Weekly News Roundup, 22nd August 2014: PEN Awards, Don’t Kill Lawyers!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Congratulations are in order: a virtual round of applause to the Asymptote contributors and staff lauded in the 2014 PEN Translation Fund winners: blog friend, interviewer, and invaluable assistant managing editor Eric M. B. Becker, for his translation of 2014 Neustadt winner and Mozambican author Mia Couto; and contributing editor Sayuri Okamoto for translating Japanese author Gozo Yoshimasu (“untranslatable?” ha! Just take a whiff of our January 2011 issue); former contributor Benjamin Paloff for his work with Czech writer Richard Weiner; and Philip Metres and Dmitri Psurtsev for their work with Russian writer Arseny Tarkovsky (sneak peek in our October 2012 issue). Felicitations!

In unhappier news, this week witnessed the passing of Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, dubbed the “lioness of Iran” and revolutionary to the very end

If you’ve learned—or are learning—another language, you’ve undoubtedly felt somewhat ape-like at one point or another (gesticulations are key!). But what do we learn about humans when we teach animals, like the famous gorilla, Koko, language? At the Boston Review, Drew Calvert ponders the age-old translation question: to what extent does language predetermine our thought? Predictably—and perhaps luckily!—an experiment of sorts, in Chinese-English poetry, reading, and translation raises more questions than answers. Speaking of interpretation: in typical lawyerly fashion, some unhappy attorneys dispute the famous Shakespearean lawyer-killing quote emblazoned on coffee cups and T-shirts across the globe (“the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”).

It feels like just yesterday that we reported on NPR’s This American Life inspiring a Spanish-language counterpart: now Mishy Harman has brought the auditory storytelling format to Israel, in a Hebrew-language radio program called Israel Story (stay. with. us). Speaking of trends, you may or may not follow (or have been invited to follow) Brazilian-born bestseller factory Paulo Coelho on Twitter—here’s the secret of the writer’s social media empire, which surpasses any other. Perhaps Coelho would have a bone to pick with Kenneth Goldsmith, who proclaims in an interview with Sheila Heti that “Twitter is not art” (but it remains the “revenge of modernism”). And here is a Twitter bot that chooses a word, then draws randomly until an OCR library recognizes that same word (reminds us of asemic writing)… Hashtags sure are pervasive, though: #YOLO has made it to the venerated stacks of the Oxford English Dictionary. Speaking of interviews, the notoriously private (and BTBA nominee!) Italian writer Elena Ferrante in conversation with American Vogue. 

Finally, just to make sure: this is how you know if you are in French writer Honoré de Balzac’s novels (answer these questions: are you from the provinces? Do you enjoy playing whist? Have you naught a penny in your pocket?).