Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The magazine was being “silenced not by direct attack or overt censorship but [by] the use of the arms of bureaucracy to paralyse its functioning.”

The first stop on our world tour takes us Down Under with Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern, who brings us the latest on book awards and the state of the arts industry in Australia. Switching hemispheres, we then join Blog Editor Nina Sparling in the US, where she has the update on must-see, Spanish-language author events and hot new publications. Then we’re off to Nepal where Social Media Manager Sohini Basak reports on everything from the shrinking freedom of the press to poetry slams.

Editor-at-Large Beau Lowenstern brings us the latest in lit from Australia:

Spring in Australia kicked off with the announcement of the winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award on the opening night of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The award, established in 1954, is Australia’s most prestigious literary honor and celebrates uniquely Australian works. A.S. Patrić won for his debut novel Black Rock White City, which explores the immigrant experience amidst the carnage of war and isolation.

The festival offered a full week of incredible events. Maxine Beneba Clarke, known as one of the boldest and most prolific literary voices in Australia today, opened the first night. Her forthcoming memoir, The Hate Race, frames topics like violence and racism in the Australia of her childhood and opens a dialogue much-needed today. The remainder of the festival saw contributions from such names as PJ Harvey, Geoff Dyer, Lionel Shriver, A.C. Grayling, Eimear McBride, and Lev Grossman, with special showcases on identity and feminist writing.

Literary festivals like those that take place each year in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide have increasingly become the backbone of the country’s literary community. Australian arts and literature have been the victims of significant budget cuts in recent years, with 2015 seeing a more than 20 percent reduction in funds to one of the nation’s leading arts organizations. Against this backdrop, it’s even more encouraging to see the positive response to such literary events and the vibrant cultural scene continuing to flourish in new ways.

Blog Editor Nina Sparling has the scoop from the United States:

This week in North America, as we stagger under the heavy weight of this contentious election season, writers, critics, and literary folks are celebrating Banned Books Week. It seems a fitting moment to focus on the voices of those courageous, innovative writers whose work has been censored, and to meditate on the political and cultural moments that produced their repression. In Washington, D.C., the public library system hid hundreds of copies of banned books in bookstores in a citywide scavenger hunt. The New York Public Library kept it digital with a multiple-choice quiz where readers can guess the reason for a book’s prohibition.

The end of September also brought the publication of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run. It may be the brightest American story this fall, and has been met with warm critical reception. A new biography of novelist Shirley Jackson looks deeper into a different part of the American conscious. Lit Hub looks at the stark dearth biographies of women writers, and why we would benefit from more.

Tensions have run high this month as a debate over the politics of representation and how to address cultural appropriation in works of fiction took hold between Lionel Shriver, writing in the opinion pages of The New York Times, and her critics at The Guardian and The New Republic, where Shriver’s views were met with biting criticism.

Just this week, The Times published a second editorial where writer Kaitlyn Greenidge asks the question: who gets to write what?

In prizes and awards, poet and author Claudia Rankine won a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. Last year, Rankine published Citizen, an acclaimed collection of poetry and exceptional treatment of race in America, and she has now said, “I do feel like I am just incidental in a certain way to the prize, and that the prize is being given to the subject — that I am completely invested in.”

In events, this coming week New Yorkers can look forward to conversations with and about avant-garde Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas. New Directions published his most recent book, Vampire in Love, this month. Valeria Luiselli will moderate a discussion between Vila-Matas and Paul Auster at the Instituto Cervantes, and McNally Jackson Books will also host a Spanish-language conversation with writers Eduardo Lago and Álvaro Enrigue, among others.

Finally, Social Media Manager Sohini Basak reports from Nepal:  

On 24 August, Himal Southasian announced that it would have to stop its publication after November 2016. Run out of Lalitpur by the not-for-profit Southasia Trust, Himal is a quarterly news and analysis magazine promoting “cross border journalism.” The decision, as stated on their website, was that the magazine was being “silenced not by direct attack or overt censorship but [by] the use of the arms of bureaucracy to paralyse its functioning.” Anuradha Sharma, reporting at Scroll.in, suggests that the shutdown of the magazine has deeper political undercurrents. Rabi Thapa, writer and editor of La.Lit magazine, said, “La.Lit stands in solidarity with Himal Southasia, the imminent termination of which is a worrying symptom of an anti-democratic malaise creeping across the region.” Meanwhile, one of the country’s key journalists and publishers, Kunda Dixit, who founded the Nepal Center for Investigative Journalism, has gone into exile. Dixit has allegedly received threats since he has been the subject of an investigation by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority. And on top of recent events, the Press Council Nepal issued a revised Code of Journalistic Ethics in a bid to make the media and the press “more responsible towards the nation and society.”

Still, the first ever national-level poetry slam was held in September. Organized by Nepal’s spoken word group Word Warriors in association with Quixote’s Cove, the competition saw participation from 32 young poets from 8 districts of Nepal. Talking to Asymptote about the young poets, Word Warriors co-founder Yukta Bajracharya said, “There were poems that dealt with issues of identity, poems that raised voices against the structural injustice prevalent in our society, poems that brought out stories of individuals that somehow we don’t hear enough in mainstream platforms or media … about the Chhaupadi tradition that [a participant’s] sister and many other women in Far West region of Nepal have to go through during their menstruation. There were poems about being bullied in school for having a dark skin tone. There were poems about struggles of being born as a girl and not being accepted in the family.” The Word Warriors also organized Word Express: the Spoken Word Jatra, where young poets from India (Rochelle D’silva and Divya Dureja), Malaysia (Melizarani T Selva), Pakistan (Zainab Zahra Syed), the Philippines (Zuela Herrera), Singapore (Deborah Emmanuel), and the United States (Sarah Kay) came together to discuss the evolving role of poetry in society, and the power of the spoken word as a tool for activism.

This year’s prestigious Madan Puraskar, a national literary award, will be given to Ram Lal Joshi for his short story collection Aina, and the veteran writer Lil Bahadur Chettri will be honoured with the Jagadamba Shree award for his contribution to the Nepali literature and language.

In publishing, Head of Zeus recently came out with an English anthology of fiction and non-fiction titled House of Snow: An Anthology of the Greatest Writing about Nepal, the profits of which go to rebuilding schools that were affected by the devastating earthquake of 2015. The book has works from heavyweights like Prashant Jha, Lakshmiprasad Devkota, Lil Bahadur Chettri, and Samrat Upadhyay, as well as from a younger generation of Nepali writers including Jemima Diki Sherpa, Weena Pun, and Itisha Giri. Based on this review, I’d definitely like to get my hands on a copy. Manjushree Thapa’s new novel, All of Us in Our Own Lives, likewise comes highly recommended. Asymptote also spoke to Ruzel Sreshtha of Ratna Pustak, the oldest publishing house in Nepal, about Nepali titles available in English. Shreshtha suggested the UNESCO prize-winning collection of Nepalese folk tales recently translated by Karunakar Vaidya; authors like Diamond Samsher Rana and Umala Acharya; and Eda Upadhyaya’s poetry collection My Winding Path. The Nepali Times highlighted a beautiful and moving new collaboration this week, Nepal Himalaya: A Journey through Time, by Lisa Choegyal with photographs by Sujoy Das. Also look out for upcoming issues of La.Lit magazine, with pieces in both English and Nepali. Editor Rabi Thapa told Asymptote: “Our next print issue, due to be launched at the Kumaon Literary Festival in India, October 2016, is a Green Issue, while our Spring 2017 issue will focus on translations from the margins of Nepali society, guest edited by Manjushree Thapa.” Count me in!


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