Chorin, the story of Portuguese diplomats who helped save Jews in Hungary during the second world war, which won the best prize for a news documentary in Portugal.

Screening of Cesária Evora: Nha Sentimento, March 8, 8.30pm, Portuguese Consulate Auditorium