Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in! The latest literary scoop from Austria, Mexico, Guatemala and Canada

This week we bring you a generous helping of news from Flora Brandl, our contributor in Austria, reporting on the rich array of literary festivals and cultural events that took place in April and are coming up in May; Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, our Editors-at-Large Mexico, take a look at one Guatemalan Maya writer’s highly original work, but also record the brutal continuation of violence against journalists in Mexico just last month; last but not least, our very own grant writer Catherine Belshaw writes on the hope for greater diversity in Canada’s literary scenes.

Contributor Flora Brandl gives us the round-up from Austria:

Despite winter being rather stubborn (only last week there was still some snow), the Austrian literary and cultural scene has witnessed a so-called Frühlingserwachen, a spring awakening, with numerous events, publications and national and international festivals taking place across the country.

At the end of April, the Literasee Wortfestival was hosted in Bad Aussee, a rural community and historical literary getaway for writers such as Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. This year, six German and Austrian writers, including Franzobel, Walter Grond and Clemens Meyer, were featured during the three-day festival.

However, it is not only German-language art that is currently being showcased in Austria: the Festival Europa der Muttersprachen (Europe of Mother Tongues) invited Ukrainian filmmakers, photographers, musicians and writers—amongst whom was the highly celebrated author Jurij Andruchowytsch—to the Literaturhaus Salzburg. Earlier in April, more international artists and audiences had frequented the city for the Osterfestspiele, the Easter feature of the internationally renowned Salzburg festival for classical music and drama.

In the capital, the poetry festival Dichterloh brought Austrian, Swiss, Slovakian, Russian, Italian and German authors together to converse about the theme “poets’ dialogues,” and it is indeed the notion of dialogue across languages, cultures and nations which best describes the cultural conversations held in Austria this past April.

The Literaturhaus Wien is featuring two translation-specific events this spring. The distinguished literary translator for Scandinavian languages Alexander Sitzmann was in conversation about his work on April 25. On May 16, the translators Françoise Guiguet and Nathalie Rouanet will speak about the translational and logistical challenges faced on the set of a recent German-French-Austrian film production about emperor Maximilian I.

The Austrian cultural philosopher, essayist and so-called “flagship intellectual” Franz Schuh (quoted in Café Sonntag, Radio Ö1, 30.04.2017, 09:05 a.m.) celebrated his 70th birthday by releasing a book about the many significations of and approaches to Glück—which, interestingly, translates to both “luck” and “happiness” in English (see Fortuna—Aus dem Magazin des Glücks, Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna 2017). Schuh will be speaking about his personal encounters and philosophical reflections on the luckiness of being happy at a public lecture in Vienna on May 23.

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large Mexico, come to us with some urgent news: 

As the New York Times and other media outlets have reported, the newspaper Norte in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has ceased operations, with Óscar A. Cantú Murguía, its owner, citing ongoing problems with security in the region. In particular, Cantú Murgía said that the March 23 murder of investigative journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent from La Jornada whom he identified as a collaborator, had lead him to reflect on the conditions under which Mexican journalists are now working. With the murders of Ricardo Monlui Cabrera and Cecilio Pineda Birto, Breach Velducea’s death brought the number of Mexican journalists killed in March to three. Writing for La Jornada, Olga Alicia Aragón has called the Breach Velducea’s death, “a crime against freedom,” with Marcela Turati saying that the journalist was killed for “writing the truth.” As cited in multiple outlets, Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists says that “Mexico is going through a deep, full-blown freedom of expression crisis.” According to the CPJ’s website, thirty-seven Mexican journalists have been murdered since 1992, with the three murdered in March 2017 almost reaching the murders of four journalists in 2015, the most killed over the past 25 years.

March and April saw the completion of Guatemalan Maya writer Manuel Tzoc Bucup’s ambitious new work, “Atómica” [Atomic]. Having received a scholarship from Fundación Yaxs to fund and carry out the work, Tzoc recently exhibited the final product at the foundation’s space. The author/creator writes that the installation-text comes from an unpublished poem wherein every letter of every word is conceived of as an atom, and that the limitless dimensions of the letters possessing material form gestures towards the intersections of language and fractal geometry. The piece itself is made of over 700 “tazos,” small discs included as prizes in chip bags when the author was younger, that were donated by the public, and painted by the author himself.

Catherine Belshaw, Grant Writer for Asymptote, brings us the latest from Canada:

The second edition of The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD), Canada’s only festival dedicated to diverse voices, is set to take place from May 4 – 7 in Brampton, Ontario.

Debates over how to achieve a more inclusive literature continue to punctuate discussion in Canada’s literary scene(s). While Canadians can always be counted on to tout their “multicultural” credentials, the fact remains that writers from marginalized communities continue to struggle for recognition in a publishing industry that remains predominantly white. Like the We Need Diverse Books Campaign in the US and the UK’s Media Diversified’s Bare Lit Festival, The FOLD grew out of founder Jael Richardson’s own experiences as a black author—often the sole black author appearing at literary festivals across North America. Through panels, readings, and writing workshops, the FOLD strives to increase representation of ethnicity, race, culture, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and religion in Canadian storytelling and in 2017 will feature authors including Jen Sookfong Lee, Kamal Al-Solaylee, Katherena Vermette, and Scaachi Koul.

A sign that a more inclusive Canadian literature is, perhaps, on its way: the debut novel of Katherena Vermette, a Metis author, filmmaker, and poet, was the big winner at the Manitoba Book Awards on April 22. Published by House of Anansi Press, The Break was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and was a finalist for CBC’s 2017 Canada Reads—the national public broadcaster’s annual “Battle of the Books” competition.

Finally, tributes to one of Canada’s most prolific and powerful voices, Richard Wagamese, continue in the wake of his death in March 2017, including this beautiful bit of audio compiled by poet Rosanna Deerchild for her podcast series, Unreserved. Wagamese was one of the first Indigenous authors to reach a wider audience in Canada and achieve national acclaim in the 1990s and 2000s, though he often railed against the label, and the ghettoization it implied. He is celebrated both for his brilliant work and tireless efforts to mentor Indigenous storytellers and help create a path for the publication and literary success of a new generation of writers.


Read More Dispatches from Around the World:

International Prize for Arabic Fiction Winner Announced
Section Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2017
Spotlight on Banned Countries Feature