Words from The Forest Unseen have loosed their tie to the English language and traveled abroad, now in nine languages. The book has been particularly well received in China, news that until last month came to me indirectly through my editors and agents. In early November, though, I received an email inviting me to China to receive a literary award. The Dapeng Nature Book Award is China’s first prize for books about the natural world. The Forest Unseen won the “international” category and last week Katie and I traveled to Shenzhen to join Chinese award winners and their colleagues in environmental and science writing, children’s literature, and translation.
The edition of my book in China (看不见的森林, The Commercial Press, Hong Kong) was edited by Yu Jiehong, translated by Xiong Jiao, and illustrated by Nian Gao. A Taiwanese edition in traditional characters (森林祕境, Cite Publishing, Taiwan) was translated by Xiao Baosen. That my words would have worth in Chinese is due to my colleagues’ great skill and linguistic artistry.
The Dapeng awards are part of the city of Shenzhen’s month-long celebration of the written word. Shenzhen is an international hub for technology and has grown from a rural outpost to a city of twenty million people in just thirty years. As the city has grown it has kept half of its land area for parks and natural areas. The city also is home to a large public library, high-tech book lending machines (photo below), and the world’s largest bookstores. This convergence of commitment to nature and to literature makes the city the ideal location for a celebration of the Chinese tradition of nature writing. Few other cultures have poetic and philosophical traditions that are so profoundly ecological. The cultural and political upheavals of the last 150 years in China have at times broken or frayed the continuity of these traditions, but these connections are now being remade and expanded.
It was a great honor to have my work recognized and to meet editors, writers, and ecologists working in China. I offer special thanks to Nan Zhaoxu, Yan Ying, and Zhang Jinkai for their generous welcome and hospitality, and to Zhang Boran for his amazing work as translator.