Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

I wrote whenever anything struck me. As I started to write, I began to revive little by little, from my fingernails to my hair.

Happy Friday, readers! The Asymptote team has some exciting news: starting this week, we will be replacing our Friday literary news round-up with a more diverse and decidedly international column, brought to you by our team members around the world. We’ll have the latest and most pertinent updates on the literary scenes from various regions each week, from national trends to local events. This is your one-stop, world tour!

Starting this week in India, Poorna Swami, Editor-at-Large for India, updates us by region:

Noted Assamese poet Nalinidhar Bhattacharya passed away on September 2 in Guwahati at the age of 95. The Sahitya Akademi Award winner’s books include five poetry collections, five essay collections, and even a translation of Dr. Zhivago into Assamese.

But while the country lost a literary great, it also regained one. Tamil writer Perumal Murugan ended his self-determined literary exile on August 22. His reentry in to the literary world comes a year and a half after he publicly declared to quit writing because his book, Madhorubhagan [One-Part Woman], faced attacks from Hindu fundamentalist and caste-based groups. He had said on his Facebook page: “Perumal Murugan the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself.”

Murugan reversed this declaration with the New Delhi launch of a new book of poems titled Kozhaiyin Padalgal. In his recent statement he said of writing in exile: “I wrote whenever anything struck me. As I started to write, I began to revive little by little, from my fingernails to my hair. It was poetry that saved me.” He also made it clear that he is not interested in public interviews: “Please do not ask to me speak. Let me be quiet. And write. I shall speak to you through my written words.”

Down south, in Bangalore, only a few days after his resurrection, a new book club called A Mixed Bag of Books (MBB) discussed Murugan’s One-Part Woman (translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan) for their first session. Led by Sanskrit translator Arshia Sattar and writer Samhita Arni, this monthly club is held at local arts venue Shoonya.

Arni says in an email to Asymptote, “I think in our day-to-day lives, without a book club or some sort of forum to discuss what we’ve read, we often don’t engage with literature with depth. My hope is that the forum creates a place for this, a reason to read more deeply, passionately and critically.”

Unlike a typical book club that might focus only on the classics or the latest award-winning titles, MBB selects books from a variety of genres. “I often resent the idea that only literary fiction can be thought-provoking,” Arni says, “I liked the idea of a ‘mixed bag’ where one goes beyond literary fiction—to explore science fiction, thrillers, etc.”

The next session of MMB will discuss Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness at Shoonya on September 27 at 5 PM.

In the meantime, neighboring states Tamil Nadu and Karnataka continue their longstanding dispute over access to Kaveri river water. Following a Supreme Court judgment to increase Tamil Nadu’s daily river water allowance, many regionalist protests have sprouted across both states. This agitation spread to the literary community, too, when on September 11, a Kannada (widely spoken in Karnataka) literature event in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, was disrupted and shut down by members of Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, a Dravidian Nationalist (pro-Tamil) group.

Switching hemispheres, Blog Editor Madeline Jones reports from North America:

South of the border, Hubert Martínez, a tlapaneco poet, was awarded Mexico’s highest literary prize for works in indigenous languages last week. Mexico’s cultural minister, Eduardo Vásquez Martín, presented him with the honor at the third annual Festival of Indigenous Cultures, Peoples, and Native Neighborhoods. Hopefully we’ll see translations of Martínez’s work in the near future, but in the meantime, check out these translations from Mexican indigenous languages Isthmus Zapotec and Nahuatl featured by Asymptote in the past. As the second anniversary of the Iguala Mass Kidnapping (in which 43 Mexican students were disappeared) approaches on September 26, we also invite you to revisit our “Say Ayotzinapa project”, a special feature in twenty languages accompanied by a preface written especially for the occasion by Valeria Luiselli.

In the US, writers are marking the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks with poignant essays and remembrances, like Samantha K Smith’s difficult piece this week in Guernica Daily about her father’s experience as a firefighter.

And for our world travelers, anyone planning a trip to Los Angeles should be sure to check out Lithub’s literary tour of the city—there’s much more than the celebs and palm trees that meet the eye! If you’re stuck on the east coast, don’t fret, though, because tomorrow kicks off the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, sporting a particularly stellar lineup this year, including Salman Rushdie, Angela Flournoy, Jacqueline Woodson, Hua Hsu, Margo Jefferson, and more.

To the north, the Scotiabank Giller Prize for Canadian fiction just announced its 2016 Longlist, and Canada’s Word on the Street festival will host literary events and live readings across the country this September. Get the city-by-city update here.

And last stop for today, we check in with MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova, on the latest in the Romanian literary scene:

The DADA centennial anniversary was marked last week in Iowa City by a series of events bringing together a band of poets and visual artists flying in straight out of DADAist poet Tristan Tzara’s homecountry, Romania, and a number of writers and researchers in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Writing Program, as well as the International DADA Archive at The University of Iowa Libraries. The Romanians—Anca Bucur, Ștefan Buzea, Cristina Florentina Budar, Iulia Militaru, Sergiu Nisioi, and Andra Rotaru (or in one word the group frACTalia)—whose project “Manifest(atiOn) pro/con DADA” selected and endorsed by the Romanian Cultural Institute involved an exhibition, a performance, and a round table, ride the crest of a wave of events and publications spanning the past two years in Romania commemorating the traditional avant gardes.

Romanian writers and authors present the Project Manifestation pro con DADA in Iowa

Romanian writers and authors present the Project Manifestation pro/con DADA in Iowa

The buzz they caused in Iowa City was paralleled by the announcement made in Bucharest of a forthcoming release, a book of “Avant-gardes Marginalia” collecting essays and lectures given by critic Dan Gulea in foremost venues such as the Romanian Academy. Gulea also mixes literary (critical) discourse with visual—and book cover—art analysis in questioning and disrupting the primacy of “Text” in the literary and cultural criticism of DADAism, surrealism, and other historical and contemporary avant-gardes in Romania and beyond.


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