Ouyang Yu, now based in Melbourne, came to Australia in mid-April 1991 and, by late February 2017 has published 85 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and literary criticism in English and Chinese. He also edits Australia’s only Chinese literary journal, Otherland.
Ouyang’s poetry has been included in the Best Australian poetry collections for 11 times from 2004 to 2016, including his poetry translations from the Chinese in 2012 and 2013, and has been included in such major Australian collections as The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry (2009), The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2010), The turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poetry (2014) and Contemporary Australian Poetry (2016).
He has to date published five English novels, The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), The English Class (2010), Loose: A Wild History (2011), Diary of a Naked Official (2014) and Billy Sing (2017), and three Chinese novels, The Angry Wu Zili (1999 and 2016), Land of Gold-diggers (2014) and A Lonely Night Boat (2016 in Taiwan).
He was nominated one of the Top 100 Most Influential Melbournians for 2011 as well as the Top 10 most influential writers of Chinese origin in the Chinese diaspora.
He is now the ‘Siyuan Scholar’ and professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, China (since 2012).
In 2016, he won an Australia Council grant for writing a book of bilingual poetry and a special award from the Australia-China Council for ‘his contributions to Australian Studies in China through major translations and original works of scholarship’.
Why do you write? I never ask such questions. When I first started, some 30 years ago, at about 25, I just wanted to be a writer and I expressed my doubts about the possibility in my writing. Now if you ask me, I guess I’ll simply say that writing is part of my life, just like eating, shitting and breathing. How can you imagine not doing any of those for a single day?
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Then I’d be a non-writer, meaning a reader. But that’s half-writer already.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I have a personal motto: Write till it’s unpublishable. Why? Because I want to explore all sorts of ways of writing, not just simply telling a story that sells. As I come from a migrant and Asian, meaning mainland Chinese, background, I defy the assumption that people like me can only write memoirs, autobiographies or things about their families. In China, I’m known as a xianfeng shiren (avant-garde poet) or xianfeng zuojia (avant-garde writer), and I’m valued for that. In Australia, however, I’m not recognised for that and I’m rejected for that because my writings are deemed unmarketable. Perhaps I have to write a memoir telling of my miserable stories living under Communism in order to get published. Perhaps they’ll have to wait till I die.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I don’t know what you mean by ‘the best aspect’. Writing is an act of dying. That’s all.
—the worst? I’ve got more stuff that’s not accepted for publication than what’s already published, 85 titles in both English and Chinese languages, in total. The Australian rejection and the Chinese rejection are matched in their intensity and in their fears.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? This question is grammatically incorrect. I gather you mean ‘Would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?’ I can’t imagine that, so I can’t answer this question.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I had been told that market was the real goal you should aim at. But, then, as a poet, I’d certainly go against it; as a poet, I go against the grain, grain of any sorts. You give me any advice, I’d ignore it. I’ll find my own ways. Let me fail, please.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? If you think success is the only thing you want, well, what can I say? Writing is failure, in the end.
A novel by Ouyang Yu
Transit Lounge Publishing
William ‘Billy’ Sing was born in 1886 to an English mother and Chinese father. He and his two sisters were brought up in Clermont and Proserpine, in rural Queensland. He was one of the first to enlist in 1914 and at Gallipoli became famous for his shooting prowess.
In his new novel, Billy Sing, Ouyang Yu embodies Sing’s voice in a magically descriptive prose that captures both the Australian landscape and vernacular. In writing about Sing’s triumphant yet conflicted life, and the horrors of war, Yu captures with imaginative power what it might mean to be both an outsider and a hero in one’s own country. The telling is poetic and realist, the author’s understanding of being a Chinese-Australian sensitively informs the narrative.
The book is available here.