Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Today we delve into the literary goings-on in USA, UK and Singapore

New week, new happenings in the world of literature. President Trump continues to make headlines (read our Spring Issue for an exploration of literature in the Trump era). Madeline Jone, Editor-at-Large for USA reports how it has affected the publishing industry. Across the Atlantic, Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant at Asymptote, relays heartening news about women in publishing and the buzz of literary festivals in London this weekend. Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek reports how Singapore’s novelists are fighting back, and more.  

Editor-at-Large Madeline Jones gives us the round-up from USA:

US media narratives have been deluged with news of presidential catastrophes. No surprise, then, that this is reflecting in the publishing world, from book publishers struggling to understand how to talk about Trump to children, to books about the electoral process. With timing that seems ominous, in the light of the very popular TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the book has edged its way between a Danielle Steel and a James Patterson on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Another notable that has been on the list is Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.

Speaking of which, the annual Book Expo America, popularly known as the BEA, is scheduled from May 31 to June 2, and Hillary Clinton is one of its top draws this year. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors in New York City, the Book Expo is the biggest event of its kind in North America.

In a rebranding exercise, the BEA has dropped “America” from its name, now calling itself Book Expo in order to position itself as a global event. This shows in the program—until last year, the focus was largely national while showcasing one non-US region or country, whereas this year a new “Global Market Forum,” with publishing executives from different countries, is being held. Line-ups include “The ‘Elena Ferrante’ model: How independent publishers excel in promoting international literature” and Reaching the Arab World. Also expect signings from authors with upcoming books—Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere), Claire Messud (The Burning Girl), Carmen Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) and numerous others. Some book releases to watch out for—also on the expo’s “Book Editors Buzz Panel”—include U.S. debuts of international titles such as Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent (Ireland) and Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay with Me (Nigeria).

In other news, Amazon’s buy-button change policy has alarmed publishers and authors, raising concerns about third-party sellers raking up profits while sidestepping author royalties and publisher sales.

Finally, with the literati coming out of winter hibernation, the coming days look promising for New York. Some events include the 5th Annual Queens Writes Weekend, an intimate evening with the inimitable Alice Walker, and a celebration of the Beatles by the writers of the New Yorker magazine. The weekend will be sunny—perfect for zines, presses and performances at the Brooklyn Art Book Fair.

Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant, reports from the UK: 

May 10 saw publishing professionals gather at Carmelite House on the banks of the Thames for the Kim Scott-Walwyn Prize awards ceremony. Celebrating women in publishing, the shortlist consisted of Zeljka Marosevic (Daunt Books Publishing), Sarah Braybrooke (Scribe UK), Candice Carty-Williams (Vintage), and Amy Durant (Endeavour Press), with the winning prize going to Alice Curry from Lantana. A number of the shortlisted group were chosen for their inclusivity and ambitions to include more diverse voices in literature. Classicist and presenter Mary Beard gave the (unsurprisingly) well-received keynote speech, referencing the Greek poet Sappho.

This weekend is set to be a busy one for world literature events in the UK. First up, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival returns to London (May 20 and 21) presenting a showcase of South Asia’s literary heritage, oral and performing arts, books and ideas, dialogue and debate. Speakers include Amit Chaudhuri, Malini Roy and Mukulika Banerjee. Running simultaneously on May 20 is the Karachi Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre. This is the first time the event will take place outside Pakistan and is part of the wider Alchemy Festival that celebrates the cultural connections between South Asia and the UK.

Moving into the digital realm, last week saw the program announcement of The Quantum Virtual Conference, a publishing conference taking place across social media on June 1. Whilst obviously available around the world, the conference is part of the London Book Fair. Some of the scheduled highlights include “What Genres Are Being Imported into China and How Does That Impact on Local Publishing?” and “How Does Scandi Noir Perform at Home?”. You can follow all the action on Twitter using #LBFVirtual.

Finally, the British Book Awards took place on the May 9. Winners include Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent for “Overall Book of the Year,” and East West Street by Philippe Sands for “Non-Fiction: Narrative Book of the Year.” The Booksellers Association Award for “Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade” went to none other than J K Rowling.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek has exciting news from Singapore:

Singapore’s novelists are fighting back. Amidst the hype surrounding the fourth edition of SingPoWriMo—covered in our last update—the city-state has welcomed a bumper-crop of fresh novels, as documented by Stephanie Ye, the criticism editor of Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Of the titles mentioned, several have arrived at publication through the Epigram Books Fiction Prize (Singapore’s richest literary award), which has also recently announced its judging panel for 2017. In particular, Nuraliah Norasid’s The Gatekeeper, winner of the 2016 prize, has hit the shelves to considerable acclaim. It’s a curious blend of myth, fantasy, and a made-up language, Tuyunri, which you can read all about in Norasid’s interview with another EBFP-longlisted author, Kevin Martens Wong.

Those hoping to meet some of these authors in person can look to local literary start-up SingLit Station’s new workshop-for-schools portal, “Book a Writer,” which will bring a “roster of Singapore’s most important writers at work today” into contact with teachers, students, and a wider reading public. Following complaints last year about the pressure on writers to do unpaid (or poorly remunerated) gigs, there is hope that a centralized program of this nature may offer accountability for writers and accessibility for audiences, while creating new opportunities for both.


Read More Dispatches from Around the World: