Thursday, January 19, 2012

Audience with Wong enthrals

Alison Wong, Granary Festival Cafe. Saturday October 16. Reviewed by Jessica Le Bas.
Last updated 13:02 19/10/2010

Award-winning novelist/poet Alison Wong opened this year's Readers and Writers section of the Nelson Arts Festival in conversation with events organiser Jacquetta Bell.

The Granary was done out like a cosy lounge, a backdrop of lamps and bookshelves and armchairs, and Independent Bookshop of the Year, Page & Blackmore.

Wong is foremost a poet. Even her debut novel, As the Earth Turns Silver, reads like fine poetry. It won the 2010 NZ Post Book Award for Fiction, and is shortlisted in the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Award.

Wong's a petite, softly spoken woman of Chinese descent. She grew up in Hawke's Bay, and initially majored in mathematics. She talked about her life and her writing, entertaining and captivating her audience.

At a family reunion in the 1990s, Wong first heard that her great-grandfather was murdered in 1914 in his Wellington fruit and vege shop on Adelaide Rd. It was a gruesome crime, and never solved. It became the catalyst for her novel.

As the Earth Turns Silver took Wong 12 years to write, with a Stout Research Fellowship.

"When you write a novel you need to know how the people live, how they eat and cook and wash."

She used the exact geography, searching out the shop's deeds and plans. The rest she created.

"It's not my family's story."

Wong's audience was spellbound by the quiet, modest way she retold experiences of early Chinese immigrants.

"You get prejudice in so many different ways in all societies.

"There's always suspicion when people are different."

Novel writing is "excruciatingly difficult" for her.

"The concentration and stamina needed doesn't fit well with a normal life."

She's working on another novel, and laughed self-deprecatingly about the long process ahead of her.

Alison Wong was a warm and congenial and intelligent guest.
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