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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Updates from Spain, Morocco, and the United States, from the Asymptote team

This week, we visit Morocco with new Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman, who tells us about a new play based on a classic novel. Then in Spain, we have a publishing update with Editor-at-Large Carmen Morawski, and onto the United States, we strap in for today’s Presidential Inauguration and writers’ reactions to the historic event. 

Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman reports from Morocco:

A theatrical interpretation of Mohammed Khair Ed-dine’s novel Le Déterreur [نباش القبور], adapted by Cédric Gourmelon and starring Ghassan El-Hakim, is currently on tour in Morocco, with the next performance set to take place on January 21 at the House of Culture [دار الثقابة] in Tetouan.  In the novel, a man from southern Morocco shares his countercurrent perspectives on living in a marginalized community inside a wider, fractured, postcolonial space as he recounts his life story.

Winner of numerous literary awards, including Jean Cocteau’s Les infants terribles literary prize for his novel Agadir, Khair Ed-dine (or “The Blue Bird,” as he is sometimes called) mainly wrote poetry and novels in French. He is credited with establishing a new style of writing, what he coined guérilla linguistique, that resists, in both form and content, linguistic or societal domination. Considering his prolific contributions to the genre of revolutionary writing, it is unsurprising that Khair Ed-dine is commonly grouped among renowned, twentieth century North African authors writing in French, such as Assia Djebar, Yacine Kateb, Abdellatif Laabi, Driss Chraibi, and Tahar Ben Jelloun.

Some of Khair Ed-dine’s work has been translated into German and English. For more about the German translation of his posthumously published novel Once Upon a Time There Was a Happy Couple (Es war einmal ein glückliches Paar), Qantara.de published this article, which includes a summary of the book with excerpts and information about the writer.  Similarly, to read a sample of Khair-Eddine’s poetry translated into English, see this piece from Jadaliyya, that includes four poems from his collection Ce Maroc!

In other literary news, only a few more weeks until Morocco’s largest book fair will be back!  The 23rd edition of the International Book Fair in Casablanca will open on February 9.

READ MORE…

Book Recommendations for the New Normal

Suggested reading for the fast-approaching U.S. Presidential Inauguration and our changing world politics

This Friday, real estate mogul Donald Trump will be sworn is in as the 45th President of the United States. Last month, Italy’s citizenry voted effectively for the resignation of its Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, in a referendum applauded by France’s right-wing, nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen, while another far-right conservative, Francois Fillon, is expected to win the French presidential election in May. Last summer, the world watched the historic Brexit vote, and Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, who ran on the promise of an Austrian Brexit, lost the nation’s vote by a very close margin last month.  

The political climate all over the west is profoundly changing, and those who failed to predict the current developments are scrambling to make sense of them. Book proposals by diplomats, pundits, and economists are flooding publishers’ inboxes, all claiming to have the most accurate analysis of the causes of Trump’s win or Britain’s isolationism. But a look at the past, and some past literature, suggests that perhaps we should be surprised at our own surprise. We gathered some book recommendations to prepare you for this Friday and the vast challenges ahead because—wait for it—knowledge is power (sorry!) and there are many already-published texts, many in the history category, with a wealth of relevant knowledge to impart.

Asymptote’s Marketing Manager David Maclean suggests you check out:

Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday , translated by Anthea Bell (Pushkin Press, 2013)

“As a great many political pundits have pointed out, the resurgence of nationalist and far-right movements throughout Europe has more than a passing resemblance to the initial rise of fascist groups prior to the Second World War. Disguised as an autobiography, Zweig’s The World of Yesterday offers a coruscating portrayal of the idealism of pre-war Europe and the European cross-cultural project, as well as the fragility of the ideals of Enlightenment in the face of (dangerously) cynical realpolitik, ignorance, and the fostering of prejudice. The nation cannot be loved above all else, warned Simone Weil, since it has no soul—and indeed it is the balkanization of Europe that Zweig portrays as a logical result of nationalist movements that propagate loyalty to the nation above all else. His book is also one of resistance, of the possibility for literature and art to resist the totalitarianism of thought imposed upon us through exercising our creative imaginations—an understated but underestimated daily act of resistance.”

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula le Guin (Tor Books, 2010)

“I had thought to include Rachel Carson’s seminal 1962 book The Silent Spring, which arguably thrust eco-criticism and global conservation into the mainstream debate, but since the United States’ president-elect seems intent on living in a fantasy world regarding man-made climate change, I decided to be magnanimous and stick with his chosen genre. The novella details a logging colony established on the fictional planet of Athshe by Earth’s military-industrial complex, which is slowly but surely denuding the planet of its primary resources and leaving vast swathes of it barren and lifeless. The novel hinges on a conflict of ideologies between the native population, which may be well be seen as a surrogate for nature, and ourselves (the Terrans) who view nature as a disposable resource for immediate consumption and have little to no regard for the long-term consequences. In the Athshean language, the word for “forest” is also the word for “world”, showing the dependence of the Athshean culture upon the forest, much as we all depend upon a fecund, hospitable world that continues to dance on the brink of ecological ruin.”

Blog Editor Madeline Jones found pertinent wisdom in:

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to Present by John Pomfret (Henry Holt, 2016)

“We all know that the U.S. president-elect likes to make China a scape goat for basically whatever he thinks is unsatisfactory about American affairs that he can’t conceivably blame on Crooked somebody or Lyin’ somebody else. Of Trump’s targets of aggression now that he’s been elected, China perhaps comes in second only to FAKE NEWS (caps his). We’ve all heard the “Gina” jokes. His lack of understanding of diplomacy generally but particularly regarding China is near-comical, so it’s difficult to even wrap your mind around the implications of his attitudes toward the world’s largest economy, but it is vital that at least someone in his administration does. In the meantime, I decided to try to understand the nuances of the relationship better myself. This book is invaluable—and highly readable—to that end. It’s not short, but it’s a one-stop shop.”

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner, 2016)

“Pointedly drawing inspiration from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Ward has gathered responses from her generation’s most eminent voices on race in the form of critical essays, personal reflections, and poetry. From Jericho Brown to Daniel Jose Older, Claudia Rankine to Clint Smith, the contributors make this a worthwhile read for its own, aesthetic sake, but it’s also an emotional and timely reminder of the ways in which society has not changed since Baldwin was writing, the areas in which there is still vital need for improvement. While newspapers and magazines have been praising J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy since Trump won the Republican nomination as the book to understand America today, I found Ward’s book to be an important counterargument to that narrative, especially given Jeff Sessions’s imminent confirmation by the Senate. Vance’s book has merit, certainly, but the current focus on “understanding the white working class” cannot be emphasized at the expense of a focus on race relations and the continued economic and privilege gap between white Americans and black and Hispanic Americans. Reading Hillbilly Elegy is a worthwhile exercise in empathy, but it’s no more important than reading Ward’s collection. Baldwin wrote, ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’ There is plenty of pain and heartbreak in The Fire This Time, too.”

Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen recommends:

The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It by Owen Jones (Penguin, 2014)

“British journalist and writer Owen Jones (b. 1984) hasn’t made a secret of his political inclinations (very left-wing, in case you haven’t heard), and he was a staunch critic of Donald Trump throughout his election campaign. His 2014 book, The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, which was met both with great praise and criticism, zooms in on the power structures of British society and is now more relevant than ever. Owen claims that while the people continue voting in elections, behind the scenes, a network of the unelected, unaccountable, and immensely powerful advisors and diplomats control our lives and steer decision-making. Though Jones’s book focused on the UK and some of its seemingly unique features, such as the grooming of the new ruling class at top universities, or the privatisation of public services, its fundamental premise applies to almost any country you could point to on the map. Whether you grew up in a Nordic welfare society or listening to stories about the American Dream, this makes for a relevant, albeit depressing, read.”

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848, 2015 Penguin)

“It might be old, and many would say old-fashioned, but the grand ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, capitalism and communism, continue to have an undeniable impact on our societies and politics. Many have explained the rise of the far-right and nationalist sentiments around the world with the collapse of traditional industries that would have supported generations of working families who now feel unnecessary or displaced. Now, with the rise of China as a world power, as well as a future in which robots will take over an increasing number of tasks from humans, Marx’s writings suddenly don’t seem as outdated anymore.”

And literary critic Harold Bloom offered:

“The only thing I can think of right now is Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’.”

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Read More Book Recommendations:

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary updates from the Czech Republic, Iran, and England

This Friday, we present three very distinct reports from the world of literature. Slovakian Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood looks back at what was a great year of Czech literature in translation and gives us a sneak peek at what to look forward to this year. Her Iranian colleague Poupeh Missaghi reports on language-related issues in a human rights Twitter campaign. And finally, the UK Editor-at-Large M. René Bradshaw tells us where to head for great readings in London this month and next.

Julia Sherwood, our Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, has good news from the publishing world:

Last year proved to be a big year for Czech literature in English translation, with no fewer than eighteen publications from eight different presses at the latest count. They include, to mention just a few, Worm-Eaten Time, poet Pavel Šrut’s elegy for his homeland after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, translated by Deborah Garfinkle, and symbolist poet Jaroslav Durych‘s (1886-1962) 1956 novella God’s Rainbow on the expulsion of the German-speaking population from Bohemia after World War II. First published in censored form in 1969, it is now available in full in David Short’s translation as part of Karolínum Press’s Modern Classics series, which also features Eva M. Kandler’s translation of the World War II literary horror The Cremator by Ladislav Fuks, a study of the totalitarian mindset that still resonates today (extract in BODY Literature), and served as the basis for one of the key films of the Czech new wave, directed by Juraj Herz.

Stoppard_and_Bajaja,_photo_by_Pavel_Stojar

On 30 November, a packed audience at the launch of Antonín Bajaja’s Burying the Season (also translated by David Short) at Waterstones Piccadilly in the heart of London included the playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s father came from the town of Zlín, the setting for this novel depicting the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia. Czech literature scholar Rajendra Chitnis introduces the book as part of an Istros Conversations podcast on Audioboom, while Michael Tate of Jantar Publishing discusses on Czech radio the challenges of bringing Central European literature to English readers.

World Literature Today picked Czech writer Magdaléna Platzová’s The Attempt as one of its Notable translations of 2016, characterizing it as “historical fiction at its best”. In an interview with the Czech cultural bi-weekly A2, the novel’s translator Alex Zucker points out that while more books by Czech authors are now being published than ever before, they don’t necessarily reach many more readers since—like translated literature in general—quite a few are brought out by small independent presses and are therefore not visible in major bookshops and rarely reviewed.

In 2017, we can look forward to Zucker’s translations of two the most acclaimed contemporary Czech writers: Jáchym Topol’s Angel Station is due from Dalkey Archive in May, and Petra Hůlová’s taboo-breaking Plastic Three Rooms will be brought out by Jantar Publishing. Budding UK translators keen to be part of this unprecedented boom in Czech literature in English can participate in the fourth annual international competition for young translators, who this year are asked to tackle an excerpt from Bianca Bellová’s The Lake by 31 March (see their call for submissions). Budding Czech-to-English translators can also dip into the treasure trove of tricky issues, complete with solutions generously shared by Melvyn Clarke, in his blog post Translating Hrdý Budžes.

Acclaimed writer Zuzana Brabcová, who sadly passed away in 2015, was posthumously awarded the Josef Škvorecký prize for her haunting last novel Voliéry [Aviaries]. And as the year drew to a close, scores of students and literature lovers mourned the loss of the legendary Fišer bookstore in Kaprova Street near Prague’s Old Town Square, which closed its doors after selling books since the 1930s.

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Monthly Update from the Asymptote Team

New year, same busy Asymptote members! Check out what we've been up to, from the page to the stage.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s translation project, ‘Sentences / Sententiae’, has been published in its current form in the latest issue of Almost Island. Her work also appears in Folder Magazine‘s latest print collection, and you can read a section of her recently-published translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia in The Guardian. 

‘After Orlando’, a theatre action piece co-led by Drama Editor Caridad Svich, was performed in New York and London, and featured in Exeunt Magazine. Her review of Chris Goode’s The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre in a Changing World, was also published in the Contemporary Theatre Review. 

India Editor-at-Large, Poorna Swami, has a poem in the third issue of Prelude Magazine. Her interview with art critic and photographer Sadanand Menon on ‘Nationalism and Dance’ has also been featured in Ligament. 

A new short story by English Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has been published in the latest issue of Out of Print, and another was published earlier in December in 3:AM Magazine. 

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek‘s New Year’s Eve round-up on ‘2016: A Year in Translation’ was published in The Oxford Culture Review. He also has a new poem in the current issue of The London Magazine. 

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao appeared on a segment of ABC iview’s ‘Bookish’ programme to discuss the question, “What is ‘Asian’ Literature?” Her novel, The Oddfits, appears on 2016’s ‘Top 5’ list of Superhero Novels 

Chile Editor-at-Large, Tomás Cohen, helped to present ‘Hafen Lesung #9‘, a multilingual literary evening in Hamburg. His poem, ‘Andarivel’ (from his collection, Redoble del ronroneo), was featured on Vallejo and Co., while a Greek translation of the same poem was also published this month in Vakxicon. 

Finally, if you missed it in December, check out Asymptote‘s lovely feature in The Hindu, and read the full version of our Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong’s interview on our blog!

*****

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Read More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your literary updates for the turn of the year from Brazil, India, Mexico, and more!

Before we jump into our weekly world news tours of 2017, here at the blog we wanted to look back at the waning days of 2016 and give the literary achievements that closed such an eventful year their full due. There is already so much we’re looking forward to in the year ahead, but no piece of writing or writer exists in a vacuum; each new publication, reading, and translation takes from and makes space within the existing cultural consciousness. To be able to understand the developments in the literary scenes around the world this year, we have to see the full scope of 2016’s progress. Luckily, Asymptote has eyes and ears in every hemisphere!  

First stop on the map: India, where we check in with our first contributor this week, PhD student of postcolonial literature Tanushree Vachharajani:

2016 saw a huge uprising across India for Dalit rights. The suicide of Hyderabad PhD student Rohit Vemula in January 2016 and the assault of a Dalit family of cow skinners in Una, Gujarat in June 2016 have led to a resurgence of Dalit identity in social and literary fields, along with much dissent and unrest about the government’s attitude towards lower castes. The Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi in Ahmedabad issued a special edition of their literary journal Hayati, on Dalit pride this fall under the editorship of Dr. Mohan Parmar. Also in September, under the editorship of Manoj Parmar, literary journal Dalit Chetna published a special edition on Dalit oppression, featuring works written by Dalit as well as non-Dalit writers.

The well-documented human rights violations continue to inspire a flood of responses. For the first time last month, Delhi saw a literary festival dedicated entirely to Dalit protest literature, offering a platform for Dalit regional literature and its translations into English, French, and Spanish to increase accessibility and broaden the demographic of its readers.

Dalit literature is also no longer in the realm of the purely literary. Inspired by the death of Rohit Vemula, three young activists from Mumbai—Nayantara Bhatkal, Prem Ayyathurai, and Shrujuna Shridhar—have set up the unofficially titled Dalit Panther Project for which phone numbers were collected on December 6, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s death anniversary. Through the popular social messaging app WhatsApp, they will transmit four videos on the origins and legacy of the Dalit Panther literary movement. The videos were shot at the homes of Dalit Panther supporters, and are in Hindi. The creators are also looking to bring out a full-length feature film on the subject this year.

Hearteningly, the Dalit community is pushing back strongly against abuse of any members of the lower castes. From threatening a sanitation strike to bringing Dalit literature into mainstream circles and creating inclusive literary institutions and awards, Dalit protest movements across India only seem to be getting stronger as the New Year begins.

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Highlights of Our 2016 (Part II)

2016, a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature

6. We launched ‘Around the World with Asymptote’—a uniquely unfiltered weekly window on world literature

In many ways, 2016 was a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature. For a while now, we’ve been uniquely equipped to identify and present literary discoveries from around the world. This year, after blog editor Allegra Rosenbaum stepped down, we decided to tap our invaluable network of editors-at-large for a new initiative: weekly global briefings aggregating localized dispatches from around the world. Below is an exhaustive list of all 29 countries from six collective continents we have reported on and from (click on the hyperlinks to revisit!):

Argentina, Argentina | Australia | Bangladesh, Bangladesh | Canada, Canada | CubaCzech Republic | EcuadorEgypt | FranceHong Kong | HungaryIndia, India | Israel | IranMexicoNepal | NigeriaNordic Countries, Nordic Countries | PakistanRomania, Romania | Singapore, Singapore, Singapore | Slovakia, Slovakia | South Africa, South Africa, South Africa, South Africa | Spain, Spain | TaiwanTibet | UK, UKUS, USUS, US, US| Zambia

7. Reviews, reviews, reviews!

This was the year we hit our stride with our “What’s New in Translation?” column, which aggregates medium-length staff reviews of world literature’s latest offerings, to facilitate discovery: revisit the 35 reviews from our January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November instalments and watch for the December edition coming up next week! Along with the 15 reviews we published collectively in the Criticism section of our Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall quarterly issues, and 13 stand-alone reviews elsewhere on the blog, we’ve covered 68 world literature titles altogether in 2016.

8. Massive publicity coordination leads to unprecedented spike in traffic for Fall 2016 issue

With Anita Raja, László Krasznahorkai, Stefan Zweig, György Spiró and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness in our lineup, as well as the need to publicize our upcoming translation contest judged by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu, we decided to announce the release of our Fall 2016 issue in a big way via:

  • Extensive social media promotion setting us back by about $500 USD
  • Video trailer (that I personally produced)
  • Newsletter announcing launch of issue
  • Publicity blitz on the day of launch
  • 4,000 postcards printed (with the contest announcement on the other side) and distributed in six continents (including at the annual American Literary Translators Association conference), costing around $500 USD
  • A quarter-page color ad in the print edition of The Times Literary Supplement (Oct 14 edition) and an online ad in their newsletter for the reduced rate of £900 ≈ $1,100 USD

To be honest, this was not money (or time) we could afford to spend (yes, we were going to receive a one-off grant of $8,400 USD from the National Arts Council of Singapore—our first and only grant in all these years—but this money was supposed to go toward covering the yawning deficit incurred from many years of promoting world literature). And who does video trailers for magazine issues anyway? Why bother? (*silent, eloquent gesture.* Tell us to unroll the red carpet elsewhere and we’ll do it.) Still, the issue got quite a bit of media attention (and hits) especially for the Anita Raja article, and that made it worth it.

9. We launch our first publicity packages specially tailored for publishers of world literature (or institutions invested in the promotion of their country’s literature)

15 March 2016 was a momentous day: I did something with Paypal that I’d never done before. I created an invoice from the Asymptote Journal account, charging for the first publicity package we ever sold. The idea for our business model was this: we would leverage our Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian, as well as the combined reach of our social media and our newsletters (more than 50,000 followers) to help publishers raise the visibility of their forthcoming or new releases, directly impacting book sales. Although the revenue received from partnering with 13 publishing houses in three continents all through 2016 is still nowhere near providing a full-time salary for any individual, the modest success of these publicity packages gives a glimmer of hope for Asymptote‘s long-term sustainability. If you belong to this specific target demographic and would like to take advantage of the channels we offer to raise the visibility of foreign authors in 2017 (while also supporting our mission), please take a look at this informational slideshow and get in touch! If you mention reading about this publicity package from this blog post, I’ll even offer you the 2016 introductory rate.

10. A year of invitations

In one of Lydia Davis’s very short stories, “The Fellowship,” she writes, “It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first. Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”

Being Singaporean, there’s no arts fellowship I’m eligible for (editing is still not recognized as a fundable activity according to the Singapore government, let alone an activity for which one receives a fellowship), but I have, in my capacity as Asymptote‘s editor-in-chief, received quite a few lovely invitations this year. Among them:

  • I judged the PEN International 2016 New Voices Award.
  • I spoke at a London Book Fair panel—my first—on “Discovering New Stories from Asia, Turkey, and Africa.” Although travel and accomodation were not part of the invitation, I was able to crash on the sofa of a university friend; the Translators Assocation of the Society of Authors in the UK also helped out with a travel subsidy for the onward part of the Taipei-London flight.
  • SUTD then paid for my onward flight from London to Singapore so that I could participate in a three-day conference on “The Art and Politics of Translation.” They also paid for my trip back to Taipei, which was great!

I make a point of mentioning all these travel arrangements (without which I am not able to take up the invitations), because I often get asked well-meaning questions along the lines of, “Asymptote‘s doing an event in ____; will I get to see you?” Yes, I’ve helped organize many global events (33 of them in fact), but I’m never actually present for them (unless I’m part of the panel itself), because of lack of funds. Back to the problem of perception I brought up in a prior blog post then: it must seem to our readers that we are coping financially, or even thriving, because we keep expanding our team and increasing our offerings. Ah, if only that were the case…

Thank you for keeping me company at the blog all through these three days, and a big thank you to all who were inspired to sign up as sustaining members over the past few days. Your generosity will give Asymptote extra lives to stay in the game. For those of you who are tempted to sign on, but vacillate still, please know that each additional sustaining member brings us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. And on top of everything your donation represents, it will also give us an invaluable psychological boost; that what we are doing makes a difference.

To end, here’s Forrest Gander on why Asymptote “contains the DNA for 21st century literary magazines.” A happy year-end from all of us at Asymptote!

Click here for Part I of “2016 Highlights.”

Highlights of Our 2016 (Part I)

Thanks to an incredible team behind me, 2016 was a startlingly good year for Asymptote.

1. Amazing scoops 

Where to begin? Interviews with Junot Díaz, Ann Goldstein, Yann Martel, László Krasznahorkai, Pierre Joris, Sawako Nakayasu and Ha Jin. Anita Raja‘s essay on “Translation as the Practice of Acceptance.” Sibylle Lacan on her psychoanalyst father, Jacques Lacan. Vicente Huidobro, one of the very first Latin American avant-garde poets. Jan Dammu and Rasool Yoonan, from the current issue. Hsia Yü. The visual artist and poet Caroline Bergvall. Rising fiction stars Youssef Rakha, Olga Tokarczuk, and Marek VadasPatrick Chamoiseau on Martiniquais writers. Experimental poems translated by Martin Rock and Joe Pan from the Japanese of Nenten Tsubouchi. Karina Lickorish Quinn‘s Spanglish contribution to our Multilingual Writing Special Feature. Drama by György Spiró. These were some of our favorite things.

2. Our eight events in three continents

This year, Asymptote celebrated its fifth anniversary by meeting readers in the flesh in three continents and five cities (New York, London, Ottawa, Chicago, Belgrade, and Hong Kong; photo documentation and event summaries can be found here). Attracting the biggest turnout with 165 attendees was the New York event held at The New School, featuring Ann Goldstein and Natasha Wimmer in conversation with Frederic Tuten. On the other side of the Atlantic, 2016 saw three Asymptote events at Waterstones, Piccadilly, in March, July, and September. The last, organized in honor of International Translation Day, had Adam Freudenheim, Laura Barber, Deborah Smith, and Laura Barber speaking to a sold-out room of 70, with moderator Jonathan Ruppin saying afterwards that Asymptote had become “a real force in London.”

3. Our partnership with The Guardian turns one

Promoted to The Guardian’s international readership, beyond the small circle of world literature aficionados, Asymptote’s showcase at The Guardian represents, for translators, an unparalleled reach in the English-speaking world. As editor of Translation Tuesdays, I either commissioned new work or partnered with publishing houses to present fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from five continents and twenty-nine countries (including underrepresented ones like Andorra, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Iran, and Congo). In curating for diversity, I attempted to correct a Eurocentric bias that has hitherto characterized the canon (European work accounted for just 41% of this year’s lineup; find the full breakdown by continent and country here). Watch this space for our final Translation Tuesday showcase of 2016 next week, where we present an extract of “Mountain of Light” by Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū, translated especially for the occasion by contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang.

4. We gave away $4,500 to six emerging translators

This year, we upped the ante and added one more category to our translation contest: Nonfiction. Awarding $4,500 USD (up from $3,000 in 2014) in prizes to six best emerging translators working into English were esteemed judges Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet and Margaret Jull Costa; additionally, we arranged with The Guardian to present the top entries in each category over three consecutive Tuesdays (one of them, Sean Gasper Bye’s translation of Filip Springer’s extraordinary History of a Disappearancewas even shared 2,275 times, attesting to the newspaper’s incredible reach). Note: this is now an annual contest, with the deadline for the next edition coming up Feb 1, 2017! As with the 2016 edition, we will also be arranging for the winning entries to be showcased in The Guardian, allowing them to be noticed the world over, and possibly launching careers. Find the details here.

5. Daniel Hahn became our resident Agony Uncle for a year

Fielding questions from curious/mystified international readers, Daniel Hahn presided over a monthly column for one entire year. (His last contribution here contains hyperlinks to all previous columns.) Along the way, he ruffled feathers and sparked controversy by opining that translators’ names needn’t necessarily be featured on covers. But mostly, Daniel’s very popular ‘Ask a Translator’ edified and entertained. When I reached out personally to thank Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member recently, she even singled out Daniel’s feature for praise:

As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote’s in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. ‘Ask a Translator’ by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavour to promote and disseminate world literature. 

Part II of ‘Highlights’ continues tomorrow.

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A look back at 2016’s content

A year of wanderlust in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, drama, visual art, and interviews!

Thanks for joining me at the blog! Before we get into the highlights proper, I thought it fitting to take a look at the number of countries we featured this year, or, rather, will have featured this year.

After next week, Asymptote will have published 170 articles (in nine different sections) via our Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall quarterly issues and 51 Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian.

Number of countries featured in the journal in 2016: 68

Number of countries featured in Translation Tuesdays in 2016: 29

Here are the breakdowns for each by continent and country:

asymptote2017tally2
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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Argentina, France, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and we can hardly believe it here at the Asymptote blog. 2016 has been difficult the world over, but that hasn’t stopped a flourishing of creative energy in literature and the arts—which may be of more importance now than ever. This week, we check in with Asymptote team members on the latest literary happenings in places they call (or have once called) home.

Our world tour begins in Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida brings us the latest:

As the year comes to an end, there has been a steady stream of literary festivals in Buenos Aires. Most recently, the sixth annual Fanzine Festi took place at the Convoi Gallery, which featured zines and underground presses like Tren en Movimiento, alcohol y fotocopias, Fábrica de Estampas, Ediciones de Cero, and many others. On the same weekend, Flipa (Fería del Libro Popular [Popular Book Fair]) took place at the Paco Urondo Cultural Center. This initiative, free and open to the public, came out of “Construyendo Cultura,” a collective of cultural spaces in Buenos Aires, and aims to create a editorial circuit that reaches “the largest possible number of authors, readers, and spaces for the diffusion…of collective, homegrown presses and graphic cooperatives.” This is just another example of the thriving DIY print culture in Buenos Aires. Also held recently was La Sensacíon, a monthly book fair held at the bookstore La Internacional in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. It boasts titles from independent presses such as Blatt & Ríos, Fadel & Fadel, Milena Caserola, and others.

Two recent conferences spotlighted 20th century poets: Alejandra Pizarnik and Susana Thenon. The former was held at the MALBA contemporary art museum, and brought together various contemporary writers and literary critics, such as María Negroni, Daniel Link, and Federica Rocco, to discuss different aspects of Pizarnik’s work. There was also a screening of Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito’s documentary, Alejandra. The latter was part of a series on gender and poetry presented by Arturo Jauretche University.

Ni Una Menos, the feminist advocacy group, recently led a march on November 25, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There was also a national assembly held the same day in public spaces in cities throughout the country, in which advocates and citizens made public demands for legalized abortion and stronger legislation for the prevention of gender violence, among other issues.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Spain, England, and Iran

Holidays are nearly upon us, but there is no rest in the world of literature. This Friday, Asymptote staff brings you dispatches from Spain, The United Kingdom, and Iran. Spain mourns the death of poet Adolfo Cueto, says Editor-at-Large Layla Benitez-James, while her colleague M. René Bradshaw has plenty of awards news from the UK. To wrap up, Editor-at-Large for Iran Poupeh Missaghi writes about the recent scandal involving the late poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad. 

Layla Benitez-James, our Podcast Editor, gives us the rundown on literary awards and new publications:  

Many in Spain’s creative community are mourning the death of Spanish poet Adolfo Cueto who passed away unexpectedly in Madrid on Sunday, December 4 at the young age of 47. His collection of poetry, Dragados y Construcciones, won him the Premio Alarcos de Poesía in 2010, followed by the Ciudad de Burgos de Poesía in 2013 for Diverso.es, and the Manuel Alcántara Prize in 2016.

As Spanish writers come to terms with losing one of their literary greats, they are also celebrating the accomplishments of Eduardo Mendoza, who has just won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize. The award celebrates an author’s entire career, and for Mendoza, the honor comes on the heels of the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Premio al “Libro del Año,” Premio de Novela Fundación José Manuel Lara Premio de la Cultura de Catalunya, and the Premio Franz Kafka, among many others. Mendoza was born in Barcelona in 1943, and his win has been especially heartwarming to the city. A group of young writers born after the invention of the prize in 1976 were inspired to get together and talk about the modern state of writing in Spain and Barcelona’s role as a key literary city.

The work of twelve important writers is about to debut in a new collection, Mujer, lenguaje y poesía, which will be forthcoming early in the New Year. Poets Alicia García Núñez, Lola Nieto, Laia López Manrique, Miriam Reyes, Chus Pato, Flavia Company, and Elena Medel, among others, will appear in this new anthology which hopes to expand the contemporary conversation of poetry in the country.

Further discussion and promotion of modern verse took place at the event “Displaced Verses: Nomadic Poetry Recital,” part of the recent Encuentro euroMediterráneo, a meeting of creative people showing solidarity with refugees. Participants hailed from eighteen Euro-Mediterranean countries: Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The conference continued the trend of poets and writers in Spain taking an active role in advocating for human rights, highlighting the overlap of the poetic and the political.

In a similar spirit, María Isabel Quiñones, also known as Martirio, dedicated her recent Premio Nacional de Músicas Actuales 2016 to “young people who are ready to fight.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Tibet, North America, and South Africa.

Friday, as you well know, is world literature news day here at Asymptote. This week, we delve into news from three continents. In Asia, Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has been following the Tibetan literary discussion, while in North America, Blog Editor Nina Sparling is keeping a close eye on post-election developments. Finally, we go to South Africa where Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs has plenty of awards news. 

Social Media Manager Sohini Basak sends us this fascinating report on the Tibetan literary scene:

Some very interesting work on Tibetan literature is in the pipelines, as we found out from writer and researcher Shelly Bhoil Sood. Sood is co-editing two anthologies of academic essays (forthcoming from Lexington Books in 2018) on Tibetan narratives in exile with Enrique Galvan Alvarez. These books will offer a comprehensive study of different cultural and socio-political narratives crafted by the Tibetan diaspora since the 1950s, and will cover the literary works of writers such as Jamyang Norbu, Tsewang Pemba, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Tenzin Tsundue as well as look at the cinematographic image of Tibet in the West and the music and dance of exile Tibet.

Speaking to Asymptote, Shelly expressed concern for indigenous Tibetan languages: ‘It is unfortunate that the condition of exile for Tibetans, while enabling secular education in English and Hindi, has been detrimental to the Tibetan language literacy among them.’ She also pointed towards important work being done by young translators of Tibetans like Tenzin Dickie and Riga Shakya and UK-based Dechen Pemba, who is dedicated to making available in English several resistance and banned writings from Tibet, including the blog posts of the Sinophone Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser (who is prohibited from travelling outside Tibet), on highpeakspureearth.com.

At Himal magazine, which Asymptote reported in an earlier column will suspend operations from November due to “non-cooperation of regulatory state agencies in Nepal”, writer and scholar Bhuchung D Sonam has pointed to another facet of Tibetan literature, in what could be one of the last issues of the magazine. In his essay, Sonam looks at the trend in Tibetan fiction to often use religion and religious metaphors as somewhat formulaic devices which ‘leaves little space for exploration and intellectual manoeuvring’. He sees this trend being adopted by several writers as a challenge to locate themselves ‘between the need to earn his bread and desire to write without fear, and between the need to tell a story and an urge to be vocal about political issues and faithful to religious beliefs.’ READ MORE…

November News from the Asymptote team

From erotica in translation to magazine launches, no rest for world literature!

Spanish Social Media Manager Arthur Dixon has helped to found Latin American Literature Today, a new online literary journal, with support from World Literature Today! He will serve as its Managing Editor when it launches on January 31, 2017.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursać will be part of an evening of readings in translation at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on December 17, 2016, presented by Harlequin Creature. Her translation of Dubravka Ugrešić’s brilliant address on receiving the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 has been published on LitHub.

Slovakia Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood‘s co-translation (with Peter Sherwood) of Uršuľa Kovalyk’s short story “Julia” was published in the latest issue of SAND, Berlin’s English literary journal.

Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large, Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, will be launching an anthology of contemporary Romanian erotic poetry in New York together with past Asymptote contributor Martin Woodside.  Another contributor to the project is Ruxandra Cesereanu, the primary editor of Moods & Women & Men & Once Again Moods.

Editor-at-Large for India Poorna Swami‘s poetry reading in Bangalore was featured by The Hindu, Metro Plus. Her poem “River Letters” was published in Prelude, Volume 3. She also wrote a blog piece on the politics of social media friendship for The Huffington Post, India. She has been long-listed for the 2017 Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English).

English Social Media Manager Thea Hawlin‘s ‘five-point guide’ to avant-garde artist Yves Klein was published in AnOther magazine.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek  placed Second in the Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation, and his translation of Wong Yoon Wah’s poem, ‘Shadow Puppets’, was featured in The Guardian‘s Translation Tuesday series in collaboration with Asymptote. He was also part of recent poetry readings at the Woodstock Poetry Festival and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao has had two translations and a short story published in BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—a “best of” anthology of short fiction by cult writers from East and Southeast Asia that aims to counter the tokenistic way Asian writing is often curated in the West.

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More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Slovakia, Hungary, and the Nordic countries.

Friday is once again upon us, dear Asymptoters! This time, our report brings you the latest literature in translation news from Europe. Editor-at-Large for Slovakia Julia Sherwood has been at the Central European Forum conference and Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen attended the Helsinki Book Fair, while Zsofia Paulikovics has an update from Hungary. Enjoy the ride!

Editor-at-Large for Slovakia Julia Sherwood has these stories from Slovakia:

On 20 October, the emerging writer Dominika Madro’s story Svätyňa [Sanctuary] won the annual short story contest Poviedka 2016. Now in its twentieth year, the competition is run by the publisher Koloman Kertész Bagala and all submissions are anonymous. This year’s runner-up was the story Šváby [Cockroaches] by novelist and Elena Ferrante’s Slovak translator and Asymptote contributor Ivana Dobrakovová.

A survey of reading habits, commissioned by the Slovak Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association, has recently published very depressing findings: 72 percent of the public don’t buy a single book in any year; 40 percent read books only once a month and 28 percent don’t read at all. Nevertheless, judging by the crowds attending a huge variety of literary events taking place across the capital, Bratislava, over the past month, the picture isn’t perhaps quite as bleak as these figures suggest.

Slovak-Swiss writer and journalist Irena Brežná, Polish novelist Grażyna Plebanek, and recent Neustadt Prize winner Dubravka Ugrešić sought antidotes for despair as part of Bratislava’s annual Central European Forum conference from 11 to 13 November (video recordings here); Dubravka Ugrešić also read from her book of essays, Europe in Sepia, which will be published soon in a Slovak translation by Tomáš Čelovský. Parallel with the conference, some 200 publishers displayed their recent publications at the Bibliotéka Book Fair, held in the somewhat drab Incheba exhibition halls and vying for space with a “World of Minerals” exhibition. At the Centre for the Information of Literature stand two young authors, Peter Balko and Peter Prokopec, along with graphic designer David Koronczi, introduced their new “anti-logy” of Slovak writing. Aimed at schools but very far from being a stuffy textbook, Literatúra bodka sk (Literature.dot.sk) aims to show that contemporary authors inhabit the same world and share the same sensibilities as young readers, and includes samples of fiction and non-fiction as well as a graphic novel, Rudo, by Daniel Majling. Rudo started life as a Facebook cartoon strip and has now been issued in book form by Czech publisher Labyrint (in a Czech translation!).

slovakiaimage_rudo_obalka

On the other side of the Danube, housed inside the Slovak National Gallery and overlooking the river, Café Berlinka is fast establishing itself as a vibrant literary venue, in association with the adjoining Ex Libris bookshop. Since September 2016, the café has been hosting Literárny kvocient [Literature quotient], a series of debates featuring leading literature scholars and critics.  Of the many book launches that took place over the past few weeks, the liveliest must have been the feminist press Aspekt’s presentation of a selection of poems by Hungarian activist poet Virág Erdős, Moja vina [My Fault].  The book was translated into Slovak by Eva Andrejčáková (a past Asymptote blog contributor) in cooperation with poet Vlado Janček, who read some of the hilariously outrageous poems to his own guitar accompaniment (you can watch Virág Erdős perform “Van egy ország”/ “There is a Country” in Hungarian with the band Rájátszás here). READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from South Africa, Nigeria, Hong Kong, and Singapore

Catch up with latest book festivals, translation awards, and advances in the fight against free speech restrictions with the Asymptote team this week. Editor-at-Large for Hong Kong Charlie Ng reports on the a new PEN branch, while Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek sends us the scoop on graffiti-poetry and more from Singapore. Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs knows the best new publications coming out of South Africa and Nigeria and takes us along on the lit festival circuit. 

Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan calls in the news from Hong Kong:

PEN Hong Kong was re-established this September. The official launch of the organisation was held on 13 November to introduce its mission, work, and founding members to the community of writers, journalists, translators, publishers, and those interested in writing or concerned with free expression in Hong Kong. The re-launch at this timely moment is aimed at addressing the restraints on freedom of speech in Hong Kong in face of tightening political control from the Chinese Government, seen in such incidents as the disappearance of five members of a Hong Kong bookstore that sold publications critical of Chinese leaders. Additionally, Beijing’s interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law has led to the disqualification of two newly elected pro-democratic Legislative Councillors.

Besides featuring the launch of PEN Hong Kong, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this year put together a broad range of activities for all literary lovers. Hong Kong-born, Chinese-British poet and winner of the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize Sarah Howe read from her poetry collection Loop of Jade and gave a lecture at the University of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, renowned Chinese Misty poet Bei Dao also gave a poetry reading in the Festival. The two panels, ‘Lost and Found in Translation I and II‘, shed light on the significance of translation for poetry, fiction, and cultural exchange.

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