Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your literary updates for the turn of the year from Brazil, India, Mexico, and more!

Before we jump into our weekly world news tours of 2017, here at the blog we wanted to look back at the waning days of 2016 and give the literary achievements that closed such an eventful year their full due. There is already so much we’re looking forward to in the year ahead, but no piece of writing or writer exists in a vacuum; each new publication, reading, and translation takes from and makes space within the existing cultural consciousness. To be able to understand the developments in the literary scenes around the world this year, we have to see the full scope of 2016’s progress. Luckily, Asymptote has eyes and ears in every hemisphere!  

First stop on the map: India, where we check in with our first contributor this week, PhD student of postcolonial literature Tanushree Vachharajani:

2016 saw a huge uprising across India for Dalit rights. The suicide of Hyderabad PhD student Rohit Vemula in January 2016 and the assault of a Dalit family of cow skinners in Una, Gujarat in June 2016 have led to a resurgence of Dalit identity in social and literary fields, along with much dissent and unrest about the government’s attitude towards lower castes. The Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi in Ahmedabad issued a special edition of their literary journal Hayati, on Dalit pride this fall under the editorship of Dr. Mohan Parmar. Also in September, under the editorship of Manoj Parmar, literary journal Dalit Chetna published a special edition on Dalit oppression, featuring works written by Dalit as well as non-Dalit writers.

The well-documented human rights violations continue to inspire a flood of responses. For the first time last month, Delhi saw a literary festival dedicated entirely to Dalit protest literature, offering a platform for Dalit regional literature and its translations into English, French, and Spanish to increase accessibility and broaden the demographic of its readers.

Dalit literature is also no longer in the realm of the purely literary. Inspired by the death of Rohit Vemula, three young activists from Mumbai—Nayantara Bhatkal, Prem Ayyathurai, and Shrujuna Shridhar—have set up the unofficially titled Dalit Panther Project for which phone numbers were collected on December 6, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s death anniversary. Through the popular social messaging app WhatsApp, they will transmit four videos on the origins and legacy of the Dalit Panther literary movement. The videos were shot at the homes of Dalit Panther supporters, and are in Hindi. The creators are also looking to bring out a full-length feature film on the subject this year.

Hearteningly, the Dalit community is pushing back strongly against abuse of any members of the lower castes. From threatening a sanitation strike to bringing Dalit literature into mainstream circles and creating inclusive literary institutions and awards, Dalit protest movements across India only seem to be getting stronger as the New Year begins.

On to Argentina, where writer and translator Sarah Moses gives us the literary skinny:

Though 2016 has been a tough year for Argentinian publishers and booksellers, the Buenos Aires literary scene continues to thrive. December saw the opening of the independent bookstore, La Coop, in the Almagro neighbourhood. La Coop is a collective of twelve independent presses, and the bookstore is envisioned as both a space to facilitate the promotion of their titles, as well as a meeting place for the city’s literary community.

Another recent addition is Runrún, a bookstore and gallery space that opened in Villa Crespo in October. Runrún showcases titles from the press BAJOLALUNA alongside a carefully curated selection from other publishers.

La Coop and Runrún are the latest of the city’s bookstores that function in conjunction with publishing houses, including La Internacional Argentina, out of which the press, Mansalva, operates, and Eterna Cadencia, a café, bookstore, and publisher located in Palermo. Many of these new store fronts also host literary and cultural events.

La Internacional held the most recent edition of La Sensación book fair on December 8 and 9. Now a tradition that takes place several times a year, the fair draws increasingly large numbers from the community, who spill out onto the sidewalk and street in front of the bookstore. La Sensación draws readers with reduced prices on titles from independent presses.

Outside the bookstore circuit, the city’s numerous cultural centres and museums also host literary events. On December 3, the Maratón de Poesía took place at zenBA. The program included readings by local authors, as well as talks on translation by Marcelo Cohen and Mirta Rosenberg, both renowned poets and translators.

On December 10, Buenos Aires joined cities around the world in a tribute to Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, who was born on that day in 1920. The Museo del Libro y de la Lengua hosted performances and readings of Lispector’s work, as well as installations and other activities.

Maíra Mendes Galvão, one of our Editors-at-Large, reaches us from Brazil:

Noted Brazilian poet and member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters Ferreira Gullar passed away on December 4 in Rio de Janeiro at 86. Ferreira Gullar was also an essayist, playwright, art critic and television writer, as well as one of the founders of the Neo-Concrete art movement in Brazil. Given his socialist-leaning political views, he fled the military dictatorship for Moscow in 1971, then lived in Santiago, Lima, and finally Buenos Aires. “Dirty Poem”, his most famous work, was written in Chile in 1975 and published in Brazil in 1976 in his absence. In spite of his leftist ideas, he later became a staunch critic of Lula’s PT [Workers’ Party], which earned him a controversial reputation at the height of Lula’s popularity. His bibliography includes fifteen poetry books, one play, several essays, TV scripts, and chronicles. His work was translated into German, English, and Spanish.

The Brazilian Concrete movement, the other opponent in the Concrete vs Neo-Concrete feud, is turning 60. The celebration schedule of Casa das Rosas, the museum dedicated to the literary work of Haroldo de Campos, includes an exhibition and a talk with Augusto de Campos, Haroldo’s brother and the only remnant of the Noigandres group, which also included Décio Pignatari and was the exponent of the movement.

Brazil also marked Ms. Lispector’s birthday, celebrated by the yearly “Hora de Clarice” [Clarice’s Hour], created by the Moreira Salles Institute. There were events held in Rio de Janeiro, Poços de Caldas, and Brasília. Clarice’s work has been translated into over 10 languages, including English, German, and Spanish, and she remains one of the best-known Brazilian writers abroad.

The end of 2016 saw the announcement of the winners of literary prizes Prêmio Jabuti and Prêmio Oceanos. The Jabuti recipient for Best Novel was “A Resistência”, by Julián Fuks, which also won the “Book of the Year” category, and the Best Poetry book winner was “Agora Aqui Ninguém Precisa de Si” by musician and poet Arnaldo Antunes. A new translation of “Hamlet” by Lawrence Flores Pereira took the Best Translation award. The winner of the Oceanos was the novel “Galveias,” by Portuguese writer José Luis Peixoto.

Writer and translator Tina Sim has the scoop from Singapore:

As the Singapore literary scene welcomes a new year, it continues to embrace the new and alien among us. Bangladeshi construction worker Md Mukul Hossine became possibly the first foreign construction worker to publish a poetry collection in Singapore. Published by Ethos BooksMe Migrant is translated from Bengali and transcreated by Cyril Wong based on English translations by Fariha Imran and Farouk Ahammed.

First-time author Nuraliah Norasid won Singapore’s richest literary prize, the $25,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize with The Gatekeeper. The manuscripts of the other three finalists will also be published while last year’s winning entries have already hit bookshelves.

National Novel Writing Month Singapore welcomed 349 writers, an increase of 61% from last year, to its annual “NaNoWriMo” in November, for which participants commit to pen 50,000 words in the month. As its organiser proudly proclaims, Singapore may be the smallest region in Southeast Asia, but it has the largest number of NaNoWriMo-ers per square feet.

With this and other writing initiatives like SingPoWriMo (write a poem every day! for a month!), Sing Lit Station’s Manuscript Bootcamp (have your work torn apart by veteran writers!), residencies, grants, and numerous other incentives, this tiny nation offers plenty to look forward to in 2017.

And finally, X marks the spot in Mexico, where Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large for the country, report:

The last days of 2016 saw Maya writers take center stage in Mexico’s indigenous literary movements. On November 8, the Mexican Secretariat of Culture awarded the 2016 Nezahualcóyotl Prize in Mexican Indigenous Languages in the Oral Literature Category to the Maya-Tsotsil poet, writer, and philosopher Manuel Bolom Palé (b. Chiapas, 1979) for his work “Skínal Xikitin: Kópojel un nupu” [“Wedding Ritual Song”]. Named after the Pre-Hispanic poet-king Nezahualcóyotl, the Mexican government established the prize to promote the development of written literature in Mexico’s indigenous languages. According to the jury, Bolom Pale’s work won first prize for the new life it gives to Tsotsil rhetorical traditions. Selections of his work can be found in Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories, translated into English by Sean Sell.

Less than a month later, at Guadalajara’s annual International Book Fair, Yucatec Maya writer Jorge Cocom Pech (b. Campeche, 1952) received the 2016 Indigenous Literatures of the Americas Award, a prize established to recognize the literary achievements of indigenous authors from throughout the Americas. Pech has long stood at the forefront of indigenous literary activism in Mexico and the larger western hemisphere, and selections of his work translated into English appear in Allison Adele Hedge Coke’s anthology Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas.

As part of its thirteenth Annual National Literary Awards, Mexico’s Autonomous University of Yucatán announced the Maya writer Felipe de Jesús Castillo Tzec as winner of this year’s Alfredo Barrera Vázquez Award for Maya Language Narrative. Castillo Tzec’s story “Kisin Yuum K’iim” [“The Idiot Priest”] was selected from twenty four entries by a panel comprised of Maya intellectuals and writers, namely Hilaria Maas Colli, Sol Ceh Moo, and Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim.

These achievements preceded the First Independent and Autonomous Book Festival, which began yesterday and runs through January 8 in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Given the longstanding importance of independent voices and presses to the production of indigenous literatures throughout the Americas, this promises to be an exciting event.


Sarah Moses is a Canadian writer and translator who has been immersed in Argentinian literature for the past six years.

Maíra Mendes Galvão is Editor-at-Large, Brazil, at Asymptote and a translator, editor, and poet living and braving the wordful life in São Paulo, Brazil.

Tanushree Vachharajani is a PhD student at Northwestern University in Chicago. She studies postcolonial literature and is particularly interested in bringing together Anglophone and regional Indian literatures into conversation.

Paul M Worley is Editor-at-Large, Mexico, at Asymptote and Assistant Professor of Global Literatures specializing in Latin American Indigenous languages and cultures at Western Carolina University in the United States.

Kelsey Woodburn is Editor-at-Large, Mexico, at Asymptote and an incoming MA student at Western Carolina University studying English with a concentration in Professional Writing.

Tina Sim is a writer and translator based out of Singapore.


Read More Dispatches from Around the World!