Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A literary jaunt around the globe!

The literary world is having a buzzing summer—or winter, depending on your hemisphere. From literary festivals in Singapore, non-traditional methods of distributing poetry by indigenous poets in Mexico to daring theatre in Austria, there is a lot to discover his week. 

First stop—Singapore, with Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek:

Singapore’s literary scene is gearing up for its annual Poetry Festival held for the third time this year over the last weekend of July. The festival incorporates a full-day conference jointly organized by the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and PoetryWalls, a cultural non-profit. The winners of this year’s National Poetry Competition will also be announced on Saturday afternoon, kicking off a day and a half of readings, book launches and discussions featuring both new and established names— from Cultural Medallion-winner Edwin Thumboo to Pooja Nansi, recipient of the Young Artist Award for 2016.

On Sunday, writers and readers across several generations gathered at The Substation—the country’s first independent contemporary arts centre—for the launch of UnFree Verse, a new anthology of formal verse from Singapore. Family and friends were present to read and hear a representative selection of work, with poet Hedwig Anuar’s daughter reading Anuar’s landmark poem The Ballad of Davy Marshall on her mother’s behalf, and novelist (and former President of the Law Society) Philip Jeyaretnam reading a poem by the late Malacca-born poet Cécile Parrish. Other guests included Toh Hsien Min, editor of The Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore; Yeow Kai Chai, director of the Singapore Writers’ Festival; and Professor Koh Tai Ann, editor of the landmark Annotated Bibliography of Singapore Literature in English.

Finally, emerging playwright Nur Sabrina binte Dzulkifli was announced as winner of the inaugural Singapore Unbound Fellowship with a USD 5000 award that enables her to undertake a two-week residency in New York. She will present a reading of her work on July 19 at Artistry Gallery Cafe, a prominent spoken word venue, in conjunction with the presentation of the award.

Next up is Mexico via Guatemala with Editors-at-Large Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn:

The Maya Tujaal poet Kaypa’ Tz’ikin recently crossed the border from Guatemala into Mexico for a poetry reading and to discuss contemporary Mayan poetry at Galería Muy in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. As evidenced by photos of the event, Tz’ikin’s reading included dramatic use of pre-Hispanic instruments and carved masks to illuminate the written word.

In keeping with the activist orientation of a large part of indigenous literature, Yucatec Maya author Marga Aguilar Montejo recently released a digital version of her poetry collection U juum a t’aan koolnáal (The Farmer’s Voice) through the Biblioteca de Autores Maya Contemporaneos. The Biblioteca stands out as a digital media innovation that indigenous peoples around the world are using to circumvent traditional circuits of publication in order to preserve their languages.

In conjunction with the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico’s Pluralia Ediciones recently announced a Festival de poesía en lenguas indígenas to be held on August 9 in Mexico City.

Our final stop is Austria with tidings from contributor Flora Brandl:

Martin Kušej, one of Austria’s most prominent theatre directors, was announced as the new artistic director of Vienna’s foremost theatre house, Burgtheater. Kušej will envisage the theatre’s future to produce pieces in languages other than German—working increasingly with subtitles—in order to extend Austrian theatre to a multicultural and multilingual audience. Kušej also hopes to induce a transition of Vienna’s theatre scene away from influences of the post-dramatic tradition and initiate a return to the telling of stories. This is not to say that Kušej’s theatre will be in any way traditional. As the director’s recent production of Arthur Miller’s Hexenjagd (The Crucible) at the Burg showed, his drama intensifies theatre’s potential for scandal as well as its aptitude towards social criticism.

Meanwhile in Salzburg, the preparations for the world-renowned summer festival for classical music and drama, the Salzburger Festspiele, are on at full speed. The festival will open—as it has nearly every year since its inauguration in 1920—with an open-air production of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann (Everyman) in front of Salzburg’s main cathedral. In the play the personified characters of avarice, money and death are pitted against those of faith and benevolence. The director this year is Michael Sturminger. Audience expectations are high and the show is already sold out. The festival opens on July 21.

Finally, a series of theatre, literature and music events will be taking place at the Kultur Sommer Semmering, a festival removed from the torpor engulfing European cities in summer. The festival is taking place in a small mountain village outside Vienna—the same village Arthur Schnitzler, Alma Mahler, Adolf Loos and Sigmund Freud retreated to for a breath of fresh air and to escape the weariness of fin de siècle. Staged in grand and nostalgic art nouveau hotels, the festival will be featuring readings and discussions with acclaimed Austrian actors such as Nicholas Ofczarek, Peter Simonischek, Sunnyi Melles, and former Burgtheater director Claus Peymann. This year’s highlight is the world premiere of Austrian contemporary writer Friederike Mayröcker’s theatre piece OPER! (OPERA!) on August 17.


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