Profile: Meet Yang Benfen, a granny writer "by the stove"

Updated: 2022- 05- 05

NANCHANG, May 2 (Xinhua) -- What can you say about a Chinese granny who started writing in her 60s and published her first book at 80? That she spent most of her time writing in the kitchen and became a bestselling author?

Yang Benfen, now 82, published her third book in February. It is an autobiographical novel on marriage.

"I was once a farmer and tried multiple jobs, such as accountant and dispatcher. But none of these related to writing," she said.

Yang usually pens what she has witnessed or experienced in real life, especially the ordinary Chinese women struggling with their fates. Her first book, "Qiuyuan," or autumn garden in English, commemorates her late mother's difficult but resilient life.

It was finished at her second daughter Zhang Hong's small apartment in Nanjing, the capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. She moved there from Nanchang City in Jiangxi Province to help care for her granddaughter.

Yang was always overwhelmed with sadness and soaked in memories of her late mother. Her daughter encouraged her to write them down.

"I realized that if those stories were not written down, all traces of my mother would be completely wiped out from the world sooner or later like a layer of dust on a table blown away by a gust of wind," she said.

Thus, she started her writing journey while doing household chores and looking after other family members. Many readers referred to her as the granny writer "by the stove," as most of her stories were written in a four-square-meter kitchen, crammed with a sink, a stove, and a refrigerator.

There was no place for a desk. While waiting for a pot of soup to boil, Yang sat on a low stool, writing swiftly on manuscript paper with the noise of the kitchen hood fan.

She finished her first draft with more than 100,000 words in 2007. She collected around four kg of written pages over the years. "It seems like a reunion with many people who have left me in my memory," Yang described her writing process.

Two years later, Yang's daughter Zhang Hong posted her manuscript online as a serial. Criticism and praise poured in. Critics said the story of a "nobody" is unworthy of being recorded, but a reader's comment encouraged the granny writer to hold out for her dream.

"The reader said he once wanted to write down a story dictated by his father but failed to make it happen. Stories from ordinary people with low social strata appear rarer and more precious," Zhang recalled.

The online serialized novel did not get the attention of publishers until over a decade later. "She writes in gentle and simple words but depicts the characters' struggles with their destiny. I was shocked that it was penned by a green hand," said publisher Tu Zhigang.

Her maiden work "Qiuyuan" was published in June 2020 and proved a big success. The book scored 8.9 out of 10 on Douban, a Chinese social networking platform that rates and reviews books and movies. More than 90,000 copies have been sold so far.

Like her own mother, Yang is an avid reader. Her favorite books include "Family," "Spring," and "Autumn" -- the trilogy by renowned Chinese writer Ba Jin. For her, bookshelves are more important than a wardrobe, so wherever she lives, there must be a big bookcase.

"The scene of my 89-year-old late mother sick in bed reading a novel will stick with me forever," said Yang, who penned the memory into her second book "Driftwood" in 2021.

Yang has no plans to stop. Her fourth book is in the pipeline.

The granny writer learned how to use a tablet computer in her 80s. "I can write anytime, anywhere, and it is more convenient to modify my writing."

"In old age, I am like a train on a new journey. An unprecedented force drives me forward. I know that the story under my pen is just a drop of water, and it will finally flow into the long river of human history," Yang said.

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