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Osvalds Zebris x Wang Suxin: Embracing the Literary Muse

On Thursday, December 3, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. Beijing time, the fifth China-EU International Literary Festival held its 22nd literary dialogue, in which the Latvian writer Osvalds Zebris spoke with Chinese writer Wang Suxin on the theme of “Embracing the Literary Muse”.


How do writers find and nurse their muse? Where and how can authors extract inspiration from historic events or the daily world around them? What moves them as writers – physically, emotionally, psychologically? For this event we invited two award-winning authors to discuss their creative processes. Osvalds Zebris is a Latvian journalist and author of novels and short stories. The discussion was moderated by Rianka Mohan.


Wang Suxin was born in 1991 and her works have been published in Harvest, People’s Literature, Zhong Shan and other literary magazines. She has won the 7th West Leak New Star Award, the 3rd Zi Jin People’s Literature Short Stories Award and the inaugural Sui Shi Short Stories Award. She has published several collections of short stories, such as Xiang Rendu, On the Plain, and others.


Osvalds Zebris (1975) is a Latvian writer and journalist, holding a master’s degree in economics. Zebris has worked in public relations and communications and as an editor for various newspapers and magazines. His first book – a collection of short stories Freedom in Nets brought him instant popularity among readers and won him the Annual Latvian Literary Award for best début (2010). In the Shadow of Rooster Hill was written and published for the historical novel series We. Latvia. The 20th Century, set in 1905 when the country was part of the Russian Empire. It won the European Union Prize for Literature and is being translated into eight languages. The novel People of the Wooden House (2013) tells a mystery of a strange wooden house in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Riga; the wooden house is a breathing character in the story, affecting people living in it and initiating various mysteries. Osvalds Zebris is a member of the Latvian Writers’ Union.


At the beginning of the conversation, the two writers first answered several questions raised by the host. Rianka Mohan asked, “do you believe in the sacred literary inspiration? If you believe it, who is your literary Muse?”


Zebris replied, “it’s a big question. Ten years ago, I believed firmly in Muse inspiration, but afterwards, I have adjusted my understanding of the concept. I think about the concept of Muse, which is actually a paradox. In my mind, Muse is the moment of inspiration, but it cannot be expected. As the time goes by, I think now the more important thing is a writer’s grasp of story and language, which is a kind of persistent training. I think inspiration is divided into three stages: reading stage, conception stage and creation stage. When you write your thoughts on paper day and night, you are lucky to have muses, but a writer can’t wait for muses.”


Wang Suxin said, “I once believed in muses. When my writing entered the second stage, or when I wanted to start a new work, I would put a classic literary work under the mouse pad, as if in such a process, my works could have a wonderful connection with my favorite classic works. Later, I no longer need such a work, no longer eager to call a muse. I now feel that no matter where I am, if I want to write, I can create. Only in the process of writing can a writer find what he wants to write. ”


When talking about his work White Night Photo Studio, Wang Suxin talked about his experience in Beijing. At that time, she was faced with a crossroads in her life. During a stroll, she was inspired by a retro camera, which made her created this novel about the real and fictional memory. Writing a novel is also a process of looking for spiritual hometown. Maybe this novel is also a retrospection of her spiritual hometown.


Later, Zebris also talked about his hometown, focusing on the writing of his hometown. He said, “the reason I care so much about the history of the 20th century, is because we know that it is only 30 years since Latvian independence from the Soviet Union, and this period of history in the 20th century has a profound impact on Latvian. For example, in the book In the Shadow of Rooster Hill, it involves the revolution in Latvian, which is one of the purposes of my writing, to call on people today to pay attention to that period of history. So back to the topic of Muses, for me, I have two muses, one is the history and reality of Latvian, the other one is my dream.”


At the same time, Wang Suxin mentioned that her current creation pays attention to people’s spiritual changes and uses novels to describe how a person grows up step by step. She is currently writing long articles, but she won’t put too much pressure on herself. She may write 500 words a day, or two or three thousand words, or simply not write, depending on the writing state of the day.


In the Q&A, a reader asked Wang Suxin, “you have mentioned the loss of your hometown speech. How did this happen? Have you ever had an identity crisis?”


Wang Suxin said, “when I first wrote, I longed for everyone’s spiritual world to be equal, but in fact, when I started to write, I found that I faced different problems with my predecessors. The first was the loss of my hometown dialect, and the second was my lack of understanding of the history of my hometown, which made me rethink my hometown, dialect and identity. I find that when I deal with characters seriously, I will find that the spiritual dilemmas of different characters are so different that it is difficult to generalize them in a universal way.”


Another reader asked, “what do you think is the smoothest writing experience?” Wang Suxin said, “my personal relatively satisfied and smooth writing experience is the writing of the novel On the Plain, which is a very coherent writing.” Zebris then said he thinks it’s a relatively smooth process for him to write and collect short stories this year. At the same time, they also talked about the literary forum once held in each other’s countries and its significance to young writers.


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held for four times. During the annual exchanges, Chinese and European writers have conducted in-depth exchanges and discussions on various aspects of life and society, presenting a series of high-quality ideological collisions. At the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, many outstanding Chinese writers and writers from 27 European Union member states will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe.


At the end of the event, the two writers expressed their thanks to the organizers of the China-EU International Literary Festival and wished that this literary journey could go further and further and help more readers appreciate the beauty of words.


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Helen Qiu