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.’

Blog Editor Nina Sparling has the following update from North America:

The future is uncertain in North America. November brought the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and it has been—and I hope remains—difficult to divorce anything since from the shadow the coming transition of power casts. Among many responses and contributions from literary communities, LitHub shared a list of fifty books “for your anger and your action,” while Representative John Lewis celebrated the importance of reading at all when his work March: Book Three won a National Book Award in post-election November.

Just days after the presidential election, A Tribe Called Quest dropped its much-anticipated sixth album, “We Got it From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service.” Rumored for eighteen years, the album is thick with refreshing discontent and familiar tone. As Marcus J. Moore wrote in The Nation of the timely album release, “A Tribe Called Quest is built for situations like this. For almost 30 years, the alt-rap collective has made music about love: the respect of self and community, and the adoration for all people.” The song “We the People…” catches the vibe clean and clear.

In the Chicago Reader, Ryan Smith and literary theorist Walter Ben Michaels also discuss division and criticism in a conversation centered on the publication of a tenth anniversary edition of Michaels’ controversial 2006 book The Trouble With Diversity. Michaels has received acute and pointed criticism for its argument that the American left has abandoned conversation about inequality in favor of discussions about discrimination. The current political (and social, and economic) condition in the United States might cast the work, published in a new tenth anniversary edition this year, in a different light—or at least encourage more readers.

In the last days of the month, attention turned towards Cuba, too, as America and its neighbors face the future with greater and greater uncertainty. The reactions to the death of Fidel Castro ranged from the downright celebratory, to the more solemn and meditative. It seems a fitting time to revisit an interview re-published in the Paris Review between the late Castro and photographer Lee Lockwood. Conducted in 1959, Castro discusses art, literature, and censorship—questions on the minds of many readers dubious of President-elect Donald Trump’s apparent disinterest in First Amendment rights.

Alice Inggs, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large in South Africa brings you the latest news from the area:

The South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), a statistical research institute that charts the impact of the cultural and creative industries in South Africa, has recently been engaged in building a digital and physical library to assist research on arts, culture, heritage, and economics. Multiple editions of local and international texts have been acquired. The expanding collection includes books, microforms and microfiches, music scores, non-print material, out of print material, pamphlets and serials, among other resources. This comes in the wake of the partial loss of a number of university library collections during student protests in September this year.

Lesotho’s annual Ba re e ne re Literature Festival is set to take place from 9–11 December, starting with a slam poetry event and the launch of short story anthology, Likheleke tsa puo. The festival theme is “Finding your voice” and both national and international authors will be in attendance, including Masande Ntshanga (The Reactive), Ace Moloi (Holding My Breath), and Thato Mochone (Martin Luther King Fellow), among others. The “Liepollo Rantekoa Keynote” address will be given by the celebrated South African writer Sindiwe Magona. The event will conclude with a workshop hosted by Alliance Française (Maseru) and Short Story Day Africa.

In awards news, the Golden Baobab, Africa’s “Newbery Prize”, has been awarded to two South African children’s authors: Lori-Ann Preston (The Ama-zings!) and Vennessa Scholtz (Kita and the Red, Dusty Road).

The longlist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature, a Pan African fiction prize, has been announced. Notable inclusions in the longlist are Nigeria’s Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday) and South Africa’s Nakhane Touré (Piggy Boy’s Blues). Author-musician Touré’s debut is also to be taught in 2017 at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee in a course titled “The Contemporary African Novel.” Previous Etisalat winners include the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83, translated by Roland Glasser, 2015,) and Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names, 2013).


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