Japan Writers Conference turns new page in 17th year

Kartika Lestari, left, and Iain Maloney

Like a good book passed around and reinterpreted over the years, the Japan Writers Conference has been moving around Japan and picking up new fans and new layers of meaning since 2007.

This year’s edition of the free event, open to all aspiring or established writers, will be held on Oct. 14-15 in Nagoya. Over 30 published writers are slated to speak at Sugiyama Jogakuen University, sharing experiences and advice.

They include Diane Nagatomo, author of several academic books and a new novel, “The Butterfly Cafe,” who will give a talk on balancing different writing genres. Nagatomo hosted the first JWC in Tokyo in 2007. But the main organizer of that event was poet Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, whom Nagatomo said “deserves all the credit for having the dream.”

Joritz-Nakagawa told The Japan News in an email that she came up with the idea because she was living in a rural area of Japan where she “didn’t know people interested in artistic writing in English … My own goal for the conference was for it to be a place where writers could meet other writers.”

Having gotten the ball rolling, she and Nagatomo handed it off to other organizers and hosts. Each year, the conference has been held at a different university in a different part of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, with stops in Kyoto, Kobe and elsewhere.

Japan-based novelists and poets including Holly Thompson, Christopher Simons and Gregory Dunne have given multiple JWC presentations over the years, with occasional appearances by international best-selling authors like Barry Eisler, Naomi Hirahara and Vikas Swarup. There have also been talks by journalists, including the Japan News staff writer whose work you are reading now.

This year, several past hosts will make return appearances. Suzanne Kamata will discuss blurbing, Michael Pronko will discuss rewriting, and Charles Kowalski will discuss world-building. All are published novelists. Also, Joritz-Nakagawa will participate in poetry readings.

Newcomers in this year’s lineup include Georgina Pope, producer of the Japan-set Netflix thriller “Earthquake Bird,” who will describe turning novels into movies. There will also be talks on writer’s block, artificial intelligence, and translating Yukio Mishima.

John Gribble, who was the lead organizer for 15 years, will give a presentation on JWC history.

Gribble’s successor is Kartika Lestari, a former climate scientist whose writing has appeared in online literary journals. She described taking the helm as “surprising, as the number of submissions [from potential presenters] exploded.”

“I’d never experienced this kind of enthusiasm at scientific conferences,” she said.

While Lestari does the organizing, this year’s host will be multi-genre author Iain Maloney, whose latest book is “The Japan Lights.” Maloney is also an associate professor at Sugiyama Jogakuen University.

Maloney said he was “hooked” from the first time he attended the JWC in 2017: “Everyone was so friendly and it was a really relaxed atmosphere. Academic conferences have an air of anxiety about them as people stress about their presentations, but JWC had the vibe of just being a bunch of friends hanging out talking about books and writing.

“For a writer, it’s a great way to meet people in the community. Everyone is so supportive and helpful, offering advice, tips, contacts,” he said. “But more than hard-nosed networking chances, it’s just a whole lot of fun … For me, and for a lot of other writers in Japan, this is the highlight of the year, so come and hang out with us.”

For further details, visit japanwritersconference.org.