Mewburn jetting off to Nanjing for residency

Millers Flat author Kyle Mewburn contemplating the contrast between her rural home and Nanjing,...
Millers Flat author Kyle Mewburn contemplating the contrast between her rural home and Nanjing, which has a population of 9.5 million. Mewburn has been selected to join five other writers from around the world at writer's residency in Nanjing, China, as part of the Unesco Cities of Literature programme. PHOTO: JULIE ASHER
The contrast between Millers Flat, in Central Otago - population 87, book stores 0 - with Nanjing, China - population 9.5 million, book stores legion, including Librairie Avant-Garde, deemed one of the world’s most beautiful book stores, and one open 24/7 - could hardly be more dramatic, but the village’s resident author is unfazed.

Or will be when she finally lands there.

Kyle Mewburn, best known for her children’s books, and more recently her autobiography Faking It, applied for a Unesco writers residency in Nanjing because it ticked a lot of boxes - a short turnaround between applying and selection, it was two weeks long and did not require a complicated application.

Not having any more information than a piece of paper with flight details on it was slightly more anxiety-inducing, she said.

"I’m old school - I feel like you go ‘um, I’ve got a piece of paper here with some flight numbers’ and they’ll say ‘sorry, who are you?’."

The five other people selected were from Granada, Jakarta, Edinburgh, Milan and Quebec. They covered a range of literary work, including translations, nonfiction writing and young adult writing.

A condition of the residency was speaking English.

"Otherwise we’d be going there and looking at each other and smiling."

They would visit a book club in Nanjing and take one of their own books to discuss. They would also meet local writers and ten places of interest selected from a list.

Mewburn picked Librairie Avant Garde as one of her top ten.

It would be her first visit to China.

"It’s one of those countries, I don’t want to go as a tourist. I’d like to know, have an understanding of what’s happening, and it’s so different in a way - I don’t want to just be looking going ‘look at them, that’s interesting’. It makes everything like a performance, like a set, with people doing stuff and you’re just looking at it."

Dunedin City of Literature director Nicky Page said there were 92 applications for the Nanjing residency.

Mewburn’s enthusiasm for literature went beyond writing books.

"As well as enjoying a hugely successful writing career, Kyle works generously and with enthusiasm to encourage children across Aotearoa to embrace reading and to shine a light on children’s books and mentor other authors," Ms Page said.

Part of having the City of Literature designation was having cultural exchanges with other cities of literature.

At present, the inaugural Caselberg Trust Margaret Egan Cities of Literature writers resident Shu-Ling Chua, from Melbourne, is staying at the Caselberg House in Broad Bay.