Weekly News Roundup, 29th November 2013: Translation Slamming, Million-dollar books, Literary dress-up

A look at some of the most important literary news of the past week

“Competitive translating” may sound absurd—but it’s happening (and I wish it had been around in my high school gym class). Translators spar in competitive translation duels put on by London’s Free Word Centre. This week, translators Ollie Brock and Rosalind Harvey went head-to-head with a selection by Mario Vargas Llosa, competing for recognition in a field where invisibility is the supposed ideal. Translation is still scary at Harper’s, where journalist Duncan Murrell muses on misinterpreting his interpreter. (Meanwhile, in case you missed it: our own Aditi Machado thinks hard about translating, bilingual publishing,  and reading “across the gutter”).

After this week, you might be tempted to believe that literature is a lot more lucrative than popularly thought.  Sotheby’s auctioned off the Bay Psalm Book, North America’s earliest English-language printed book, for a whopping $14.2 million, and the New York Public Library has acquired Tom Wolfe’s papers for 2.15 million. Want a bestseller of your own? It turns out that moneyed writers craving bestselling books can actually buy their way to the top of the lists.

If you don’t have cash to spare, win an award: the European Union Prize for Literature award winners have been announced, highlighting contemporary literature from every EU country. This year’s awardees include Denmark’s Kristian Bang Foss’ Death drives an Audi and Romanian writer Ioana Pârvulescu’s Life Begins on Friday, among many others. In Indonesia, the Khatulistiwa Award for prose goes to author Leila S. Chudori for her novel Homecoming, examining Indonesia, exile, and coming home in the rise and fall of its erstwhile president Soeharto. In the poetry category, Afrizal Malna triumphs for Document Destroyer Museum. If nobody wins, they all win:  Iran’s Book Week wrapped up without naming any winners for the highly anticipated Jalal Ale Ahmad Award. Luckily, the country might start circulating another award-winner in the form of Iranian author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s The Colonel. Looks like the Jan Michalski Award-winning dissident novel might finally be published in Iran.

While Iran seems to be loosening up on censorship, Russia remains rigid. This week, President Vladimir Putin tried to butter up its intellectuals by playing bizarre literary dress-up at the All-Russia Literary Gathering in Moscow. But the literati aren’t buying it, and Russia’s contemporary writers remain skeptical of Putin’s questionable policies. Russia’s literary canon is unassailable, but Canadian writing remains a bit more ambiguous… At The Globe and Mail, Russell Smith asks: why do we struggle with what makes Canadian literature? In North Korea, it looks like the idea of a “national literature” takes a futuristic turn: on the popularity of the country’s own brand of science fiction.

110-year old pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer celebrates her life and looks back at meeting the likes of Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. In unhappier news, this week saw the passing of Los Angeles poet (and Asymptote alum) Wanda Coleman, the “unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles.” Coleman’s influence over the L.A. arts scene is undeniable, and she will be missed.

Finally, how do we end this (not-so) nicely? Period.