How a martini led to the Shanghai International Literary Festival
Tickets to the eighth annual Shanghai International Literary Festival (SILF) went on sale today. We got AsiaMedia’s Tina Kanagaratnam to track down her long-time friend, Shanghai International Literary Festival partner and M on the Bund founder, Michelle Garnaut, to put one of Shanghai’s most treasured literary events in perspective.
Tina Kanagaratnam: How did it all start with the Shanghai International Literary Festival?
We served a ton of martinis, everyone got smashed, and we thought, what a great idea! Let’s do this every year.
But in all seriousness, I had just started a program of culture and entertainment -- mostly music, classical and cabaret -- at the Glamour Bar (it was then on the seventh floor), because it seemed like there was a real need for it in Shanghai at the time. Doing something literary as part of that program fitted.
Tina Kanagaratnam: How did it grow from one man to the three week, 50-plus author extravaganza we have now?
A few came, but our audiences were tiny (even Maxine Hong Kingston didn’t sell out) -- we literally had two paying customers at one session.
Tina Kanagaratnam: Why on earth did you carry on?
We grew organically; the consulates got involved, we started securing sponsors, and it became a cozy sort of cult experience, with a couple of big names each year -- Booker Prize winners like Thomas Keneally, Alan Hollinghurst and travel writer Pico Iyer. Everyone loved it -- the intimacy of those small audiences, the conversations we had.
We, M on the Bund, handled everything from taking bookings to selling tickets. We had a tiny Lit Fest gang -- four people, including me -- who manned the door, liaised with authors, everything.
Tina Kanagaratnam: Tell us about 2007.
In 2008, we implemented two major innovations: Mypiao took over ticket sales, and we put together a group of volunteers to handle door duties and author liaison. It all became manageable again.
Tina Kanagaratnam: What’s in store for 2009?
Tina Kanagaratnam: Going forward, what’s next for the Shanghai International Literary Festival?