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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

All you the news updates you need—right here at Asymptote

Lots of things have been happening in the world of literature, but don’t worry—as always we’ve got you covered with news from far and wide. Maíra Medes Galvão serves up a rich helping of literary festivals and events around Brazil (and New York), including a celebration of Bloomsday. Sneha Khaund gives us the who’s who and the what’s what of India’s literary scene right now, including recently published authors and the most exciting literary readings and events. Stefan Kielbasiewicz provides some tragic, but at the same time uplifting news, and gets into the thick of prizes and festivals that have already happened and all that are yet to come. Strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.

Maíra Mendes Galvão, Editor-at-Large, reports from Brazil:

As a plea to encourage people to acquire the habit of reading—famously said to be lacking in Brazil—four literature and entertainment blogs from Belém, capital of the State of Pará, have put on a literary festival dubbed a ‘Cultural Marathon‘, which started on June 17 and goes on until the 25th. There will be talks around themes such as sci-fi, the detective & crime genres, new Brazilian literature and others. The festival is hosted by the bookstore chain Leitura and supported by publishing houses Intrínseca, Pandorga and DarkSide.

Bloomsday did not go by unnoticed in Brazilian territory. The city of São Paulo traditionally holds its June 16 celebrations inspired by the initiative of brother poets and translators Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, who first brought the festive date over to São Paulo thirty years ago. Casa das Rosas, a cultural venue and museum dedicated to Haroldo de Campos, and Casa Guilherme de Almeida, dedicated to the eponymous translator and poet, have come together again this year with a program that included a festive wake (Finnegan’s wake, naturally) with live Irish music as well as conferences, talks and readings.

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The Invisibility of the Translator

We were taught to imagine a sliding scale between “Author,” “Text” and “Reader."

For English literature students, it has almost become cliché to mention Roland Barthes’s 1964 essay, The Death of the Author, which argued for prioritizing the reader’s response in the meaning of a text rather than the supposed intentions of the author. As students, we were encouraged to focus more on texts themselves, their connection to other texts, discourses, and historical contexts. Whatever decisions the author may have consciously made were to be treated with heavy skepticism—authors no longer had a say in the interpretation of their own work as much as readers and critics. Like many other literary theorists, Barthes’s text arrived to me through translation, and whole branches of the degree I finished one year ago gave me the chance to study a variety of literature in translation.

I never seriously questioned how a translation can affect the meaning of a text until we were assigned to read the French theorist Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967), translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I found it incomprehensible, along with many of my classmates. The one-hour lecture we had as a kind of introduction essentially came to, “Just keep reading the original text and you’ll understand it,” and I remember telling a friend at the time that the actual, original text was in French; perhaps the translation had something to do with it. Granted, even in French Derrida’s text is notoriously difficult to understand, but there could very well have been issues with Spivak’s translation, as one reviewer for the Los Angeles Review of Books suggested.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

If you're wondering what's happening in the world of literature, you've come to the right place

This week brings us the latest, most exciting news from Austria, Taiwan and the United States. Contributor Flora Brandl gives us a taste of what Austria’s literary festivals have in store for us; Editor-at-Large Vivian Szu-Chin Chih shares the wonderful news about same-sex marriage in Taiwan and its connection with literature; Educational Arm Assistant Reverie Powell serves up some fantastic and diverse performances taking place in the United States. 

Contributor Flora Brandl reporting from Austria: 

In Salzburg, the city’s annual literature festival took place this May. Among its most renowned guests were the actor Bruno Ganz, who read excerpts from the deceased Swiss author Robert Walser, and the Salzburg-based, Georg Büchner Preis-winning author Walter Kappacher, who read some of his own unpublished fragments. Other authors featured in the five-day festival were Kirsten Fuchs, Nico Bleutge and Franz Schuh.

In Vienna, the multicultural and interdisciplinary art festival Wiener Festwochen is currently showcasing a number of performances, theatre productions, installations and exhibitions. With this year’s overarching theme of diversity, most works dedicate themselves to pertinent contemporary issues such as postcolonialism and global conflict. The play Während ich wartete (‘While I Was Waiting’, performed in Arabic with English subtitles), by the Syrian director Omar Abusaada and dramatist Mohammad Al Attar, portrays the story of a family as it comes to reflect larger military, political, cultural and generational conflict in Syria. The production has been touring Europe for a year, albeit with a heavily alternating cast: some actors had not yet completed their own asylum processes and were lacking the necessary papers to perform.

The 48-hour performance by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra was also showcased at the Wiener Festwochen. Bearing one of Sierra’s characteristically self-revealing titles, his performance The Names of those Killed in the Syrian Conflict, between 15th of March 2011 and 31st of December 2016 aims to attach individual identities to the many nameless war victims of those images that circulate in our media. Researched by a team of Brazilian academics, Sierra’s reading of names (accompanied by images projected to a wall) toured Tel Aviv, Vienna, London and Buenos Aires. The performance was accessible not only to a number of local spectators, but also to virtual audiences around the globe who were following it online, ensuring that the humanitarian toll taken on the Syrian population is neither overlooked nor forgotten.

Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editor-at-Large, reports from Taiwan:

May 24 marked a milestone in Taiwan: the Constitutional Court ruled that the constitution should serve to protect the rights for same-sex marriage. This unprecedented and long-awaited decision has made Taiwan the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Taiwan’s fight for the legalization of same-sex marriage has lasted for decades and has taken an arduous journey, one which has been reflected through the country’s literature. Last Words from Montmartre, a novel composed by the notable Taiwanese lesbian writer, Chiu Miao-Jin, who took her own life at the age of twenty-six, as well as Pai Hsien-Yung’s fiction depicting the condition of gays in Taipei in the 1960s, Crystal Boys, are again being widely reread and discussed.

From the last Saturday of May until early July, Prof. Li-Chuan Ou of the Department of Chinese Literature in National Taiwan University will be speaking about Chinese Tang poets and classical Chinese poetry at Kishu An. On June 17, the two Taiwanese doctors under forty will give a joint talk on how they have been striking a balance between their vocations and passion towards writing, together with the everyday realities they face in hospital that have been recorded through their writing. Kishu An will also host an exhibition and a series of related talks to pay tribute to the great Chinese writer, publisher, and translator, Ba Jin, starting from mid-June.

From mid-May to July, the winners of 2016 Taiwan Literature Award are touring around the island to share their experiences of writing. The themes of their speeches span from restoring Taiwanese history through historical novels, to aboriginal poetry about the natural landscapes of Taiwan to the world, to silencing and violence in theatre.

Reverie Powell, Educational Arm Assistant, reports from the United States:

Wordspace in conjunction with the South Dallas Cultural Center, presented poet, performer, and librettist, Douglas Kearney on May 25 in the third season of the reading series, African Diaspora: New Dialogues . Much like the Sankofa, a bird that simultaneously looks backward and forward, Kearney embeds the past, present, and future of African Americans into his work exploring themes important to African Americans such as the reality of being threatened and being ‘threatening’ as well as the historical pressure to ‘signify’ one’s identity. Kearney samples hip hop lyrics, rewrites the myth of Stagger Lee, who kills Bill Lyons for stomping on his sometimes magical, sometimes expensive hat, and sentences him to twelve Herakles-like labors.

Additionally, Dallas’s Mark David Noble is “listening to the arts community” with his new podcast, Wordwire, which broadcasts local performances and interviews giving listeners inside peeks at various authors’ creative processes from inception to delivery.

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An interview with Edil Hassan: Writing poetry rooted in migration, otherness and Somali heritage

When I write of those days now, there is something fuller and heavier

Edil Hassan is a poet of Somali background based in New England. Two of her poems appeared in Asymptote’s most recent issue in the feature on banned countries. Ms. Hassan graciously answered a few questions about her work and inspiration.

Claire Jacobson (CJ): Your poems are so grounded in deep family relationships and stories from the past. Can you talk about the inspiration for these poems? What drove you to write them?

Edil Hassan (EH): The Drought for a long time was only the last stanza. I had seen a picture of a capsized migrant boat in the Mediterranean on some news site—a new picture every week or month, never the same boat. It’s like those videos of Black girls and boys who are killed; I’m waiting to know the person behind the camera. I knew though that this poem was incomplete, and like all stories is layered. Migration comes with a loss of place, and mediating on family helps me track that disappearance.

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In Conversation: Lesley Saunders on translation, poetic collaboration and creating new writing with refugees

I think there’s a place opening up where poet-translators can have a kind of collective presence

Lesley Saunders has published several books of poetry, and a new collection Nominy Dominy is due out from Two Rivers Press next year. She has won several awards for her poetry, including the inaugural Manchester Poetry Prize, the Stephen Spender Award for poetry in translation and The Poetry Business 2016/17 International Book & Pamphlet Competition; she is currently working on a book of translations of selected poems by the acclaimed Portuguese writer Maria Teresa Horta. Find our more about her work at www.lesleysaunders.org.uk

Theophilus Kwek (TK): Congratulations on winning the 2016 Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation with your lovely translation of Poema by Maria Teresa Horta! In your commentary, you write about that striking central image of the poem—a ‘prowler-intruder’—which, as compared to Hughes’ ‘thought-fox’, is felt rather than seen. Did you face any challenges in rendering such a tactile ‘muse’ in a different language?

Lesley Saunders (LS): This is a really hard question! I’m very much guided, in my translation, by a text I’ve come across quite recently: James Underhill’s Voice and Versification in Translating Poems, which is wonderful – and which I first discovered by being asked to review it. I started reading the book more out of duty, then was completely captivated by how Underhill describes the difficult but not impossible challenge of translating poetry.

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Translation Tuesday: A Poem by Elena Fanailova

No one can bear it, physiologically, Except for perverted aesthetes

Elena Fanailova has been one of the most boundary-pushing poets in the contemporary Russian poetry scene for over twenty years. Known for her keen observations of both Russian authorities and her own peers in the intelligentsia and art world, Fanailova shows off the height of her incisive yet colloquial, even witty, narration style in “masha and lars von trier,” a poem in which everyone is complicit in the crimes of their culture. 

—Madeline Jones, Blog Editor

masha and lars von trier

          Diary, summer 2006

1.

The Russian after-party is fucking up the championship
Russian Masha is losing Wimbledon
To a wooden machine by the name of Amélie
Behind whom stands a thousand-year-old blitzkrieg
And all of France, the Church’s eldest daughter

Russian Masha is getting nervous, you can tell,
No matter how loud you yell.
Her powerful serves splinter against the mechanics
Of the still more powerful machine and its instruments
Here nothing will come of it
Except her volleys,
Lesser versions, knockoffs,
Pitiful byzantinism

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in! The latest literary scoop from Austria, Mexico, Guatemala and Canada

This week we bring you a generous helping of news from Flora Brandl, our contributor in Austria, reporting on the rich array of literary festivals and cultural events that took place in April and are coming up in May; Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, our Editors-at-Large Mexico, take a look at one Guatemalan Maya writer’s highly original work, but also record the brutal continuation of violence against journalists in Mexico just last month; last but not least, our very own grant writer Catherine Belshaw writes on the hope for greater diversity in Canada’s literary scenes.

Contributor Flora Brandl gives us the round-up from Austria:

Despite winter being rather stubborn (only last week there was still some snow), the Austrian literary and cultural scene has witnessed a so-called Frühlingserwachen, a spring awakening, with numerous events, publications and national and international festivals taking place across the country.

At the end of April, the Literasee Wortfestival was hosted in Bad Aussee, a rural community and historical literary getaway for writers such as Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. This year, six German and Austrian writers, including Franzobel, Walter Grond and Clemens Meyer, were featured during the three-day festival.

However, it is not only German-language art that is currently being showcased in Austria: the Festival Europa der Muttersprachen (Europe of Mother Tongues) invited Ukrainian filmmakers, photographers, musicians and writers—amongst whom was the highly celebrated author Jurij Andruchowytsch—to the Literaturhaus Salzburg. Earlier in April, more international artists and audiences had frequented the city for the Osterfestspiele, the Easter feature of the internationally renowned Salzburg festival for classical music and drama.

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What To Do With an Untranslatable Text? Translate It Into Music

Translators and musicians team up on a sweeping audio interpretation of Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake, the final book by Irish writer James Joyce, is a bit like the alien language in the movie Arrival. As the film’s spaceships tower mysteriously over the Earth, so Joyce’s book casts its strange shadow over world literature. Most literary minded people are aware of the text’s presence, but no one actually knows how to read the book, save for a select few who claim it is the greatest thing ever written.

In order to read Finnegans Wake, you must become a translator. You must translate the text out of it’s idiosyncratic, multilingual semi-nonsensical language, and into… music? For example, see Rebecca Hanssens-Reed’s interview with Mariana Lanari, about the process of translating the Wake into music.

For the last three years I’ve pursued the music that is Finnegans Wake. I organize an ongoing project called Waywords and Meansigns, setting the book to music. This week we release our latest audio, which is 18 hours of music created by over 100 musicians, artists and readers from 15 countries. We give away all the audio for free at our website (and you can even record your own passage, so get involved!)

Listen to a clip of the project here!

It might sound strange, but translating the book into music is easier than, say, translating it into another foreign language. But that hasn’t deterred Fuat Sevimay, who translated the book into Turkish, nor has it stopped Hervé Michel, who calls his French rendering a “traduction” rather than a “translation.”

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In Review: Abdulai Sila’s novel confronts the future of Guinea-Bissau

She wants to create a school unlike those she attended, which were born out of the “civilizing” arm of the colonial regime.

“It was the first time the Sepoys had seen such a cowardly Chief of Post. It left them very disillusioned. They told everyone in the tabanca what had happened, adding a little salt of course.”

No “salt” appears to be lost in Jethro Soutar’s translation of The Ultimate Tragedy, which is the first Bissau-Guinean novel to be translated into English.

Reflecting the Bissau-Guinean oral traditions that influenced Abdulai Sila’s writing style, the novel reads like an uninterrupted conversation about what the future holds for this nation, seemingly on the verge of liberation.

Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine protagonist Ndani’s life (re)told in an oral narrative as she transforms from cursed outcast to abused servant, to the wife of a wealthy régulo in whose village she will meet her true love. With every change in Ndani’s environment, we are introduced to a different facet of colonial-era Bissau-Guinean society: rural, under-served poor; white, colonial elite; powerful, indigenous leaders; and finally, Church-educated citizens.

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Translation Tuesday: Poetry by Nazih Abu Afash

The worst thing a ewe can do: / Seek refuge amidst the flock.

In these poems, published in the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar under the overarching title “An Incomplete Diary”, the renowned Syrian poet Nazih Abu Afash dissects the benign indecisiveness of human nature by seeking refuge in the quietness and silence of words, his words, in the face of the noises generated daily by the ongoing war in Syria.

Abu Afash, like a lonely shepherd, counts his flock with no intention of committing remembrance to the act of existence per se, but to remind us of one thing: I am returning to die in the forest. The following are translations of this vulnerability into another form of vulnerability where contemplation can be as valid as involvement.

 

All were human: some returned disfigured, with incomplete eyes, incomplete shoulders, and incomplete dreams. Some still clutched their wilted flags envying themselves for the kisses, tears and garlands awaiting them. Some stopped in the middle of the road to stare at the buses, the processions and the women inhaling air outside the cage of chastity. Some were overcome by tiredness. Some despaired of everything and believed in nothing. Some blamed themselves for falling for hope. Some realised they had been betrayed. Some said: So we were told. And we believed. Some watched over the front lines hoping to witness peace break out of the remnants of their lives and the piles of their enemies’ empty cartridges. Some sat weeping. Some, who were apt only for forgetfulness, the dustmen buried under the sand of their trenches, as though returning a lost child to his family, in the hope that they might one day return to the arms of their old life with the simplest of reasons and the lowest of costs…

 

All: were

 

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Teach This—Banned Countries Special Feature

Imagine Dallas’ Amos Hunt on Thematic Analysis through Identifying Choices

Welcome to Teach This, Asymptote for Educators’ answer to the current issue’s Banned Countries Special Feature. We believe that the classroom is the perfect setting for young people to be exposed to diverse, contemporary voices, both allowing them to challenge their assumptions and to engage them with living literature… a conversation in which their own voices matter. To that end, Asymptote for Educators has launched this weekly blog series in which global educators share how and why they would teach the feature’s articles. We hope you and your students enjoy!

Are you an educator with your own lesson plan ideas? Teach This – Banned Countries Special Feature is currently open for submissions. Email education@asymptotejournal.com for more information.

By paraphrasing a poem, we discover other choices the author could have made. If a paraphrase is possible, then the author could have said the same thing a different way. Why did they choose to say it the way they did? When we focus on this question, analyzing the effects of the author’s choices and considering how these choices contribute to the meaning, we get closer to the art of the poem. By doing so, we have the opportunity to recognize that poetry does not divide so evenly into form and content. The poem’s way of saying is essential to what it says.

This lesson plan is a rung on the ladder toward that insight. Pedagogically, we have to draw lines between form and content in order to draw attention to their special interrelationship in poetry.

Course Level: Middle School

Student Objectives:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone

Materials:

One copy for each student of

A projector or Promethean board

Preparation:

For homework, ask students to read all three poems and complete brief, written paraphrases of their literal content. (This assignment assumes that they have already been trained in literal interpretation of poetry). Encourage students to infer the meanings of words they don’t know from context clues.

Be prepared to divide the students into groups of three or four.

Be prepared to explain the terms jilal (a severe, arid season in Somalia from December to March), tusbax (Islamic prayer beads), guntiino (traditional Somali dress), and jinni (a supernatural creature in Arab and Islamic traditions). Though you have assigned students to infer what they can from context for homework, you should share this information with them as the need arises.

Exercise:

Review of Literal Interpretation (5-10 minutes)

Before discussing the theme, meaning, and tone of a poem, it is important to have a common interpretation of its literal content. Tell the students you’re going to do the same thing together with Edil Hassan’s “Origin Stories” that you’ve practiced before in previous lessons: read it one line or sentence at a time, paraphrasing its direct, surface meaning. They can and should refer to the written work they have done to prepare.

For each line or sentence, ask one student to tell the class what they think it says. Another student paraphrases this reading. As needed, address questions to the class to elicit closer reading. Be clear that no one is entitled to speak to these questions who cannot show that they have listened to what the other students have said. You can even ask them to repeat or paraphrase previous remarks before they speak. This requirement helps to ensure that everyone has the same basic read of the poem and reinforces the understanding that interpretation is a communal activity.

Some difference of opinion is possible, but everyone should at least agree that the speaker is telling the story of how her parents met, and that the afternoon light colors the mother’s skin with the gold of her earrings. (It’s not melting them down her neck; a likely misreading!)

Introduction to Thematic Analysis (5-10 minutes)

Tell the students you’re now going to read the poem again, this time with a new question: not just “what does it say?” but “what is it doing?” Be explicit about the interpretive strategy you are about to demonstrate: you’re going to think about other choices the author could have made, other ways they could have said the same thing, and try to see how the choice they made has a unique effect.

Read “Origin Stories.” As you read the title, and each line or sentence, stop to point out to the students the choices the author has made and to briefly consider them. (e.g., why not “How My Parents Met?” How does the allusion to superhero stories tell us what to expect?) Keep each choice and its effects in mind as you analyze the next choice, and reach a conclusion about what the poem is doing as a whole.

It may be helpful to use a graphical organizer to represent the choices and their effects. For example, in a table, you can list interesting choices in one column, and analyze their effects in a second column. (Variant: an additional column with the heading “Alternatives,” presenting other choices the author could have made, can help to highlight the choice as a choice.)

In this part of the lesson, do not allow the children to interject or ask questions until the end. Just politely ignore all those eager raised hands.

Check for Understanding (5 minutes)

Ask a volunteer to explain the meaning of the poem and the theme to the class. Encourage them to use the choices identified earlier to support their interpretation of the theme. If they make an error in literal interpretation, do not correct them but ask questions based on the text. If they present a thematic analysis different from yours, encourage this exploration.

On the other hand, if other students want to help the volunteer, this should be permitted.

Don’t allow this segment to continue for too long.

Small Group Practice (25 minutes)

Tell the children that they will repeat the same exercise in small groups of three or four, with the longer poem “The Drought.”

Each group should work through the poem to identify decisions made by the author, and analyze the effects of those decisions. If you demonstrated a graphical organizer for this process, they should use a similar organizer. You don’t need to hand it out. It’s better if they draw it up themselves.

Tour the classroom, checking in with each group. If students are struggling to analyze a particular choice, ask them to compare it to the alternatives. What difference does it make?

Independent Practice (in-class or homework)

Ask the children to read Omar Youssef Souleimane’s “In the Foreign Land,” and write two or three paragraphs addressing the following prompt:

What is the tone of this poem? What effect does that tone have on the way we read the poem? What choices does Souleimane make to create this tone? Refer to particular lines, describing the effect of the word choices.

Teacher Follow-Up

You can continue the discussion of student analyses by having representatives of each discussion group report their results and allowing other students to pose questions and comments about any of the poems. Encourage students to support their conclusions by providing textual evidence.

Students may wish to respond to each other’s analyses of “In the Foreign Land.” You can act as a facilitator in this discussion and avoid interfering too heavily, except to insist, that the students demonstrate diligent attention to each other.

 

Amos J. Hunt‘s mission in life is to cultivate a discerning mainstream readership for poetry. As the founder and executive director of Imagine Dallas Literary Arts [imaginedallas.org], he designs and delivers in-class poetry appreciation tutorials for public schools in Dallas County. He also edits the literary magazine Grub Street Grackle [grubstreetgrackle.com].

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Asymptote for Educators wants to see your students’ creations! Submit them to education@asymptotejournal.com for the opportunity have them published in a follow-up to this blog post.

Anita Gopalan on the Joys of Translation

These references are woven inside the text, sometimes explicitly, sometimes covertly. They pulsate with meaning...

Anita Gopalan, a Bangalore-based translator, received the 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her translation of the Hindi novella Simsim by Geet Chaturvedi. Despite India producing a wealth of literature, Gopalan is only the second Indian to have received this grant. Over email, Poorna Swami asked Gopalan about Hindi literature and translating Chaturvedi.

Poorna Swami (PS): So you have a rather unconventional literary background, and even worked for many years in the banking sector. How did you find your way into translation? What do you enjoy most about it?

Anita Gopalan (AG): Although I don’t have a conventional literary background, I am striking out on a new path that is only natural to me. You see, when I was young I wanted to become a writer. Our house in Pilani was filled with books and I had access to all kinds of texts. At age eleven, I started on unabridged Dickens, by thirteen, it was Bonjour Tristesse and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and I had already written a whole book of poems (in Hindi, English, and Marwari). I read my poetry out loud to all our house maids and they were the ones who lovingly listened to it. But something happened that even I can’t fathom—my last poem was about suicide, and that was that. I did not become a writer. Rather, I thrived doing math—Hilbert spaces, isomorphisms—and moved on to banking technology and had a wonderful career in that field.

Years later, I had to cut down on my hectic work schedule due to a health condition and suddenly there was a vacuum. “To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life,” Czesław Miłosz said, and that fit my condition perfectly. I again turned to writing, and Facebook became the medium for me to post my writings and music. Here, I became acquainted with the wonderful writer Geet Chaturvedi. Interestingly, his first work that I read was not poetry or fiction—the genres he is famous for—but a short essay on music. His splendid poetic prose and sharp insights were evident even in that post. I fell in love with his writings. It was his poems that enchanted me most. A couple of years ago, he suddenly asked me to translate them. I was taken aback. I hadn’t translated anything before, but at the same time I was thrilled.

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International Prize for Arabic Fiction Winner Announced

“These works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Hasan Alwan was announced the winner of the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel, A Small Death, chosen from an impressive shortlist including Elias Khoury of Lebanon and Mohammed Abdel Nabi of Egypt.

In a video for IPAF, Alwan, who was born in Saudi Arabia but now lives in Toronto, said, “It might seem odd to choose to write a novel about Ibn ‘Arabi with all those extreme eastern concepts, whilst residing in this distant cold corner of the world in Canada. I often think about this. So, at first, I directly linked it to me feeling nostalgic, then I realised that being exposed to what is seemingly foreign or different is what drives me to reconnect with myself, as well as with my heritage and old culture.”

Since its inception almost ten years ago, IPAF, often referred to as the “Arabic Booker,” has maintained as its central mission the translation of winning and shortlisted novels to encourage greater readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally.  In fact, it guarantees translation of winning novels into English (and other languages when the budget permits), provides monetary awards to shortlisted pieces ($10,000 each, and $50,000 to the winner), and supports appearances of authors at international festivals, including Shubbak in London and the Berlin Literary Festival.

The initial idea for IPAF emerged in 2007 when Ibrahim el Moallem, then President of the Arab Publishers’ Association, “talked of the regrettably few numbers of high quality contemporary Arabic novels being translated into leading Western languages,” as Fleur Montanaro, current administrator of IPAF, recounted to me in a recent interview.  Ms. Montanaro added “these works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

According to numbers alone, IPAF does appear to have made some headway in promoting translation.  Although some have argued in the past (see this report from Literature Across Frontiers) that IPAF primarily encourages Anglophone translations, winning and shortlisted novels have been translated into 20 languages, including several non-European languages, among them Chinese, Turkish, and Russian.  Furthermore, distribution has not been limited to the European continent.  For example, The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber, winner in 2012, was distributed in Latin America.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest news from our word-nerds in Finland, Cuba, and Morocco!

Contributor Hanna Heiskanen checks in from Finland:

Over in Finland, several prominent authors have expressed their concern for the writing skills of today’s young people. What began as a Facebook post by Anja Snellman, who has written more than 20 novels and is a recipient the Pro Finlandia Medal, on the quality of the letters she receives from school children around the country, has since been echoed by Salla Simukka and Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, authors of the Snow White Trilogy (Hot Key Books/Amazon Children’s Publishing) and The Rabbit Back Literature Society (Pushkin Press/Thomas Dunne), respectively. Children and teenagers appear to struggle with understanding metaphor and long sentences, and are increasingly unable to write in literary, rather than spoken, language, the authors said. Reading is still generally held in high regard in the country, with 50 million books borrowed from libraries by the 5 million strong population in 2014, though these figures have been in decline.

The national broadcaster YLE shines a light on Elina Ahlbäck, the founder and director of the Elina Ahlback Literary Agency. The eight-year-old agency is behind the string of success stories of the aforementioned Salla Simukka who, like Maria Turtschaninoff, also represented by Ahlbäck, signed a Hollywood film deal some months back. Other good news for the agency is the recent nomination of Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron for the Nordic Council’s 2017 literature prize, the winner of which will be announced in November. Finnish literature in translation is having a moment, according to Ahlbäck: “Finland is an undiscovered treasure trove, and a source of unique stories and storytelling,” she says in the article. The country still lags behind its western neighbour, however, when it comes to marketing efforts: more than 30 agencies work to export Swedish literature, now a familiar sight on global bestseller lists.

The literature festival Helsinki Lit has published its schedule for this year. The event, May 12-13, will feature discussions with the likes of Orhan Pamuk, Linda Boström Knausgård, and Laurent Binet.

And to wrap up on a more unusual note, a Danish crime literature festival has gained nationwide interest for an advertising campaign gone awry. The Krimimessen festival, the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries and organised earlier this month, was advertised by staging fake crime scenes using fake human bodies. After, naturally, distressed reactions from the general public, the campaign was promptly terminated. “I am horribly sorry”, said the organising town’s Mayor, according to the Copenhagen Post Online.

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