Earlier this month, I got my second chance to participate in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. As in 2009, when I first took part in the event, the experience was an enjoyable one for many reasons. Now, as then, I got to meet interesting writers from around the world. Now, as then, I learned a good deal from being part of a session that focused on how online writing is changing the way news is covered (the emphasis was on blogging then, on "citizen journalism" and social media this year). Now, as then, I got put up in a nice hotel in an exciting city.
Had the festival been held in any part of the world other than that particular city at this particular point in its history, the most memorable part of taking part in the 2015 Hong Kong festival would likely have been the opportunity to hear a dialog between a literary critic and Dame Margaret Drabble, the most famous novelist and short story writer on the program. Or perhaps getting the chance later to talk with Dame Margaret at a festival-closing cocktail party, and to discover how highly we rate some of the same books (e.g., J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Son) and authors (not just those known for works of fiction: as a historian, I was particularly pleased to learn how much she likes the writings of E.P. Thompson and Carolyn Steedman, very talented past and present members of my own guild). Or seeing various old friends during the course of the festival. Or spending time with a group of engaged and engaging students and teachers from across the planet at the United World College, when I went there as part of the outreach-to-high-schools program that the festival runs.
The festival did not take place, however, in another city and another time, so all these encounters had to take a backseat in terms of most memorable moment to the experience I had giving a talk reflecting on the Umbrella Movement one year on. I had been in Hong Kong briefly exactly a year before I gave that talk, at a time when the 2014 protests were still underway (something I wrote about at the time in the Huffington Post as well as other venues) and this, as well as the nature and interests of the audience that came to hear me speak, gave a special meaning to that part of the festival.
I go into more detail about the experience in this recent Los Angeles Review of Books blog post. And for images to look at for a reminder of the events of 2014, see this series of photographs in the Hong Kong Free Press, a worthy new venture into engaged journalism launched in the wake of the Umbrella Movement to respond to increasing concern over threats to the city's media system and public sphere -- a topic that figured in the festival session on "The Future of Journalism" in which I took part and came up in many of the conversations I had with old friends and new acquaintances during my latest brief stay in Hong Kong.