Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

You can't end the week without being up to date with the latest in the world of literature!

Need another reason to welcome the weekend? We heard you! We’ve got literary scoop from three continents—literary prizes, festivals, and much besides to help you travel the world through books (is there really a better way?) 

From Singapore comes a dispatch from Editor-at-Large, Theophilus Kwek:

Celebrations were in order last month as graphic novelist Sonny Liew became the first Singaporean to win—not one, but three—Eisner Awards for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, originally published by Epigram in 2015 and later released in the US by Pantheon. The volume, which narrates an alternative political history of Singapore through the life and work of a fictional Singaporean artist, also received the most nominations in this year’s awards, which were presented at Comic-Con International in San Diego on July 22. The National Arts Council (NAC), which had previously drawn criticism for withdrawing Liew’s publishing grant on the grounds of ‘sensitive content’, came under fire once again for its brief (and some argued, half-hearted) congratulatory remarks on Facebook which did not mention the title of the winning work. Liew’s forthcoming projects include a take on the story of Singapore WWII heroine Elizabeth Choy.

Just a week after Liew’s win, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, responded to a parliamentary question over another NAC grant decision, this time concerning a novel by Asymptote contributor Jeremy Tiang, State of Emergency—also published by Epigram this year. According to Fu, funding was withdrawn from Tiang’s novel, which traces the lives of several fictional political activists and detainees, because its content had “deviated from the original proposal”—a statement which immediately drew mixed responses from Singapore’s literary community. At around the same time, fellow novelist Rachel Heng joined the ranks of Singaporean authors gaining recognition abroad as her forthcoming dystopian title, Suicide Club, was picked up by both Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and Henry Holt & Co. in the US.

Finally, on the eve of National Day (August 9) just this week, twenty-four writers and poets from Singapore presented a marathon 4-hour reading at BooksActually, which also runs an independent publishing arm, Math Paper Press. In addition to the literary delights on offer, the bookstore also served up another spicy and flavourful local favourite—fried chicken wings.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, report from Mexico:

Chiapas, Mexico, continues to be an important center of contemporary indigenous art and culture in the country and the region. As part of 2017’s COMP/ARTE Festival (23-29 of July), the Tsotsil Maya arts and culture collective Sna Jk’optik presented their book Snichimal Vayuchil. On August 5 San Cristobal’s Galería Muy inaugurated an important exhibition of sculpture by Gerardo K’ulej entitled “Science and Spirituality in Maya Plastic Arts,” accompanied by works by other noted artists such as Juan Chawuk. A number of talk on the exhibition were live-streamed on Facebook, and are available on the gallery’s homepage.

On July 27 at Casa de Jade in San Cristibal, Chiapanecan writers such as the Tsotsil Mikel Ruiz and Alejandro Aldana feted renowned Guatemalan novelist and intellectual Arturo Arias for the publication of his most recent novel, El precio del consuelo.

On July 30, Náhuatl poet Yolanda Matías García presented her book Tonalxochimej/The Sun’s Flowers as part of the 7th Night of Mexican Indigenous Languages. The poet from Guerrero can be heard reading from her work on her YouTube channel here.

Finally, two upcoming major events have been circulating online. On August 9 in Mexico City there will be a Festival of Poetry in Indigenous Languages as part of celebrations surround the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. Mexico’s National Institute for Indigenous Languages (INALI) will hold a National Indigenous Language Festival from August 11-13.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-at-Large, bearing tidings from Australia:

The Lifted Brow and non/fiction Lab have announced the shortlist for their 2017 Prize for Experimental Non-fiction. The six finalist entries were written by Lei Wang; Kate Riggs and Stephanie Guest (former Asymptote Australia Editor-at-Large); Holly Childs; Astrid Lorange and Justin Clemens; Letta Neely; and Harry Saddler.

In other prize-related news: the 2018 Stella Prize is officially open for submissions until September 29. Named after the iconic female Australian author Stella Maria Sarah “Miles” Franklin, the national literary award was launched in 2013 and is aimed specifically at celebrating writing by Australian women. To be eligible, a book must be written by a female-identifying writer who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and first published in English sometime during 2017. The longlist will be announced in February 2018, the short list in March, and the winner in April.

The literary festival scene is active indeed: the Byron Writers Festival (August 4-6) recently came to a close, and the Perth Poetry Festival (August 11-20) and Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival (August 12-13) are currently underway. Upcoming festivals in August include the Queensland Poetry Festival, Canberra Writers Festival, and Melbourne Writers Festival.

A new literary festival—Boundless—focusing on Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers and writing is set to debut later this year on October 28. Its explicit attention to literary voices from the nation’s racial and cultural margins will make it the first of its kind. Concerning the impetus for the initiative, Michael Mohammad Ahmad, director of one of Boundless’s founding organizations, Sweatshop, said this: “We have waited long enough for our country to embrace and reflect the greatest asset writing has to offer: diversity.” The announcement of the festival’s launch comes two months after this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, which received criticism from various corners for racial insensitivity and being attended by primarily white audiences.


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