Expat Sat: The Expat’s Literary Life

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

When I landed in Shanghai in 2006, I wanted what I’d left behind in the States: a vibrant, nurturing, ass-kicking, writerhead-feeding writing community.

I was hungry for it.

Starving, really.

For months, I’d been packing, moving, marrying, organizing for moving and marrying, organizing for organizing, and so on.

I wanted—no, needed—to get back to the writing.

After all, novel #2 was on the tip of my tongue. I had at least a dozen essays hopping around in my noggin. And there I was, immersed in a country that was setting my passion for place on fire.



(as I already knew)

(though perhaps had blocked in order to survive)






(let alone in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language)






So despite my need for speed, it was sssssssssllllllllllloooooooowwwwwwwww.

How did I do it?

First, I found a writing group (via an article in a Shanghai expat magazine).

Next I found M on the Bund…quite possibly the world’s most amazing international literary hub.

Then I found a writer friend. A really amazing writer friend whose brilliant, sparkling writerhead ignited my writerhead…and vice versa.

Then I started a reading series for writers.

And then (to make a long story short) I also…

  • took on a couple of students
  • joined Facebook
  • started yakking with writers around the world on Twitter
  • published a novel in the U.S.
  • published a bunch of essays in various publications
  • spoke at some writers conferences
  • started teaching classes

In short, I worked my arse off. I shared what I wanted to receive. I reached out and touched someone (no, no, not literally!)…I simply mean that I reached out, found people who cared about books, words, and writing, and then kept them in my life.

Happy to say that nearly five years after I landed in Shanghai (just as I was leaving, of course), I’d grown exactly what I’d been seeking: a vibrant, nurturing, ass-kicking, writerhead-feeding writing community.



Qs4U: What is your literary life like in your host country? How did you create it? How do you nurture it? Is it everything you want it to be? What would you like to be different? What’s missing? What’s brilliant about it?



Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


6 Responses to Expat Sat: The Expat’s Literary Life

  1. When I’d been here in Japan for about a year, and realized that I’d be staying awhile, I decided to start a literary magazine. I felt there was a need (ha ha) for an English language literary journal on the island of Shikoku. There were a few in Tokyo already, but they were far away. Anyway, I put out a call for submissions, and connected with some of my fellow expat-in-Japan writers that way. After I read some of the great stories in other expat literary journals and the ones that came to me, I decided to try to put together an anthology of stories by expats in Japan. I met more writers that way. I met even more when I went to Yokohama to participate in an event for the book! I am still in contact with many of them, including some who have left Japan. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?! By now I’ve joined every writers’ group open to expats such as SCBWI and a group called Society of Writers, Editors and Translators. I’m still pretty isolated, but I have a lot of writer friends in Japan that I keep in touch with via Internet.

  2. I don’t have a writer’s community here. (Yet?) So I’m reading this with a lot of interest. Anybody reading this in Seoul too? I MISS MISS MISS my Shanghai writer friends! I wish there was something like Out Loud here, but I don’t think I have the chutzpah to start one. Could really use some writing support these days though!

    • Oh, you do have the chutzpah to start a reading series or writers group! You’ve got chutzpah oozing over the edges.

      I’ll start putting out the call on Twitter for expat writers in Seoul.

      In the meantime, we’re here for you.

  3. Ha — I think chutzpah requires sleep! And there isn’t much of that to go around. After writing the above comment, I did some searching and found that there IS an open mic event here. Will have to check that out.
    What I really need is a good group. I’ve finally got a big chunk of something that needs reading, but it’s rather like asking someone to watch your baby…. I’m not yet ready to entrust it to a stranger!
    One nice aspect of living as an expat is that most ex-pats are invested in forging relationships, so building mutual trust can be a speedier process. This is what I will be repeating to myself over the next few months as I try to find someone on whom to inflict my draft…
    Just before leaving Seoul last time I did meet one group, but I didn’t get a good vibe — all the members were much younger, all English teachers, and there was just too big a difference in our lives and experiences. Shanghai had such a great mix of ages and stages and life stories. Finding the right mix of sameness and difference is another challenge.
    Back to writing, and hopefully sleep too!

    • Ha ha! Someone on whom to inflict your draft! I’m sure there is someone in Seoul who’s seeking the same.

      I hear you on the Shanghai community…probably impossible to replicate. 🙂 But there will be something soon…after all, you’re starting to put the energy out there.

      Here’s to sleeping!