Recent Shows & Talks

  • Crafting Tradition from the Heart

    Former NYU Shanghai Global Academic Fellow Jen Hyde returned to China this month for the city’s Literary Festival. Speaking alongside her mentor, acclaimed poet and visual artist Jen Bervin, at the Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai, Hyde spoke about the inspiration for her first collection of poems Hua Shi Hua (华诗画) Drawings & Poems from China (Ahsahta Press, 2017), and her upcoming project, Murmur, a 2016 finalist for the Creative Capital Grant in Literature.


    What brought you to Shanghai?

    I moved to Shanghai at the end of 2013. I wanted to teach myself how to read a language of my heritage and to understand my Chinese identity. In Mandarin, I’m called a 华人 (hua ren), an ethnically Chinese person who is not born in China. In English, I’m a person of the Chinese diaspora by way of my mother who moved to the United States from Indonesia. As a biracial American poet and book artist, I felt illiterate in a language that nevertheless belonged to me.


    At NYU Shanghai I audited a book arts class taught by Marianne Petit and I assisted with the launch of the University’s first student-run news publication, On Century Avenue. While I experimented with book forms and storytelling, I was learning about free speech in China--a concept more complex than it is or can be depicted by English language media. Those complexities shaped the way I began writing about the Shanghai landscape.


    What was the inspiration for Hua Shi Hua?

    During my time in Shanghai, I became invested in depicting the liminal life moments and interactions between me and the people I encountered in the city and how such encounters enabled me to think about my own family and cultural history. Through a process I call generative translation, I interpreted classic Chinese poetry written at the site of the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan city. And I used the image of the crane, whose presence is now that of a machine in the Shanghai skyline. It explores the landscape and defines my own relationship to my mother and my heritage as I move through it. It enabled me to render a range of my own selves in the landscape of my poems.


    What was the significance to you of printing the poems using traditional Chinese techniques?


    At the time, I was reading the Chinese printing scholar, Chao-kai Wen, who explained why woodblock printing became a popular publishing method for small presses in China. It remained the most attractive technology to most Chinese printers because a carver did not need to be literate. Illiterate workers could and did become carvers, and books could be printed by one person, from copying the text to the block, printing copies and finally stitching up the pages.

    The poems in this printing of Hua Shi Hua, are an artifact of my performance as publisher, printer and illiterate writer. I printed five copies of Chao-kai Wen’s manuscript using wood block plates, a laser cutter, traditional relief printing techniques and paper sourced from a paper village in Suzhou--the paper village remains an independent publisher today.


    What are you currently working on?


    I have a congenital heart defect and in 2010 received a bioprosthetic heart valve made from the pericardial tissue of a cow. My latest project, Murmur, is about the lives of the four women responsible for hand-sewing my valve. My curiosity led me to discovering that my hometown had a museum for heart valves, through which I was able to connect with the very people who sewed mine. I had no idea my valve was handmade by human beings and I just wanted to know more about them. I ended up meeting these women in person--Mary and Angie, immigrants from Vietnam, Fabi from Mexico and Rita from Iraq. For the past two years, I’ve been getting to know them as friends and learning about their life experiences, as well as more about the history of people emigrating to the US and becoming assembly workers in the tech industry.


    How has Jen Bervin’s work influenced your own?


    I’ve known Jen Bervin since I was 19 years old. She was one of my poetry teachers when I was an undergraduate student at NYU and she’s really an important person in my life, a mentor and now I can say good friend.


    She was researching her Silk Poems project -- which is currently on exhibition at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts -- in nearby Suzhou a few years ago when I was invited to come work at NYU Shanghai. The way she merges poetry with textiles and science as conceptual art has been a big inspiration to me.


    Learn more about Jen Hyde’s printed work, written work and collaborations here. Follow Jen on Instagram to see her postings as a Valve Ambassador for the American Heart Association, or check out her YouTube channel for videos on how to lead a more mindful, healthy life.

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai is sponsored by NYU Shanghai’s Writing Program.


  • Histories of Medicine Revisited

    Eight leading historians and anthropologists presented a kaleidoscopic survey of the rise of biomedicine in the 20th century to the NYU Shanghai community during February 22-23, in the inaugural workshop of the newly-established Center For Society, Health, And Medicine.


    Participating scholars included MacArthur Fellow Professor Julie Livingston of NYU and Professor Jeremy A. Greene of Johns Hopkins University. In the two-day discussion, the group thrashed out chapters of a forthcoming book, Cultural History of Medicine, 1920-2000, The Modern and Postmodern Age, to be published in 2018.


    “The workshop tackled a broad range of topics including the history of neurology and neuroscience, food culture and health, global cancer research, the impact of pharmaceutics on society, epidemics, medical ethics, and the history of animal experimentation,” said Todd Meyers, Associate Professor of Anthropology, and director of the new research center.


    “Public health is, by definition, interdisciplinary. The new center welcomes multiple perspectives on health and healing that do not necessarily use a biomedical framework as their starting point,” he said.


    The workshop culminated in two lively panels on Friday that addressed a series of public health and medical related questions, ranging from the possible rise of a new epidemic of avian flu to ethical issues of clinical trial, submitted by a group of NYU students from Professor Meyers’s "Pestilence" course.


    “For example, how we picture disease and how human beings have tried to eradicate diseases in history, keep us reflecting on the social and political impact of global health and medicine today,” Professor Meyers said.


    Read our exclusive interview with Professor Meyers here to find out more on his research and the new center.



  • Photography Dispelling Myth

    Back in the 1940s and 50s, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came to China on behalf of Life magazine to illustrate with his lens the “old” Beijing and “new” Shanghai. On November 28,  NYU Shanghai welcomed Dr. Catherine Clark, Assistant Professor of French Studies and Class of 1947 Career Development Professor at MIT. An expert in history both of France and of Photography, she talked about the historical context of Bresson’s work.  

    Beginning with French photographers in early post-war Shanghai, Clark explored the ideological underpinnings of photography and how visual representations of China to a French audience offered a narrative of France’s exceptional relationship with China.

    “Photography is about technical skill, a combination of geography and movement to capture the right moment, but also cultural interpretation - and mediation” said Clark. Looking back on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of China in 1958, she pointed out both positive and negative interpretations of the country.

    When asked about the impact of Bresson’s pictures, Clark answered that when sent circulated in the west, the photographs were received with surprise as they unveiled truth beyond the myths cultivated at the time about a mysterious China.

    Assistant Professor Heather Ruth Lee moderated the talk and concluded that the global photo story fits NYU Shanghai as it looks at nationalism and national histories through global circulations of ideas and people.



  • Cupid in Shanghai

    How did Shanghai show ‘love’ in the old days? Shanghainese writer Lynn Pan and Polish anthropologist and art historian Karolina Pawlik visually illustrated for the NYU Shanghai community how artists, graphic designers and cartoonists depicted romance and marriage in Shanghai’s 1920s and 1930s.  Pan and Pawlik explored themes of tradition and modernity on November 17 by presenting Chinese graphic adoptions of Cupid (Eros), the heart shape, and depictions of Hollywood-esque kissing styles.

    They showed the incorporation of the English word ‘love’ into Chinese texts and images, and how changing perceptions and vocabulary surrounding man-woman relationships paralleled typographical designs for  ‘love’ and ‘romantic love’ described in Chinese characters.

    The talk was moderated by Professor of Buddhist Cultures Francesca Tarocco.

  • Narrating Shanghai Lives

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai, a project of the Writing Program, brings acclaimed writers from around the world to our Shanghai campus. This Spring, we welcome renowned China correspondent Rob Schmitz.

    Home to more than 24 million people, Shanghai is rich with human stories — many of which will go untold. Curiosity for these unreported lives led award-winning journalist Rob Schmitz to look beyond politicians, business leaders and celebrities, to document the man and woman on the street. At the NYU Shanghai Literary Series, he shared excerpts from his soon-to-published  first book, Street of Eternal Happiness, a captivating portrait of contemporary China as seen through the personal lives of a group of Shanghai residents.

    Street of Eternal Happiness was inspired by observing contemporary life along Changle Road in the Former French Concession. As Schmitz began to investigate the history of his surroundings, he was drawn to the stories and secrets hidden behind the walled houses.

    "News comes up every two minutes in China. As a journalist, because of the volume of news in this country, it seems there is too much to focus on," said Schmitz, who reports for American Public Media’s Marketplace program.

    What began as a series of informal interviews, soon became a bigger narrative nonfiction project as he delved into the everyday lives of his neighbors, befriending those he wrote about.

    “Young people everywhere were searching for happiness,” said Schmitz, reading excerpts from his story of CK—a bright young accordion player whose over-the-phone salesmanship talents (Italian accordions) allow him to realize his ‘dream’ of “running an unprofitable second floor sandwich shop, [where he can] sit in the unprofitable second floor sandwich shop, pondering the meaning of life.”

    "I wanted to show that you don't need to go very far to find amazing stories in China. All you have to do is walk and have the patience to speak to somebody,” Schmitz said.

    Schmitz trailed after the intricate lives of his new friends — going everywhere from an endless reel of pyramid scheme meetings with middle aged ‘Auntie Fu,’ to following the off-kilter life journeys of Shanghai’s hipstery wényì qīngnián, the ‘cultured youth’ working hard for the means to “watch independent films, study existentialism and visit art galleries.”

    “We're in a time — not only in this city — but in this country, that is crucial. I think it's important to understand everyday people in China and what they're going through — what change does to them and their families. I wanted to understand that, and focus on just normal people,” Schmitz said.

    Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent, based in Shanghai. Street of Eternal Happiness, is his first book. It will be released on May 17, 2016.

    The Spring 2016 Literary Reading Series is curated by Perry, Edochie and NYU Shanghai Director of External and Academic Events, Constance Bruce.
    Don't miss the next event with Yang Jian, one of China's greatest living poets, and renowned Chinese writer Wang Xiaoni.

  • Celebrating Hong Kong Writers

    NYU Shanghai continues to expand its interest and involvement with the literary arts, hosting readings by celebrated writers from all over--all thanks to the dedicated efforts of Writing Program Lecturer David Perry, co-curator of the Literary Reading Series.  The two day mini lit fest finale brought together translator of contemporary Chinese literature, Andrea Lingenfelter, leading Hong Kong fiction writers Hon Lai-chu and Dorothy Tse, and American poets both living in Hong Kong, James Shea and Collier Nogues. How exactly did David reign in these all-stars? Read on to find out.


    How did you plan for fascinating "literary fireworks” of the Lit Fest?


    I hadn’t thought of them as fireworks, but that’s an interesting way to think of it. There’s a poetics and poetry of fireworks, and fireworks, whether planned or impromptu, tell stories, there’s a narrative form.


    I think we’ve just tried to create a space – the Writing Program’s Literary Reading Series, which I co-curated this year with Chidelia Edochie – in which talented visiting writers and translators can simply do what they do so well. As with fireworks, I try to set it up and then get out of the way so we can all sit back, watch and listen. A simple formula: Invite fantastic writers and let them do their thing. It’s been wonderful, too, that audience members have asked so many excellent questions.



    So, how did you line up the speakers?


    Andrea Lingenfelter is a great translator of contemporary Chinese literature. Her connection with NYU Shanghai goes way back – she’s given guest workshops and done two readings with us over the past few years. Her translation of Hon Lai-chu’s hyper-surreal Hong Kong-rooted stories, The Kite Family, had just been published, and I knew I wanted them to read at NYU Shanghai.


    And I met the poets James Shea and Collier Nogues in Manila at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference. They’re both US citizens living in Hong Kong and are a part of a community of writers and translators resident and/or based in Hong Kong.


    Finally, a visiting poet and translator who appeared in the fall reading series, Sawako Nakayasu, introduced a group of our creative writing students to Dorothy Tse’s fiction. I loved her style; I find it almost hallucinogenic in its presentation of super-high-pressure Asian urban life. So, I asked Andrea and James and Collier, and it turned out everyone knew one another very well—they’re all part of a vibrant Hong Kong literary community. Hon Lai-chu and Dorothy Tse share a publisher and have co-authored a book, A Dictionary of Two Cities (雙城辭典).


    In the end, I invited too many writers to fit comfortably into one event so we expanded it to two nights… Et voilà! Writers! Lit Fest! Fireworks!


    What is the take away from the juxtapositions you orchestrated that we should all carry with us into the summer?


    Read lots of contemporary writing and look for places, communities, where there’s a lot of intensive cross-cultural (and therefore multilingual, inter-lingual) mixing and experimentation and awareness. Of course a great place to start would be by reading work by Hon Lai-chu, Dorothy Tse, Collier Nogues, James Shea and Andrea Lingenfelter. Pay attention to what’s happening with writers in Hong Kong! People everywhere have a lot to learn from such sites of intensive hybridity, cultural volatility, exchange, and decoding and recoding, and it seems to me like there’s a generous culture of literary exchange, community cultivation, mutual aid… and I’m excited to learn and read more.


    What did you hear in each of the readings that you did not expect?


    The effect of hearing both Hon Lai-chu and Dorothy Tse read some of their work in Cantonese. I loved how, in conjunction with hearing the translated English versions and seeing the projections of the printed page, in both Chinese and English, the audience was, with a few exceptions, hearing the writing in the language of composition—the unique rhythms, intonations, the sound—while hyper-aware of interpreting it all through and alongside translations into Mandarin as well as English. I found it both aesthetically and intellectually exciting. There’s the music of the Cantonese happening while all kinds of questions regarding translation, culture, and history pop to mind, and then there’s the actual narrative, the story itself, and the amazing and disturbing things the stories’ characters encounter, think, say, do. A kind of fireworks, even.



    The attendance and the questions underscore a deep interest for literature at NYU Shanghai. Did you expect that?


    We’ve been doing this as we develop NYU Shanghai’s Minor in Creative Writing curriculum, and I know from our enthusiastic and talented creative writing students how much interest there is. I’m very happy too that so many visiting writers have led guest writer workshops, not only for students enrolled in creative writing courses, but also for any and all interested students, faculty and staff.


    We’ve also worked to bring in people from outside of the University in. With the emphasis we place on translation, we’ll be working to bring in more Chinese-language writers from Shanghai and beyond, which will bring in a lot of people from throughout the city from various local communities and scenes. We’re connecting to other universities, too, both within China and globally, and I think NYU Shanghai can become a valuable part of a larger network of writers, translators, readers, and scholars active throughout the region that can support and facilitate exchange and collaboration and present writers and their work to the public.


    And of course, there’s also a healthy English-language audience out there too – just look at the success and popularity of M on the Bund’s International Literary Festivals.


    There’s a lot of interest and we’re getting better at getting the word out.


    Can we expect more in the future? What are your plans?


    In the fall and spring of 2017 we have a new series in the works. We’re working on finalizing the schedule and we’re looking forward to a great mix of fiction, poetry, and creative and narrative nonfiction from more outstanding writers and translators.


    Anything else you want to say?


    I’m grateful for the support the University has provided, and especially for the hard work of the initial literary series organizers, Lucia Pierce and Daniel Cuesta, for having done so much to make this all happen last year.

  • US Novelists Kick off NYU Shanghai Literary Series, Draw Big Crowds

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai, a project of the Writing Program, brings acclaimed writers from around the world to our Shanghai campus.

    The NYU Shanghai Literary Reading Series made a cracking start to its 2016 Spring schedule with events featuring two American novelists: Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine, and acclaimed US journalist, documentarian and filmmaker Leslie Cockburn, who read from her debut foray into fiction, Baghdad Solitaire.

    Row read to a packed 15th floor lounge the evening of March 10 and Cockburn did the same on March 16, before conversing with audience members during lively Q&A discussions led by NYU Writing Program Lecturer Chidelia Edochie.

    Upcoming LRS events include Rob Schmitz’s Street of Eternal Happiness, an in-depth exploration of the lives, struggles, joys and histories of the residents living the old Shanghai street that Schmitz, a US public radio correspondent, has also called home for years (April 14), and three English-Chinese bilingual events in April and early May focusing on recent works in Chinese and English by contemporary poets, fiction writers, and translators from China, the US, and Hong Kong. (Schedule details.)

    In radically different – and inventive – ways, Row and Cockburn target crisis points and trace lines of stress and fracture that originate in the USA and run throughout the world, shaping and driving cultural, sociopolitical and economic transformations in this century of globalized crisis.

    Cockburn, a long-time international war correspondent, examines the violent heart of what she called American “empire” in war-shredded Iraq through the tale of a doctor’s desperate search for a disappeared humanitarian aid worker, while Row grapples with urgent matters of conflicted racial identity, self-alienation, and radical technological change in a work of a just-around-the-corner speculative fiction in which “racial reassignment” is on the verge of hitting the global market.

    The visiting writers also worked directly with NYU Shanghai students as part of their visits. Row led a fiction workshop open to all interested students, and Cockburn spoke with creative writing students about her life as a crisis-zone reporter and her recent turn to fiction in Writing Lecturer David Perry’s “Forms of the Personal Narrative” creative writing workshop.
    Perry founded the Literary Series at NYU Shanghai in the fall of 2015, continuing in the tradition of the 2014-15 Tea W/ords reading series.

    LRS@NYU is a project of the NYU Shanghai Writing Program.

    View the complete Spring 2016 LRS@NYU Schedule for upcoming events.

    The Spring 2016 Literary Reading Series is curated by Perry, Edochie and NYU Shanghai Director of External and Academic Events, Constance Bruce.


  • Musical Poetry

    Eight seven-stringed instruments of the zither family -- called guqin -- waited patiently on the dimly lit stage as the audience filled the auditorium to near capacity. Dr. Francesca Tarocco opened the brilliant event with an introduction of  Dai Xiaolian, a renowned guqin player and professor of Chinese music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and her fellow performers. Before the performance got under way, Dr. Dai offered an overview of  the history of the 3,000 year old instrument.

    According to Dai, the guqin is viewed as a symbol of Chinese high culture and considered the most expressive instrument of the essence of Chinese music. It boasts a substantial repertoire rich in subtext and allusions. In particular, Dai talked about the symbolic meaning of the instrument’s form as a representation of the human figure, and explained how its tablature required special instruction.

    The audience was treated to an ensemble of pieces on the evening of February 3 from various traditions performed by a series of musicians who are committed to broadening both awareness and appreciation for the quality and musical range of their instrument. From the group ensemble of “The Prelude of Wind and Thunder,” to Dai Xiaolian’s closing solo, “The Dialogue between a Fisherman and a Woodcutter,” the musicians’ synchronized plucking and scholarly refinement rended idyllic melodies that spoke to the beauty of the natural world.

    Dai Xiaolian offered that learning to appreciate the rich, cultural intricacies of guqin music can inspire a peaceful way of life.

    View the gallery

  • Writing Voices of Catastrophe

    November 21, 2015 – Saturday, the first session of NYU Shanghai’s Literary Reading Series 2015-16 was introduced by lecturer and poet David Perry. Author and NYU Shanghai lecturer Dan Keane, followed by Timothy Tomlinson, NYU Global Liberal Studies program Master Teacher of Writing, read excerpts from their recent works.

    Keane kicked off the event with The Lazarus Correction, the first chapter of his forthcoming novel set in Bolivia. With gut-wrenching realism driving plot and his reporter protagonists, Keane’s reading left the audience hinged and hungry for more.

    Tomlinson captivated with a collection of poems from Yolanda, An Oral History In Verse, inspired by his interviews with survivors of the Yolanda typhoon that devastated the Philippines in 2013. Striking photos of the interviewees and a recurring motif: "fear of death and loss," brought the audience into each poem’s personal space and unique voice. Tomlinson worked with the vernacular of each survivor’s story, allowing versifications and rhyme schemes to sculpt a poetic appropriation.

    The readings were followed by an engaging discussion session, where both authors reflected on a common feature of their works: being a credible voice for an underprivileged layer of society.

  • Did King Arthur Exist? If So, Where?

    November 11, 2015 – The myth and the truth behind King Arthur’s legend was the topic of this week’s Master’s Tea talk, given by Elizabeth Archibald, a medieval studies scholar at Durham University. The first stories about Arthur sprung up some 1,500 years ago; and ever since, the legendary king and warrior of England has been increasingly popular not only among the British but worldwide. According to Archibald, 80 percent of the stories about Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were written in the last two centuries. 

    To what extent are these stories fictional and how much is based on historical facts is up for debate. Over years of research, Professor Archibald has compiled a parallel historical and literary timeline of sources and events that mention King Arthur, which she shared with the audience. But while she has weighed the credibility of each piece of evidence, Archibald pointed out that to her what actually matters is the evolution of the legend, not whether King Arthur was a real figure. 

    During the lively discussion that followed Archibald presentation, one questioner asked about the absence of artifacts, such as coins, from King Arthur’s time. Also, the political motivations cast doubt on the legitimacy of a tomb found in 1189 that local monks claimed was King Arthur’s. That other countries’ historical records do not mention King Arthur was offered as another piece of evidence undermining the veracity of the myth. Archibald suggested that Arthur was most likely a warrior who lived in the Dark Ages whom people later idealized as the legendary king.

  • DV China
    From DV China to DV-Made China

    On October 13, The NYU Shanghai Art Gallery and NYU's Asian Film & Media Initiative (Tisch School of the Arts) announced their joint program Making Waves with Moving Images. The program was inaugurated with a special screening of Zheng Dasheng’s documentary DV China (2003) and panel discussion with the filmmaker himself, NYU Professors Zhang Zhen and Angela Zito. Program introduction by Qian Lin. A reception will follow the event. Qian Lin, Director, NYU Shanghai Art Gallery introduced the program and special guests, Dasheng, Zhen and Zito.