Beginning this month, Kishu An Forest of Literature (紀州庵文學森林) has added a twist to their long-running effort to promote the reading of literature by showcasing the wedding portraits of 80 writers, poets and novelists. The black-and-white and color photos that back to the 1920s, offering a rare glimpse into the private lives of modern and contemporary literary icons.
“Most people are not as familiar with writers’ lives as much as they are with their works,” said exhibition curator Ho Mei-ying (何美吟).
Although most of the writers on display are only known locally, some, such as Nieh Hua-ling (聶華苓) and Lin Hai-yin (林海音), do have an international audience.
Nieh, a Chinese-born novelist and poet, was a major figure in promoting Chinese literature in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. She married Paul Engle, a respected American literary critic, playwright and poet, in 1971 and together they established a reputation for Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The couple also started a writing program solely for international writers.
In a photo taken at their wedding banquet, Nieh wears a modern pink qipao (旗袍), a one-piece tight-fitting Chinese gown often worn by women in the Qing Dynasty. Nieh and Engle, in a white suit, exchanged vows on a stage with the Chinese character Xi (囍), or double happiness, hanging from the backdrop.
“The photo tells the story of marriage between two literary stars as well as matrimony between Eastern and Western cultures,” said Ho. She added the interesting fact that many of the writers on display, despite their Chinese origin, often chose tuxedos and white gowns over traditional Chinese wedding costumes.
A wedding photo of Chen Xue (陳雪) and her partner have also received considerable attention. Chen’s marriage to her lesbian lover in 2009 was seen as a milestone for the gay community. The celebrated writer published a popular diary based on her life as a lesbian wife last year.
Aside from peeping into the private lives of writers and letting one’s imagination roam free, Ho said that she hopes the photos could inspire single individuals to tie the knot, especially in a society with a rising divorce rate and dropping marriage rate.
“Most visitors said they were really touched by how the couples cherish each other’s company through the ups and downs of life,” she said.