Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your one-stop spot for all you want to know about world literature

This week we bring you news from Spain, Slovakia, and Brazil. We will begin our journey with Editor-at-Large Carmen Morawski who captures the excitement leading up to the Madrid Book Fair. We will land next in Slovakia where Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood updates us about the buzz surrounding the country’s most prestigious literary prize, Anasoft Litera. We will finish our journey across the world in Brazil to read Maíra Mendes Galvão’s report of writers’ protests against the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. 

Carmen Morawski, Editor-at-Large from Spain, reports:

In its seventy-sixth year, the Madrid Book Fair (Feria del Libro de Madrid) has yet again marked the transition from spring to summer for Spanish book lovers. Taking place in the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid from May 26 to June 11, this year’s fair will open with a lecture by Eduardo Lourenco, the Portuguese essayist and philosopher, in the Pabellón Bankia de Actividades Culturales.

Although a detailed schedule for this year’s fair isn’t available yet, a glance through last year’s schedule should give Asymptote readers a flavor for the lectures, readings, and other events typical to the fair. Whether on the look out for children’s literature, YA or adult fiction, non-fiction reportage, essay collections, philosophy, specialty and minority literatures, visitors to the fair can browse a wide array of contemporary offerings from the Spanish publishing scene, take advantage of special discounts, and even meet a favorite author at one of the many book signing sessions. If you want to learn more about the  history of the fair and are interested in sampling previous years’ fairs, you may enjoy this brief video of the 2014 fair.

Asymptote readers interested in more historical literary fare might prefer to visit the Spanish National Library’s (Biblioteca Nacional de España) special exhibition, Scripta: Tesoros manuscritos de la Universidad de Salamanca. Intended to commemorate the 800-year anniversary of Alfonso IX’s order to create ‘Schools in Salamanca,’ that in turn led to the founding of the first universities in Europe, the exhibition showcases 23 pieces spanning the history of the manuscript in Europe, from medieval Visigoth codexes belonging from the eleventh and twelfth centuries through the sixteenth century. The exhibition is on loan from the University of Salamanca and is divided into four main sections. It includes a section devoted to Humanism and the Vulgate languages, thereby acknowledging the prominent role of romance languages derived from Latin as vehicles for literature and scientific works. The exhibition runs from May 4 to June 4.

Finally, if your travel plans don’t include a visit to Madrid, you can still take a trip back in time to breathe in the spirit of the precocious poet from the Canaries, Félix Francisco Casanova, whose premature death at the age of 19 in 1976 is still mourned by his contemporaries. Basque writers Fernando Aramburu and Francisco Javier Irazoqui have recently been instrumental  in bringing out his complete works in print under the title Obras completas.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reports from Slovakia  (with brief detours to Budapest and Prague) 

Announced in early March, the nominations for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, Anasoft Litera, have ruffled quite a few feathers. For the first time in the award’s twelve-year history, the shortlist includes a mystery thriller in addition to the usual suspects even as about half of the ten authors shortlisted have been nominated in the past. “It turns out that well- written genre fiction can be more convincing than a less well executed attempt at literary fiction, even if the latter aims higher,” argued the jury. We’ll have to wait until September to find out if Jozef Karika’s page-turner Trhlina (The Crack), about a group of young people who set out to explore a local Bermuda triangle in the Tribeč mountains of western Slovakia where people have been mysteriously disappearing for decades, will bag the prize.

Another author shortlisted for this year’s Anasoft Litera prize, journalist and TV host Michal Havran, made his literary debut with his the novel Analfabet (God is Illiterate) at the European First Novel Festival held in Budapest from April 20 to 23. After being the focus of Budapest’s International Book Festival (of which the First Novel Festival was a part) last year, Slovak literature was featured again along with two other Visegrád countries, Poland and the Czech Republic. The festival’s main star was Orhan Pamuk but not everyone was happy that he accepted the invitation of the Hungarian government, considering its appalling stance on refugees and its crackdown on the freedom of the press and, most recently, academic freedom, when parliament passed a law clearly aimed at closing down the Central European University in Budapest.

 In May, at Prague’s international book fair and literary festival, Book World 2017, a competition for the best translation from Czech into Slovak was held for the fifth time. The contestants taking part in Dunaj na Vltavě (The Danube on the Moldau) were asked to render into Czech an extract from a 2015 Anasoft Litera finalist Vtedy v Lošonci (Way Back Then in Losonc) by Peter Balko. Those interested can compare the original with Kateřina Zajícová’s prize-winning translation.

Continuing close links between the two parts of what used to be Czechoslovakia are also apparent from the active participation of the Slovak Republic in European Literature Night (ELN), held on May 10, on the eve of the Prague Book World Festival. Launched in Prague in 2006 and organized by the Czech Centres, ELN has become a fixture on the international literary scene. This year, in addition to 57 Czech cities, readings were held at dozens of locations around the world, including 14 in Slovakia. Actors, writers, artists, musicians, translators, journalists, TV and radio hosts as well as a priest read extracts from ten books in Slovak translation, including David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into a Bar and Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days. The readings took place at a number of unusual venues, such as an astronomical observatory, a rooftop, a library garden, a hotel, a school, a former army administration building, a castle tower, an artist’s studio, and a chapel.

Editor-at-Large, Maíra Mendes Galvão, has news for us from Brazil:

Poets Lilian Aquino, Steffani Marion, Carla Kinzo, Lubi Prates and Ana Rüsche joined forces about a year ago to put together Golpe: Antologia-Manifesto, a collection of poems and texts in reaction to the ousting of elected president Dilma Rousseff by a coup d’état in disguise. Last Friday, May 19, some of the featured authors, such as Bruno Zeni,  Marcelo Ariel, Pedro Tostes, Dimitri BR, Noemi Jaffe, Julián Fuks, Dirceu Villa, Francesca Cricelli, Karine Kelly Pereira, and yours truly, gathered at Tapera Taperá to read the poets’ featured work and to do a final rally for the crowdfunding campaign. The printed edition of the anthology will include a text penned by Dilma Rousseff herself and some of the copies will be handed out to Brazilian public schools.

Brazilian publishing house Editora 34 hosted a talk with award-winning author Beatriz Bracher at Tapera Taperá on May 25, as part of a series of talks about the women in their roster called Vozes Femininas (Women’s Voices). She talked about her experiences as a writer and a reader and how those two roles complement each other.

Jarid Arraes, one of the most prominent women writers of the cordel genre has a new book coming out, which she will sign at the São Paulo Blooks bookstore. The book, Heroínas Negras Brasileiras em 15 cordéis, celebrates black Brazilian heroines with 15 song-poems in the traditional cordel style from the northeast of Brazil and features illustrations by Gabriela Pires, some of which will be given away in A3 print format during the signing event. The author will also discuss the histories of the women featured in the book, such as Antonieta de Barros, Carolina Maria de Jesus, Dandara dos Palmares, Laudelina de Campos, Maria Firmina dos Reis, Tereza de Benguela, and Tia Ciata.


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