The Life of Discovery: May & October, 2009 文化探寻

Chinese version of this page

In 2009, the International Writing Program (IWP), in cooperation with the Chinese Writers' Association, began a pilot exchange project, the Life of Discovery (LOD), between writers and artists from the United States and from the minority ethnic communities in the western regions of the People's Republic of China. The project was sponsored through grant funds provided by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.

Five American and five Chinese writers and artists, all aged 25-40, were invited to join two senior artists, one from each country, in a series of collaborative, bilingual/translator-assisted projects, conducted first in Western China May 12-26, 2009 and continued and elaborated upon in the US between October 11 and 24, 2009. In 2010, delegates conducted collaborative writing activities first in Iowa City May 16-24 and in Beijing, Kunming, and Shanghai June 24-July 9, 2010.

Life of Discovery: The 2009 Tour a film by Steven Delahoyde on Vimeo.

The Creative Process

American and Chinese counterparts worked together in programs tailored to each place. Collaborations during the May trip included joint projects such as the composition of a collective poem, in the manner of the Surrealist games, in English and Chinese; and writing in response to a shared experience or from a selection of cultural artifacts. Between visits the writers participated in a two-part colloquium around the core theme of Collaboration: Space of Encounter for which each participant is drafting work based on five themes central to the collaborative act. Some elements were completed in the individual locations; others connected the session in China and the session in the United States.


Each of the two visits involved a mix of readings, lectures, formal discussion sessions with local and visiting professional arts figures/groups, breakout sessions, performances, and informal gatherings with members of the local literary and arts scenes. The schedules were intense, and the emphasis in each location was on cultural exchange; but time was set aside for cultural tourism, to deepen visitors’ understanding of the host region, and to increase the two-way flow of the exchange. A typical week involved daily morning work sessions on the collaborative project, with some free afternoons for optional group trips to local sites of interest. Evening programming included readings, lectures, screenings, performance sessions, and/or tickets to a cultural event. While each visit was based in one location, the exchanges included several days of joint regional travel, to broaden participants’ understanding of the host countries.

Locales and Dates 2009

Western China (May 11-26, 2009)

The site for the main collaborative activities in Western China was Dunhuang, a city on the Silk Road near the site of the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas, where for more than a millennium traders and spiritual travelers, artists and explorers have met and mingled and come away enriched by their diverse encounters. American delegation spent two days in Beijing before traveling to Dunhuang and three days in Xi’an after the collaboration in Dunhuang. Artistic collaboration, exchange with local writers and communities, and cultural tourism was arranged in both Beijing and Xi’an.

U.S. ( October 12-21, 2009)

The main work of the October exchange took place in Iowa City and at the University of Iowa, the home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Nonfiction Writing Program, as well as the International Writing Program, the Playwrights’ Workshop, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and the Center for the Book. To see how much the town values its writers, all you need to do is stroll down its main street with its Literary Walk, where dozens of writers with ties to Iowa City, including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Rita Dove, are honored. In 2008, this busy, picturesque college town with its bookstores, coffee houses, movie theaters, clubs and shops was designated by UNESCO a “City of Literature,” and included in its Creative Cities network.

Distinguished Sr. Artists

  • Edward Carey is a writer of international standing. He has had six plays produced, staged across Europe and in Malaysia. His novels Observatory Mansions (2000, Picador) and Alva & Irva (2003, Harcourt) have been published in over 15 countries, and his third novel, Little, is forthcoming in 2010. He is also an illustrator and sculptor, exhibiting artwork from his first two novels at the Kilkenny Art Festival in Ireland in 2003. Carey also wrote one opera, and co-wrote the screenplay for the Italian film Non chiederci la parola. He has taught creative writing at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop in 2003, 2005, and 2007. He is the Senior Artist of the American delegation to the 2009 Life of Discovery project.
  • Xi Chuan 西川(official name Liu Jun) is a poet, essayist and translator living in Beijing. He is a professor of classical Chinese literature at theCentral Academy of Fine Arts and a Chief-Editor of the journal 当代国际诗坛 (Contemporary Poetry International). Xi Chuan is one of the most influential poets in contemporary China. He has published five poetry collections including 大意如此(Roughly Speaking) and个人好恶 (Private Preferences), a play, and three volumes of essays. Translated into more than a dozen languages, his poems and essays have appeared in anthologies and journals around the world. He has translated Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, Czesław Miłosz, Olav. H. Hauge, and many other poems into Chinese, and edited the collected works of the Chinese poet and cultural icon海子Hai Zi. Xi Chuan has been awarded numerous national prizes including the Modern Chinese Poetry Prize (1994) and the Lu Xun Literary Prize (2001). He was a writer in residence with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (2002) and a visiting professor at New York University (2007). Xi Chuan is the Distinguished Guest Artist for the 2009 Life of Discovery project.



  • 曹有云 CAO Youyun, a Tibetan poet, is a member of the Chinese Poetry Society, as well as a committee member of Qinghai Writers’ Association and Qinghai Poetry Society. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal金世界 (The Golden World), and an alumnus of Lu Xun Literary Institute. He has published a large number of poems, reviews and essays in literary journals such as 诗刊 (Journal of Poetry), 十月 (October), 诗选刊 (Poetry Review), 青年文学 (Youth Literature) and西藏文学 (Tibetan Literature). His works have won a number of regional literary awards, and been included in influential poetry anthologies.
  • 郭文斌 GUO Wenbin is a fiction writer and essayist living in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. He is the Vice-President of the Ningxia Writers’ Association and the Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal 黄河文学 (Yellow River Literature). His major works include essay collections 空信封 (The Empty Envelope) and 点灯时分 (It is Time to Turn on the Light); a short story collection 大年 (Chinese New Year); and the poetry collection我被我的眼睛带坏 (I am Led Astray by My Eyes). His works have won numerous national and regional awards, and are included in various literary anthologies.
  • 金仁顺 JIN Renshun is a fiction writer and screenwriter of Korean ethnicity. For a decade an editor at the literary journal 春风 (Spring Breeze), she is now a free-lance writer. Her major works include a novel, 春香 (Spring Fragrance), the short story collections彼此 (Each Other), 爱情冷气流 (The Cold Front of Love), 月光啊月光 (Moonlight oh Moonlight). Jin Renshui is also the screenwriter for the films绿茶 (Green Tea) (dir. Zhang Yuan, 2003) and时尚先生 (Esquire Runway) (dir. Qiao Liang, 2008).
  • 李慧 LI Hui is a poet, essayist, fiction writer, and screenwriter of Yi ethnicity. He currently serves as the Vice-President of Liangshan Yi Writers’ Association. Among his publications are poetry collections灵魂有约 (Rendezvous with the Soul), 部落与情人 (The Tribe and the Lover), 高原上土豆 (The Potato on the Highland), 女妖 (Siren); sixty-six essays including “月琴本是无字歌 (Moon Lute is a Wordless Song)”, “雪与歌谣的大凉山 (Daliang Mountain in Snow and Ballads);” novellas “有过的“拉库”(Laku of the Past)” and “毕摩的故事(The Story of Bimo);” and many short stories. He is also the screenwriter for two multiple-episode TV shows. Li Hui’s works have won the award of 诗刊 (Journal of Poetry) and the 2006 Sichuan Minority Literature Award.
  • 聂勒 NIE Le, Han name 钟华强Zhong Huaqiang, is a poet of Wa ethnicity and an editor at Yunnan Nationality Press. He is the author of two poetry collections: 心灵牧歌 (The Pastoral of the Mind) and 我看见 (I Saw). His poems have been translated into English, Vietnamese, and several minority languages. Nie Le is the recipient of many literary prizes, including the National Minority Literature Award for poetry collection.
  • 王华 WANG Hua is a fiction writer of Gelao ethnicity. She is an alumnus of Lu Xun Literary Institute and currently holding a permanent position at the Literary Institute of Guizhou Province. Wang Hua’s works have appeared in a number of national journals, including当代 (The Current Decade), 人民文学 (People’s Literature), 中国作家 (Chinese Writers), and in various short story anthologies. She is the author of the novels雪豆 (Snow Pea), 傩赐 (Given by God), and家园 (Home), and a short story collection天上没有云朵 (There is No Cloud in the Sky). Snow Pea won the 2008 National Minority Literature Award.
  • 胡学文 HU Xuewen is a fiction writer and the Vice-President of Hebei Writers’ Association. Hu Xuewen grew up in a village on the Steppe in northern Hebei Province and returned to his hometown to teach after graduating from college. His writings are known for their concern for the hardships of the ordinary people in the local area. He has published the novels 燃烧的苍白 (Burning Pale) and 天外的歌声 (Singing beyond the Horizon); short story collections 极地胭脂 (Polar Rouge) and 婚姻穴位 (Critical Juncture in Marriage); and many short stories and novellas in major national journals such as十月 (October), 人民文学 (People’s Literature), 当代 (The Current Decade), 小说月报 (Fiction Monthly), and中国作家 (Chinese Writers). His works received numerous awards and have been adapted for television. He is the Senior Artist of the Chinese delegation to the 2009 Life of Discovery project.


  • Leslie JAMISON is a writer whose fiction and essays have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including A Public Space, Tin House, Black Warrior Review, and Best New American Voices 2008. Her first novel, The Gin Closet, will be released in March 2010. She grew up in Los Angeles but currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where she is a doctoral candidate in American Literature at Yale University.
  • David Marshall CHAN is the author of Goblin Fruit: Stories, a 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist. His writing has appeared in such publications as Conjunctions, BOMB Magazine, and Columbia, and he has been awarded writing fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. He is currently a visiting assistant professor at Hamline University.
  • Shin Yu PAI is the author of Haiku Not Bombs (Booklyn), Sightings (1913 Press), Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks),The Love Hotel Poems (Press Lorentz), Unnecessary Roughness (xPress(ed)), and Equivalence (La Alameda). Her poems are also anthologized in The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry. Shin Yu received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a curator, she has produced literary events for the Seattle Art Museum, The Rubin Museum of Art, and The Crow Collection of Asian Art. She has taught creative writing at University of Texas at Dallas and Southern Methodist University.
  • Anne WILSON completed her BFA at Washington University in St. Louis, where she majored in Sculpture and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. In 2008, she completed her MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. That same year, she was awarded a Fulbright grant in Sculpture to the Philippines to research Ifugao bulul sculpture and its contemporary context. Within the last year, her work has been exhibited in London, Paris, Manila, New Jersey and Michigan.
  • Courteney (Kiki) PETROSINO received graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her debut collection of poems, Fort Red Border, will be published by Sarabande Books in August 2009. Petrosino’s poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in many journals, including Fence, the Iowa Review, Harvard Review, and La Petite Zine. A young biracial poet of African- and Italian-American descent, Petrosino has been praised for her ability to write about issues of race and gender in an oblique, yet humorous fashion.

Happening Now

Find Us Online