News & Features

Faculty Translate Famed Chinese Writer's Work

Two Fontbonne University faculty members have collaborated on the first ever English translation of Wang Xiaobo, an immensely popular Chinese literary pioneer.

Fontbonne poet-in-residence and English professor Jason Sommer and Fontbonne creative writing instructor Hongling Zhang translated three Wang novellas to create "Wang in Love and Bondage."

Sommer and Zhang are scheduled to do a reading Wednesday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m., at Left Bank Books, located at 399 North Euclid in the Central West End.

Published by State University of New York Press, the book includes the works "2015," "The Golden Age," and "East Palace, West Palace."

Wang, who died in 1997 at the age of 45, is widely considered one of the most influential Chinese writers of the 20th century, according to Sommer. "I think English-speaking readers will find a familiarity with the satirical tradition of which Wang is a part. From Mark Twain down through Joseph Heller, Wang has affinities with Western writers," Sommer said. "American readers may know of the cultural revolution in China, the public confessions, the relocation to the countryside and reeducation, but in Wang's treatment these seem both familiar and strange, which is his particular strength."
Through the use of frank, satirical and oftentimes absurd portrayals of the social and political upheavals in China, Wang highlighted themes of human dignity and social repression, according to the publisher.

"It's more wacky than sexy," Sommer said about their choice for the book's title. "It's deadpan comedy and also a serious metaphor for the relationship between the totalitarian state and the artist."

Sommer has also authored "The Man Who Sleeps in My Office" and "Other People's Troubles" from the University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Poets Series, and "Lifting the Stone", Forest Books, London. Sommer was also awarded a Whiting Foundation Writer's Fellowship for his work. He has been recognized with fellowships in Poetry at the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writer's conferences, a Writer's Community Residency from the National Writer's Voice Project of the YMCA, and an Amerika House (Berlin) reading tour of the former East Germany.

Zhang has published short stories in both Chinese and English. Her stories have appeared in The Tampa Review and The Riverfront Times. One of her short stories in Chinese has been compiled into Selected Stories of North American Chinese Writers. She is currently working on a novel and will teach Chinese at Mary Institute and Country Day School in St. Louis.