guernica daily

  • Guernica: How did you come to start writing in English? How do you decide which language to work in on a given project?
  • Xiaolu Guo: It’s not a choice. Either I write or I don’t, especially when I’m in a foreign culture. I’ve lived in London for years, and I must continue my writing and filmmaking. The most important thing for an artist or an author is to continue her work. Languages and settings are the tools but not the first thing.
  • Guernica: I’d say it still takes a significant amount of effort to write in a language that isn’t your mother tongue, no matter how strong the drive to create. Was there really no part of the move to publish six original works in English that happened on a conscious level?
  • Xiaolu Guo: When I came to the U.K. ten years ago, everyone told me I couldn’t send my books directly to publishing houses—that I had to go through a literary agent. So I did, and then I found out the agents couldn’t provide a translator or read my Chinese. There was—there still is—a big shortage of good Chinese-English literary translators. So for two years in London, I was stuck waiting, not writing, with several Chinese books I couldn’t get translated.
  • That’s when I decided to write in English, since I had been living here and had decided to reconstruct my life here. Even if I wrote in broken English, it was better than getting bored and weary and bitter on the long queue of authors waiting to be translated by a stranger. That decision was really liberating; I managed to find some [viable] ways to approach the foreign language in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. It was written as a linguistic exercise and was an awakening for me in terms of using ‘other’ ways to create literature.