Category Archives: Interviews

Meet the LARB China Channel Team, Part 1 — A Q&A with Managing Editor Alec Ash

By Jeff Wasserstrom

During the upcoming weeks, BLARB will be running interviews with some of the people who will be playing key roles in the LARB China Channel.  Regular readers of the China Blog will, of course, be familiar with some of the people interviewed, but they may be curious to learn what these individuals have been up to lately.  For others, this will be a chance to get to know some of the writers and editors involved in what will soon be the newest addition to the LARB constellation of channels.  This first in the series is a Q&A with Alec Ash, a British writer based in Beijing, whose first book, Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China, has been reviewed favorably by, among others, Howard French and John Pomfret, two journalists with very strong China-related track records.  Continue reading

Nostalgia and Desire in Joanna Novak’s I Must Have You

By Micah Bateman

I was in a writing workshop with JoAnna Novak at Washington University in St. Louis in 2007. As I recall, she was writing prose about movies, and I thought her prose was so inventive that I told her she should be a poet. She later got an MFA in poetry (probably not thanks to my encouragement), which I think is integral to the often lyrical prose of her newly released novel, I Must Have You. The novel is about the relationships between three women living with or recovering from eating disorders: two teens, Elliott and Lisa, and Elliott’s mother Anna. Elliott is a young diet coach who publishes a “thinspo” (thinspiration) zine for her clients. Lisa was her favorite client, but is now recovering from anorexia as she also explores a relationship with a 19-year-old drug dealer, the same one Elliott’s mother is having an affair with. The novel explores the intersections and divergences of desire and control with a 1990s-laden prose so compelling that you’d think Novak was the highly literary child of Amy Heckerling. Continue reading

The Everydayness With Jonny Fritz

By Jesse Montgomery

Country is probably the most self-obsessed form of popular American music. It turns its own history over and over in its head, venerating its heroes and commenting on its progressions and digressions, its failure to live up to the myths the tradition has created. As a genre, it’s rivaled only by rap in its tendency to sing about itself and its evolution, to take itself as its own subject and find the emotional resonance of something like a style or a tradition. Waylon Jennings classic song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” was a lament that country music had given itself over to glitzy self-delusion: “Lord it’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitar. Where do we take it from here? Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars. It’s been the same way for years.” But it’s also a song filled with guilt as the singer knows he too is leading the genre into new terrain, further and further from Hank Williams and country’s roots: “Lord, I’ve seen the world, with a five-piece band. Looking at the back side of me. Singing my songs, and one of his now and then. But I don’t think Hank done ’em this way, no. I don’t think Hank done ’em this way.”“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” is a song about change, new sounds and new attitudes, but the progress that Waylon is singing about is only visible if it’s framed by a tradition which makes that change legible. Continue reading

New and Old Histories of the Qing Dynasty: An Interview with Richard J. Smith

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I’ve been reading and learning from Rich Smith’s work for decades now, and most recently I have been enjoying his latest book, The Qing Dynasty and Traditional Chinese Culture. Smith, whose earlier “biography” of the Yi Jing was reviewed for LARB by James Carter back in 2012, was recently good enough to make time to respond to some questions I put to him via email, both about The Qing Dynasty and Traditional Chinese Culture, which Rowman and Littlefield published in 2015, and other topics, from the politicization of historical work in the PRC to what he is working on now. I begin, though, as I plan to make it routine to start future Q&As for the China Blog and in due time LARB’s new China Channel, with the trio of questions I put to Paul French last week about readings he wishes got more or less attention than they have and things he hasn’t read, seen, or listened to — that he knows some people think he really should have.  Continue reading

An Interview with Paul French on Bloody Saturday: Shanghai’s Darkest Day

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Penguin China is having a busy summer when it comes to releasing short books in its “specials” series, many of them linked this year to round number anniversaries. First came a set of short volumes on Hong Kong, on issues such as youth and protest, to mark the 20th anniversary of the territory’s transition from being a Crown Colony to being Special Administrative Region of the PRC. Next up is Paul French’s look back to a dramatic and dreadful day on Shanghai history, dubbed “bloody Saturday,” which will be published as the 80th anniversary of that August, 14, 1937, date arrives. Here are some questions Paul, known for works such as the Edgar-winning Midnight in Peking, was good enough to answer via email. Continue reading

Conversing with Thoreau: An Interview with Laura Dassow Walls

By Bob Blaisdell

Laura Dassow Walls is an English professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America, Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science and Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth. In this year that marks Thoreau’s 200th birthday, we exchanged emails about the writing of her new and first-rate biography, Henry David Thoreau: A Life. Continue reading

Barret Baumgart: Navigating Climate Change with a Map of Dead Ends

By Landon Bates

I first met Barret Baumgart in 2007, when we were both undergraduates at U.C. Berkeley. Years later, when I was entering the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, Barret had just graduated from it. He was waist-deep in the writing of this book. I’d sometimes see him around Iowa City in the evenings, after he’d spent 12 or 14 hours at his computer, having eaten little more than rice covered in barbeque sauce. He’d seem both rundown and wired, high from some discovery he’d made during the day’s research. The product of this labor is China Lake: A Journey Into the Contradicted Heart of a Global Climate Catastrophe. Continue reading

A Writer Living in a Strange Land: An Interview with Xue Yiwei

By Amy Hawkins

With an eye toward providing readers interested in both China and James Joyce with a fitting reading for the week in which Bloomsday falls, we are happy to have a chance to run an interview with Xue Yiwei, provided to by Amy Hawkins, a Beijing-based writer who happens to be that author’s niece.  The interview’s relevance to Bloomsday will quickly become clear below —Jeff Wasserstrom

For a writer who focuses exclusively on China, Xue Yiwei has become something of an alien in his home country. For the past decade, he has lived in Montreal, penning over 20 of novels set in China, which have only recently started to be translated into English. He has been described as a “maverick in contemporary Chinese literature” by fellow novelist Ha Jin, and as “Montreal’s Chinese literary secret” in the Canadian press. Earlier this year he was awarded the Diversity Prize at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. His first work to be fully translated and distributed in English is Shenzheners, a collection of short stories set in Shenzhen, exploring the loneliness and “inner life” of different people lost in the urban environs. Inspired by James Joyce’s Dubliners, the book, fluidly rendered into English by translator Darryl Sterk, follows a recent spate of Joycean popularity in China. I spoke to Xue, who is also my uncle, about the influence of Joyce on Chinese literature and what the similarities are between the Shenzhen of today and the Dublin of a century ago. Continue reading

Crashing the Party: An Interview with Scott Savitt

By Matthew Robertson

Editor’s Introduction: The China Blog often publishes something at this time of year that looks back in one way or another to the June 4th Massacre of 1989, an act of state violence that curtailed a national movement whose biggest protests took place at Tiananmen Square.  This year is no different.  Our June 4th anniversary post this time takes the form of an interview with an eyewitness to the demonstrations and crackdown of 1989, Scott Savitt, who has recently published a memoir, Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China, which deals in part with the dramatic events that convulsed Beijing and captivated television audiences around the world twenty-eight years ago. Matthew Robertson, a researcher and translator, conducted the interview, which begins after a brief introduction he provides to Savitt’s life and Crashing the Party, which Publisher’s Weekly describes as the work of a “smart, thrilling memoirist.” -Jeff Wasserstrom Continue reading