Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Updates from Spain, Morocco, and the United States, from the Asymptote team

This week, we visit Morocco with new Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman, who tells us about a new play based on a classic novel. Then in Spain, we have a publishing update with Editor-at-Large Carmen Morawski, and onto the United States, we strap in for today’s Presidential Inauguration and writers’ reactions to the historic event. 

Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman reports from Morocco:

A theatrical interpretation of Mohammed Khair Ed-dine’s novel Le Déterreur [نباش القبور], adapted by Cédric Gourmelon and starring Ghassan El-Hakim, is currently on tour in Morocco, with the next performance set to take place on January 21 at the House of Culture [دار الثقابة] in Tetouan.  In the novel, a man from southern Morocco shares his countercurrent perspectives on living in a marginalized community inside a wider, fractured, postcolonial space as he recounts his life story.

Winner of numerous literary awards, including Jean Cocteau’s Les infants terribles literary prize for his novel Agadir, Khair Ed-dine (or “The Blue Bird,” as he is sometimes called) mainly wrote poetry and novels in French. He is credited with establishing a new style of writing, what he coined guérilla linguistique, that resists, in both form and content, linguistic or societal domination. Considering his prolific contributions to the genre of revolutionary writing, it is unsurprising that Khair Ed-dine is commonly grouped among renowned, twentieth century North African authors writing in French, such as Assia Djebar, Yacine Kateb, Abdellatif Laabi, Driss Chraibi, and Tahar Ben Jelloun.

Some of Khair Ed-dine’s work has been translated into German and English. For more about the German translation of his posthumously published novel Once Upon a Time There Was a Happy Couple (Es war einmal ein glückliches Paar), Qantara.de published this article, which includes a summary of the book with excerpts and information about the writer.  Similarly, to read a sample of Khair-Eddine’s poetry translated into English, see this piece from Jadaliyya, that includes four poems from his collection Ce Maroc!

In other literary news, only a few more weeks until Morocco’s largest book fair will be back!  The 23rd edition of the International Book Fair in Casablanca will open on February 9.

Editor-at-Large for Spain, Carmen Morawski, rounds up the best forthcoming Spanish lit:

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read more literature from Spain, but you don’t speak Spanish, consider starting with Rhett McNeil’s translation of Miguel Ángel Hernández’s Escape Attempt (Anagrama). Listed in World Literature Today’s 75 Notable Translations of 2016, Escape Attempt is described by J.M. Pozuelo Yvancos of ABC as, “Intelligent fiction that seems first of all to be about the world of contemporary art, but that in reality is about the exploitations of human beings and art’s many repudiations of its ideals in the face of money’s capacity for corruption…”

Looking forward, 2017 promises to bring a wealth of exciting new titles in Spanish. The first on El País’s list of books to watch for is El monarca de las sombras by Javier Cercas, expected on February 16. Well known for his novels of historical memory, Cercas returns to the Spanish Civil War to reimagine the figure of his great uncle, a second lieutenant in the Falange, killed at the battle of the Ebro.

But this is just the beginning. Here’s a taste of El País’s lineup of Spanish language must reads for 2017: Luis Goytisolo’s Coincidencias (Anagrama), Enrique Vila Matas’s Mac y su contratiempo (Seix Barral), Luis Landero’s La vida negociable (Tusquets), and Ignacio Martínez de Pisón’s Derecho natural (Seix Barral). This last book promises to be an insightful examination of growing up in Spain during the period following Franco’s death, known as la Transición.

On the lookout for new poetry journals? Then you won’t want to miss the second edition of the new poetry journal from Huelva, Cal. revista de poesia, named in honor of the 1970s journal, Cal, a publication of the Sevillian poet, Joaquín Márquez.

Enjoy Spanish poetry? Up for a bit of sleuthing? Try your luck in the Caballero Bonald Foundation’s Pistas Dudosas contest. From January 16 until April 23, in preparation for Spain’s Día del Libro, one lucky person will be awarded a book of poetry every two weeks.

Finally, the 2017 Premio Nadal was awarded on January 6 to the Catalan writer Care Santos for her novel Media vida.

Blog Editor Madeline Jones writes in from the U.S. on the day of the Presidential Inauguration:

Naturally, writers all over the nation have been focused this week, and for some time now, on the incoming Trump administration’s activities. Any analysis of what’s to come is largely still speculation, as neither the president-elect nor leaders of his transition team have elaborated specifically on his plans for federal budget cuts, replacing the Affordable Care Act, foreign policy objectives, or other hot-button issues. In lieu of answers to these quandaries, this is the most interesting piece I’ve read in the wake of inauguration preparations this week.

This past Sunday, prominent writers and concerned New Yorkers gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library for Writers Resist, a rally and march to “deliver PEN America’s pledge to defend the First Amendment—signed by more than 150,000 individuals, including all past U.S. Poets Laureate—to the transition team of President-elect Donald J. Trump.” Organized by PEN America, the event also served to honor Martin Luther King Jr. on the day before the official holiday named for the civil rights leader. Just a few of the attending writers, many of whom read from their own work, the words of MLK, or the US Constitution, included Jeffrey Eugenides, Angela Flournoy, Masha Gessen, Eve Ensler, Siri Hustvedt, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, and Francine Prose. The finalists for the PEN America Literary Awards were also announced this week. You can see each list here.

Tomorrow, the Women’s March on Washington will take place following today’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. After an election cycle filled with rhetoric offensive to women and various minority groups, many Americans feel that our democratic ideals are at risk. The march’s mission is: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” Simultaneous sister marches are continuing to be planned in cities not just across the US but around the world, up to 616 at last counting, in places as far flung as Kosovo and Madagascar. Expected marchers worldwide are upwards of 1.3 million.

National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists were announced this week, with nominated authors including Zadie Smith and Ann Patchett, somewhat predictably. Author Margaret Atwood will be honored with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony on March 16th.


Check out our Winter 2017 Issue, just out this week!

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