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Boost for writing by Asians for Asians

By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-20 10:43
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Although much has been written in the Western media about the rise of Asia, editors of the newly re-launched Asian Review of Books (ARB) believe there is a dearth of long-form journalism about the region written for and by Asians.

Created in 2000 by Peter Gordon as a community forum for reviewing books about Asia, the site and accompanying apps will also feature long-form essays on a variety of topics ranging from climate change policy to the recycling and re-appropriation of Asian symbolism in the arts, Gordon says.

"We're trying to provide a platform where a dialogue can happen, not necessarily between Asia and the West, because that's already happening," he says. "This will be a pan-Asian discussion, which frankly, does not happen very often."

Mark Clifford, executive director of the Asia Business Council and former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, joins Gordon on the ARB board along with the award-winning Chinese fiction authors Ha Jin and Qiu Xiaolong, essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, and Pulitzer finalist and journalist Suketu Mehta.

"In a broad sense, we're trying to help create some sense of Asia as a whole," Clifford says. "Given the immense growth across Asia, it's remarkable that there isn't some kind of publication, or many publications, that are covering these issues across Asia's borders."

At a reception for the re-launch hosted by the Asia Society in New York at the end of April, Asia Society executive director Michael Roberts spoke about the importance of ARB's mission.

"Increasingly, the definition of everything that means to be modern is coming from Asia, and the standards by which we define excellence will come from Asia," he says. "We need to understand that better and we need to be more in touch with Asian standards."

Roberts points to Gordon's previous work with the Hong Kong Literary Festival and the Man Asian Literary Prize, which Gordon chaired for two years.

"[Gordon] has done more than anyone to bring Asian writers and thinkers to the fore in the global conversation," he says.

ARB will continue to feature reviews of books written by Asian authors and featuring Asian content, with the hopes of publishing several reviews and one long-form essay each week, Gordon says. While anyone can apply to publish a review on the site, the long-form essays will be by invitation only.

ARB content is currently available online and on mobile phone apps, but will also be published in a quarterly print anthology.

Another part of ARB's strategy will include the pursuit of article syndication in already existing publications across the region, Gordon says.

Both Gordon and Clifford have lived in Hong Kong for close to 25 years, but their audience will extend beyond the expat community, Gordon says.

"I think what makes this different from other publications is that we're really trying to focus on Asian readers," he says. "And I think that if this works, it's really quite significant. There isn't currently any place where Chinese can talk to Indians, and Indians can talk to Arabs, and Arabs can talk to Indonesians. Through this discussion the Asian perspective can continue to be developed across countries, and that doesn't just come with one article. This will be a multi-year process."

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