Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2017/18

Chatteris' own Oscar Ponton on his experience volunteering at the festival and getting the opportunity to mingle with world-renowned authors. 


Reading has always been important to me in Hong Kong. Whether it’s for escapism, to learn something new or just for the pure joy of picking up a book, there’s always something for me to dig my teeth into (courtesy of our very own Chatteris book sharing group and a handful of small bookshops scattered across the city). With that in mind, the literary festival which is now into its fifteenth year, provides the perfect environment to showcase the diversity of good reads in Hong Kong and further abroad. For a week and a half, it brings together famous worldwide authors to deliver a multitude of varied and interesting talks. There are also debates, book signings and workshops that take place.

Last year, I attended a handful of the festival’s events and I found them to be both enjoyable and informative about different aspects of Hong Kong life, alongside providing me with plenty of fresh reading material. This year, I decided to volunteer and after a quick email introduction and a chat with the passionate and lovely festival directors, this was arranged. As a nonprofit charitable organisation, they rely heavily on valuable intern assistance and volunteers like myself, to ensure events run smoothly, especially on days when multiple events happen across the city. I would definitely recommend getting involved; any help is always greatly appreciated and goes a long way. 

My role as a volunteer was fairly practical. It involved helping with setting up and taking down equipment for the venue, ushering, checking guests’ tickets and passing out a microphone during Q & A sessions at the end. By far the best part about it was getting to sit in at every event I volunteered at and having the opportunity to see such a broad range of authors and talks over the festival period was fantastic. It left me with fresh inspiration about my own writing, and life in general, after hearing so many compelling stories and meeting so many different people. 

Above: Some of the authors who participated in the festival

Personal highlights from my volunteering sessions included escorting the Australian National Slam poet, Zohab Khan, from his hotel to the venue for his performance alongside the Peel Street poets. It was his compatriot Omar Musa’s performance from last year that first brought my attention to the festival and Zohab was equally impressive in performance and modest in private conversation. The poetry readings of Adam O’Riordan and Helen Mort about Northern England struck a chord, whilst the performance of English national poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and her court musician John Sampson was both somber and equally sensational. On a more local front, the anthology PEN Hong Kong 20/20 and its authors reflected on the twenty-year anniversary of the handover in an informative and well rounded talk, whilst Ben Bland discussed his new book Generation HK which is about youth identities in the city. It’s a useful book for any young person like myself currently residing in Hong Kong.

Overall, the literary festival is a brilliant demonstration of the talented writers and different voices the city engenders and creates, as well as being a platform for a range of international authors to discuss different literary dialogues. It proved a great opportunity to meet an array of new faces and encounter new works. It was truly refreshing and fascinating to be part of the festival and whether you love reading or would just be interested in lending a hand, there’s a space for everyone to get involved. 



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