Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your literary update from Romania, Cuba, and the UK

This week, we dock first in Romania, where Editor-at-Large MARGENTO updates us on the political climate and how it’s influencing literary output. Then we sail southwest to Cuba, where we’ll hear from Blog Editor Madeline Jones about the foreign diplomats barred from an awards ceremony, as well as highlights from the International Book Fair in Havana. Finally, back across the Atlantic, M. René Bradshaw, Editor-at-Large for the UK, maps out the best literary events taking place in and around the capital throughout March and April.

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large for Romania & Moldova, catches us up on the Romanian literary scene:

The recent wave of rallies that have swept Romania, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the government’s decrees decriminalizing certain corruption-related offences, has sparked reactions both on social media and in literary and creative circles.  The “light revolution” received huge global media coverage when tens of thousands of smartphones converged their glows outside the government building in Bucharest, sending a blinding anti-graft message while also forming the image of a huge national flag.  The true hallmark of this revolution has been internationally perceived as the deployment of digital apps and catchy, pun-filled slogans in both English and Romanian, inundating social and mass media with what hip-hop star Călin “Rimaru” Ionescu has termed the new “OUGmented reality” (OUG being the Romanian acronym for a governmental decree).  As #Rezist has gone viral across digital media channels, it is apt to share from our past archives a celebration by Asymptote contributor Ruxandra Cesereanu of what she sees as a revival of the anti-Soviet and anti-communist rezistance, a Romanian partisan movement that heroically lasted from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s.

In a similar vein, American poet and translator Tara Skurtu—currently in Romania on a Fulbright grant—has revisited the Romanian gulag in a poem inspired by the recent protests and published in the Huffington Post. A couple of days later, the same publication ran an interview on similar issues with Radu Vancu, also an Asymptote contributor.  Still, one of the authorities on modern and post-communist history Mircea Stănescu, who has consistently and shrewdly chronicled and analyzed the protests, maintained a cautionary stance, pointing out the generation gap strongly manifest in the current movement and warning about deeper political and educational issues that might remain unaddressed and resurface later.  Yet it seems that the ongoing rallies and sense of solidarity are a breath of fresh air that has already inspired a great deal of writers. Poet, novelist, and essayist Cosmin Perța has already announced a forthcoming #Rezist literary anthology.

Blog Editor Madeline Jones has the update from Cuba:

The Cuban government has plunged into a diplomatic altercation with Mexico and Chile this week after it denied former Mexican president Felipe Calderón and Mariana Aylwin, daughter of former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin, entry into the country. Both were visiting Cuba to attend the ceremony for the Oswaldo Payá: libertad y vida Award, which was to be presented to the secretary general of the Organización de Estados Americanos [Organization of American States], Luis Almagro, on Wednesday. The event was conducted in his absence, as he was also denied entry—Almagro is a leading critic of Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. The award is named for the late, well-known Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, and recognizes work in the service of democracy and human rights. Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, presented the award in front of a crowd of activists, journalists, and foreign diplomats.

The annual Feria Internacional del Libro finished up last week in Havana after ten days, serving over 415,000 visitors and selling over 300,000 books, in addition to celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Institute for the Book. Located at the historic San Carlos de la Cabaña fort, right on the water, readers lounged in the grass perusing their new finds between readings and panel events, several of which were dedicated to literature from the invitee of honor, Canada. One of the most exciting books launched at the festival was Frei Betto, una biografía, by Américo Freire and Evanize Sydow, particularly due to its prologue—four unedited pages written by Fidel Castro himself, in the year prior to his death. Frei Betto is a Dominican Friar, author of sixty-some books, and a leader of the Brazilian liberation theology movement. One of his own books, available in English translation, came out of twenty-three hours of interviews with Castro about the revolution, religion, Marxism, and more.

Also at the book fair, the Mexican investigative journalist and activist Paco Ignacio Taibo announced his intent to create a documentary about the founding of the official state news agency of Cuba, Prensa Latina, in 1961 by Ricardo Masetti at the request of Ernesto Che Guevara. Gabriel García Márquez and Rodolfo Walsh were among the first journalists employed by the agency, while other news agencies in the capital were shut down. We can hope the work will make its way into English after completion!

And M. René Bradshaw has London’s full schedule of cultural events:

Asymptote’s friend in literary translation, Peirene Press, celebrates Ricarda Huch, one of the forgotten icons of European literature, following the first translation of her fiction into English (Waterstones, March 1). Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami (Strange Weather in Tokyo, The Nakano Thrift Shop) visits London to promote her short story collection, Record of a Night Too Brief (Foyles, March 1, and the Japanese Society, March 13). Mohsin Hamid discusses his post-Brexit novel, Exit West, during a Guardian Live event on March 2. Chibundu Onuzo and (Welcome to Lagos) and Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Stay With Me) chat to Naomi Frisby about their new novels as part of a “New Nigerian Fiction” night at Waterstones, (March 7). Running in conjunction with the Poland Market Focus programme at the London Book Fair, on March 16, Olga Tokarczuk and Deborah Levy are the special guests at the London Review Bookshop, and on April 20, the Bookshop marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution in collaboration with Vintage Classics. In celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21), the British Library hosts a panel on digital technologies and a free app called Poetic Places, developed by the Library’s Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Sarah Cole.

This year, the London Book Fair (March 14–16) spotlights Poland’s publishing industry with special programming, notably Q&As with Olga Tokarczuk and popular Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski. Roddy Doyle and Michael Morpurgo will also appear in the Fair’s lineup of bestselling authors. Highlights from the 2017 Oxford Literary Festival (March 25 – April 2) include an audience conversation with Alexander McCall Smith, Paul Beatty’s discussion of The Sellout, and an evening on food writing with Nigella Lawson.

“Roman Tragedies,” Ivo van Hove’s six-hour mash-up of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies—Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra—doesn’t have an interval, but this legendary marathon of theatre promises to renew communion between performers and spectators (Barbican Centre, March 17–March 19, performed in Dutch with English subtitles). The West End revives another masterpiece by Edward Albee with “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” (Haymarket Theatre Royal, March 24 – June 24). Ian Rickson directs Brecht’s classic political satire, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” (Donmar Warehouse, April 20–June 17), about a demagogue coming to power in a democratic state, perhaps the play that predicted the rise of Donald Trump. A new adaptation of Paul Auster’s meta-detective novel, “City of Glass” (Lyric Hammersmith, April 20–May 13), promises a lavish restaging with the aid of 59 Productions, a Tony Award-winning team responsible for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the 2013 “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the V&A.

At the Wallace Collection, “Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses” (until April 2) explores the allure of Ovid’s classic poem via artworks ranging from paintings and designs, to sculpture and ceramics. “Larkinworld,” an exhibition featuring new perspectives in the poetry of Philip Larkin, continues at the Southbank Centre’s Poetry Library (until April 30).


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