Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Argentina, France, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and we can hardly believe it here at the Asymptote blog. 2016 has been difficult the world over, but that hasn’t stopped a flourishing of creative energy in literature and the arts—which may be of more importance now than ever. This week, we check in with Asymptote team members on the latest literary happenings in places they call (or have once called) home.

Our world tour begins in Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida brings us the latest:

As the year comes to an end, there has been a steady stream of literary festivals in Buenos Aires. Most recently, the sixth annual Fanzine Festi took place at the Convoi Gallery, which featured zines and underground presses like Tren en Movimiento, alcohol y fotocopias, Fábrica de Estampas, Ediciones de Cero, and many others. On the same weekend, Flipa (Fería del Libro Popular [Popular Book Fair]) took place at the Paco Urondo Cultural Center. This initiative, free and open to the public, came out of “Construyendo Cultura,” a collective of cultural spaces in Buenos Aires, and aims to create a editorial circuit that reaches “the largest possible number of authors, readers, and spaces for the diffusion…of collective, homegrown presses and graphic cooperatives.” This is just another example of the thriving DIY print culture in Buenos Aires. Also held recently was La Sensacíon, a monthly book fair held at the bookstore La Internacional in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. It boasts titles from independent presses such as Blatt & Ríos, Fadel & Fadel, Milena Caserola, and others.

Two recent conferences spotlighted 20th century poets: Alejandra Pizarnik and Susana Thenon. The former was held at the MALBA contemporary art museum, and brought together various contemporary writers and literary critics, such as María Negroni, Daniel Link, and Federica Rocco, to discuss different aspects of Pizarnik’s work. There was also a screening of Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito’s documentary, Alejandra. The latter was part of a series on gender and poetry presented by Arturo Jauretche University.

Ni Una Menos, the feminist advocacy group, recently led a march on November 25, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There was also a national assembly held the same day in public spaces in cities throughout the country, in which advocates and citizens made public demands for legalized abortion and stronger legislation for the prevention of gender violence, among other issues.

We head next to the northern hemisphere where Blog Editor Nina Sparling reports on the events in France she is following from afar:

Last month, in the southern city of Arles, ATLAS (the association for the promotion of literary translation) hosted its annual conference on literary translation. This year’s theme was “L’Empire Contre-Ecrit.” The event featured speakers, panel discussions, poetry readings, and workshops, welcoming writers and translators from across the world. The programming addressed the complications of language and power through multiple forms of conflict and tension, and the challenges and opportunities of translating how different worldviews are expressed in literature.

This week, Mathias Enard, the 2015 winner of the Prix Goncourt for his novel Boussole [Compass, tr. Charlotte Mandel, New Directions,] will read at l’Arbre à Lettres in Paris, a bookstore tucked away in the XXIIème arrondissement. Boussole follows an Austrian musicologist from Damascus to Vienna to Paris, with many stops in between and treats themes recurrent in many of Enard’s work: the narrative unfolds at the moments where national borders disintegrate under the greater weight of human (and humanist) relationships.

Looking forward, January brings new happenings across France. January 14 marks the first-ever Nuit de la lecture [Night of reading]. The celebration of reading, writers, and books features events at libraries and bookstores nationwide—and hopefully will offer a compelling alternative to screen-focused leisure time.

January also brings the opening of a new writing school in Paris—Les Mots [Words]. Alexandre Lacroix, the Editor-in-Chief of Philosophie, and Elise Nebout, who comes to Les Mots from work in the startup industry, founded the school together. Located in the heart of literary Paris’ Latin Quarter, Les Mots will offer workshops with themes like “Writing an essay,” or “Coming up with a character.” In a city bustling with schools for students of sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, few parallel opportunities exist to develop as a writer.

Our next stop is with Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek in Singapore:

December got off to a flying start for writing in Singapore as the National Arts Council reported that the 19th Singapore Writers’ Festival (November 3-12) had drawn a record of 20,350 attendees, compared to 19,700 last year. Barely a month after the Festival, the third edition of the annual Migrant Workers’ Poetry Competition also attracted a record number of entries, with women, for the first time, comprising two-thirds of the participants. A seventeen-strong shortlist chosen by poets Alvin Pang and Chen Yu Yan and playwright Haresh Sharma read their poems to a packed auditorium at the National Gallery Singapore on Sunday, with Bengali poet Bikas Nath’s ‘Keno Probashi?’ (‘Why Migrant?’) taking the top prize.

Writing from Singapore also made waves abroad. Singaporeans Joshua Ip, Grace Chia, and Michele Koh Morollo—as well as Singapore-based Sunita Lad Bhamray and Robin Hemley— participated in the Asia-Pacific Writers and Translators’ 2016 Southern China Summit, with readings in Hong Kong and Macau. In the same week, New York-based Jee Leong Koh, editor of Singapore Poetry and organizer of the Singapore Literature Festival in New York, was interviewed by Nicholas Wong in The Conversant, while graphic novelist Sonny Liew (whose The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was picked as one of The Economist’s Best Books of 2016) was interviewed in NookMag.

Finally, back home, last weekend saw the second installment of the aptly-named Manuscript Bootcamp organized by Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit. Over two intensive days, four prose writers—Clarissa Goenawan (winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award), Ng Yi-Sheng, Teoh Ren Jie, and Toh Hsien Min—workshopped their manuscripts and discussed publishing opportunities with authors and editors including Asymptote contributors Boey Kim Cheng and Alfian Sa’at. If the Bootcamp’s first installment in 2015 was any indication, these will be four titles to look out for next year. Roll on, 2017!

And finally, we stop in Taiwan to check in with Editor-at-Large Vivian Szu-Chin Chih:

The much respected and controversial Taiwanese writer Chen Yingzhen passed away in Beijing in late November at the age of 80, leaving his readers with a copious collection of fiction and nonfiction works, including his well-known pieces depicting Taiwan’s martial law period (1949-1987): Mountain Road (1983) and Chao Nan-Tung (1987). While Taiwan suddenly came under the spotlight over the past two weeks, as the newly-elected U.S. President Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwanese female President Tsai Ing-Wen, Chen Yingzhen’s leftist stance and unflinching support for socialism and for Taiwan’s unification with mainland China have been fervently debated among Taiwan’s literary circle, in addition to his indelible contributions to Taiwanese literature. Chen was one of the promoters of Taiwan Nativist Literature during the 1970s, and the founder of Ren Jian magazine (1985-1989) that featured Taiwan’s nonfiction, reporting style of realist literature.

Following the National Museum of Taiwan Literature in Tainan city’s announcement of its winners for “Taiwan Literature Award” in mid-November, the annual Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival drew to a close as the ceremony took place on the 26th of November. Topics covered by the nominated and award-winning films, animations, and documentaries this year range from literary adaptations, stray animals, expatriated Burmese laborers working in Thailand, and a poetry club related to surrealistic literature development in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era, etc.

Influential female writer Li Yu’s literary collection, That Missing Cloud: Collected Works of Li Yu, was published by National Taiwan University Press in late November to honor the beloved novelist who committed suicide in 2014. As one of the most prominent contemporary Sinophone female writers, Li was most known for her fiction. The collection therefore presents the never-before-published essays and criticism by Li on literature, translation, movies, and her own reflections on the participation in overseas student movements back in the 1970s.

The female Taiwanese essayist and translator from Polish to traditional Chinese, Lin Wei-Yin, will spoke about her writing, translation, and life experiences in Poland on December 15 at Timelight 1939 bookstore in Taiwan’s Eastern county, Taitung. Lin is the first translator who has translated Wisława Szymborska, Tadeusz Różewicz, and Janusz Korczak directly from Polish into traditional Chinese.


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