Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Singapore, Latin America, and the US

The week is drawing to a close, and it’s time for a quick wrap-up. This time we’re visiting South and North America where Mexico Editors-at-Large Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, and Executive Assistant Nozomi Saito bring us the latest news. Our final pit stop is in Singapore, where Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek has been following a new literature campaign, among many other developments. Enjoy!

Our Mexico Editors-at-Large Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn had this to tell:

In collaboration with the Mexican Secretary of Culture, on January 24 in Mexico City’s Fine Arts Palace Pluralia Ediciones presented its latest publication, Xtámbaa/Piel de tierra (Earthen Skin) by Hubert Malina (Guerrero State, 1986). Malina’s volume is the first work of poetry published in the Me’phaa language (known by outsiders as Tlapaneco), a language with roughly 100,000 speakers. According to the press release, Malina’s work stands out for its lovingly realistic portrayal of life and community in the mountains of Guerrero. Zapaotec poets Natalia Toledo, 2004 winner of the Nezahualcóyotl Prize in Indigenous Literatures, and Irma Pineda participated in the event, providing commentary on Malina’s work. In particular, Toledo stated that a voice like Malina’s has been lacking within the contemporary indigenous language scene, while Pineda added that Malina’s work balances themes of traditional stories with current realities, guiding the reader through both the beautiful and the difficult contemporary indigenous life. The unveiling of this new book also precedes this February’s Me’phaa Language Festival, to be held in Paraje Montero, Mexico, on Tuesday, February 21 from 9am until 4pm.

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, on February 1 Caravasar hosted an event to celebrate the release of Tania Hernández’s latest work, Desvestir santos y otros tiempos [Undressing Saints and Other Epochs]. This latest publication will no doubt be an excellent addition to the author’s existing work that deals with life in contemporary Guatemala from a feminist perspective. The event was hosted by Rodrigo Arenas-Carter and the groundbreaking Maya poet, book artist, and performance artist Manuel Tzoc Bucup, among others. The event was streamed in real time via Facebook Live.

Finally, poets from all over the world will descend on Medellín, Colombia from July 8-15, 2017, to participate in the 27th International Medellin Poetry Festival. Updated in mid-January, the list of invited poets is a truly remarkable, international lineup, including authors from Algeria, India, Vietnam, Syria, and the UK, in addition to those from throughout Latin America. This will certainly be an event you can’t miss!

Executive Assistant Nozomi Saito writes about Trump, immigration, and new books published in the US:

In US literary news, following the inauguration and first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, the literary scene is becoming a hotbed for political resistance and anti-authoritarian reading lists. Dystopian novels have surged in sales on major online retailer sites like Amazon, with George Orwell’ls 1984 topping the list. Feminists and women’s reproductive rights activists are distressed over the policy changes of Trump’s cabinet, but they may find some solace, and even cause for celebration, in the gender and female positive coloring book Girls Are Not Chicks, from former Planned Parenthood health educator Jacinta Bunnel and graphic designer Julie Novak. Trump’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria—has also sparked small movements of literary protest and signs of solidarity around the country. San Francisco-based Omnivore Books, for example, showcased cook books from all seven banned countries.

On the topic of immigration, the highly acclaimed, US-based refugee, writer, and Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen’s much-anticipated The Refugees hit the stores this past Wednesday from publisher Grove Press. Known as a master of short fiction, Nguyen turns his piercing and compassionate gaze to the experiences of immigrants and creates poignant and undeniably human stories.

Other notable works out this week: the fourth novel from Japanese-American journalist and writer Katie Kitamura, A Separation (Riverhead Books) features a translator who must search for her missing husband in a remote part of Greece; the novel is slated to be adapted into a film starring Katherine Waterston. Pulitzer prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall’s Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was also just published and draws from recently discovered letters to give new insights into the American poet’s work and personal life. And the highly anticipated historical fiction work Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by PEN/Malamud Award winner George Saunders is also forthcoming from Random House.

Our third contribution of the week comes from Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek in Singapore:

January brought a welcome boost for the visibility of Singapore literature overseas with authors Ovidia Yu and Balli Kaur Jaswal clinching deals with publishers overseas. Jaswal also sold the film rights to her forthcoming novel, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows—which already has had translation rights sold in ten countries—to Scott Free Productions and Film Four in the UK. Earlier releases by novelists Suchen Christine Lim and Krishna Udayasankar have similarly been acquired in the past month by publishers in Germany, India, and Macedonia.

At the same time, independent arts organizations in the city-state have signalled a strong literary slant to their line-up for early 2017. ‘State of Motion’, an annual film and visual arts series, invited Asymptote Fall 2016 contributor Amanda Lee Koe to be part of its series, Through Stranger Eyes, while another Asymptote contributor, the poet and critic Gwee Li Sui, returned to The Arts House in January for the first three instalments of his popular series, ‘Sing Lit 101: How to Read a Singaporean Poem’. The Arts House also launched a call for applications to the Singapore Creative Writing Residency 2017 (open till 14 February), which will host one Singaporean and one international writer at the National University of Singapore.

Looking forward, the publishing industry has just last week unveiled a new #BuySingLit campaign, supported by the National Arts Council—and tying in more than 30 publishers, booksellers, and distributors across the city—which aims to boost sales of local literature. The campaign, under the slogan ‘Buy Local, Read Our World’, has been hailed as the ‘first time Singapore’s book industry has come together with its own event’, suggesting a level of maturity in its expanding publishing scene.

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Read More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

  • http://rodsands.weebly.com Rodrigo Arenas Carter

    This post has errors: Tania Hernández’s latest work was presented at Caravasar. Esquises is a online magazine that covered the event. My name is Rodrigo Arenas-Carter and the other wrong name is Manuel Tzoc Bucup. Thanks.