Book review: Imprint 16 combines the talents, experiences and voices of Hong Kong’s female writers
The latest collection of short stories, personal essays and more from the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society takes readers across the world and back in an engaging volume of nearly 60 pieces
by Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society
Arting Press Limited
Now in its 16th edition, Imprint, the annual anthology published by the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society (WiPS), continues its tried-and-trusted tradition of flash fiction and short stories, personal essays, memoirs, and travelogues, alongside refreshing poetry and prose that speak to the diversity of English-language writing in Hong Kong.
Featuring 43 local female writers and artists, the nearly 60 pieces are readable, easily digestible and circle the world – from Hong Kong to Ethiopia, Los Angeles to Korea and back again to the SAR’s streets and seascapes.
Organised by genre, the collection begins with “Short Tales”. The opening piece, Jen Brown’s “Outlying Island”, is about a lonely, ageing resident who one day discovers she’s not alone, in a story where past, present and future collide.
This section also delivers two of the book’s standout pieces: Sarah Merrill Mowat’s “The Swimmer” and Michele Koh Morollo’s “Summer Visitors”. While both pieces take place in the summer, that’s where the similarities end. Merrill Mowat’s piece centres around a classic American summer staple – a swimming hole – but tells the moving tale of a mother and her two sons in a way that is wonderfully contained in its restraint and detail.
In Koh Morollo’s story, while the visitors are of the less-welcome variety – insects – her writing is rich and visual. “When the heat comes upon Hong Kong, I see their carcasses scattered along the sidewalks,” she writes. Koh Morollo is not afraid of juxtaposition and vivid imagery: “I had picked up my soy cheese and gluten-free bread from the organic shop … A malodorous stench, like rotting cabbage and wet mop rose from the pit in the ground … Out they came, disgorged from the bowels of the city.”
While the pieces take place near and far from home – and what or where is home anyway, as at least one piece addresses? – Imprint 16 also captures the increasing transience of our lives. In “Meet and Greet”, Alberta Ashbrook writes about an encounter between two women, though the protagonist can’t quite place the lady she sees rapping at the window. “A church in the Alps? Munich? No, that wasn’t right. Then she knew. A temple, heavily incensed air, a drizzle falling through a skylight: Hong Kong.”
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The book’s second collection, “A Sense of Place”, is an eclectic mix of fiction, travel writing and memoir. Jennifer Walker Frisinger recalls her experience as a “walkability scorer” of pedestrian routes in Hong Kong, while Anne Hilty turns to fiction to tell the story of a daughter of the almost-exclusively female free divers on Jeju Island.
One of the benefits of an anthology without a theme is that it provides a platform for members to submit their best work from the preceding year; another is that the collection can serve as a snapshot in time, capturing and responding to particularly noteworthy moments.
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In this year’s edition there is, for example, a touching tribute to legendary war journalist Clare Hollingworth, who died in Hong Kong in January this year aged 105. The short piece, “Remembering Clare” by Cathy Hilborn Feng, opens the section entitled “Life’s Rich Tapestry” and sees the author recall rounding up WiPS volunteers to read to Hollingworth daily at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
The collection is, on the whole, deftly handled by editor Carol Dyer and the editorial team of Susan Blumberg-Kason, Jennifer Walker Frisinger, Barbara Gregor and Sarah Merrill Mowat. There are a few pieces that could benefit from another read and a few others that don’t work as well as perhaps they could, but on the whole this is a smooth, engrossing collection.
While many of Imprint’s contributors are well-known in terms of local English-language creative writers, the anthology is also a platform for new authors to emerge. King George V School student Geraldine Cheuk Ying-cheung, for example, takes readers to Paris for her piece “Six Feet Under”, which was also the winner of WiPS’ short story competition for young writers (also in its 16th year).
Midway through the book, the “Gallery” section includes a photograph by Jennifer Eagleton of a window that opens up to a brick wall titled “Window in Sheung Shui”. The caption – “too often we look out of false windows instead of windows of possibility” – serves as a thought-provoking reminder in perspective, but the words “windows of possibility” also capture the essence of the collection: Imprint is the result of what happens when a multitude of talents, experiences and voices are shared and combined.