Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in—the hottest news in the literary world from the corners of the globe!

Who said being an armchair traveller is no fun? It’s Friday, which means it’s time for a literary trip around the world with Asymptote! From a digital archive of poetry and innovations in Afrikaans literature to Brazilian literary festivals and summertime opera in Austria—our correspondents have lots to fill you in on!

Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs reports from South Africa:

Badilisha Poetry X-change—an online archive and collective of African poets—has announced a tour aiming to document poets who write and perform their work in languages indigenous to South Africa. A previous tour in 2015 visited cities in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa, and recorded material from 186 poets, of which 100 are featured on the Badilisha website. Tour dates will be announced imminently on social media.

Another literary event to look forward to is the Open Book Festival (September 6 to 10, Cape Town). The program list covers topics ranging from small publishers to sci-fi, writing urban spaces, the politics of tertiary institutions, and activating queer spaces in Africa. Top local writers speaking at the event include Achmat Dangor (Bitter Fruit), Etienne van Heerden (30 Nagte in Amsterdam), SJ Naudé (The Alphabet of Birds), Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor), Gabeba Baderoon (A Hundred Silences) and Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), as well as award-winning translator Michiel Heyns and playwright Nadia Davids. 2016 Man Booker winner Paul Beatty (The Sellout) will also participate, along with Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83), European Union Prize winner Carl Frode Tiller, Nigerian author Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy) and 2017 Caine Prize winner Bushra al-Fadil.

Nthikeng Mohele has been awarded the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English for Pleasure, his fourth novel, while Mohale Mashigo picked up the debut prize for The Yearning. Previous UJ Prize winners include Zakes Mda in 2015 and Ivan Vladislavić in 2011.

Three new publications are making waves in Afrikaans publishing. Acclaimed novelist Eben Venter’s Groen Soos Die Hemel Daarbo (soon to be published in translation) explores modern sexuality and identity. It is the author’s first offering since Wolf, Wolf (2013, translated by Michiel Heyns). Radbraak, a debut poetry collection by Tjieng Tjang Tjerries author Jolyn Phillips, presents a new approach to writing Afrikaans, while Fourie Botha’s second (at times surreal) collection, Krap Uit Die See, addresses masculinity, using the sea as metaphor, and medium—that is, a channel between states of being.

Moving north, Editor-at-Large Flora Brandl speaks of summer fun in Austria:

Summer is the season of festivals in Austria. While the main theatre houses and concert halls remain closed, international performers and audiences gather in several Austrian cities to celebrate classical music, opera, theatre, dance and literature.

In Vorarlberg, the Western-most region in Austria, the Bregenzer Festspiele commenced their season with a production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen by the Danish director Kasper Holten. The festival is famous for its spectacular Seebühne, or “lake stage,” an open-air stage that floats on an artificial island in the Bodensee while the audience stalls are located on dry land (as long as it isn’t raining!) To benefit from this unique setup, Carmen dies of drowning instead of stabbing in the final scene, which made Stefan Ender put this production “through and through under the banner of water.” The iconic Seebühne and the elaborate stage design of Carmen can be seen live on the festival’s webcam.

The famous Salzburger Festspiele is in full swing too, with some of this year’s most highly acclaimed opera productions being W.A. Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito with the up-and-coming Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, and Guiseppe Verdi’s Aida featuring Anna Netrebko in one of the lead parts. The South African visual artist William Kentridge is showcasing his current installation work in a comprehensive exhibition in the Museum der Moderne, while also directing Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck for the festival. A number of theatre productions are put on for a multilingual public, amongst which are Harold Pinter’s Die Geburtstagsfeier (The Birthday Party) directed by Andrea Breth, which is performed in a German translation with English surtitles. An exceptionally committed literary public attended a seven-hour long reading of excerpts from the Austrian fin-de-siècle milestone Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities) by Robert Musil.

In Vienna, Europe’s largest contemporary dance and performance festival Impulstanz is coming to an end. Amongst its highlights were Raimund Hoghe’s dance piece La Valse, his performance reading Lettere amorose, 1999—2017, Jan Fabre’s exhibition STIGMATA, as well as Ismael Ivo’s dance performance, Oxygen.

Back in the southern hemisphere, a dispatch from Brazil Editor-at-Large Maíra Mendez Galvão:

The city of Porto Alegre in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is hosting a reading session on August 16 to celebrate the work of black women writers, led by Fernanda Bastos, Lilian Rocha and Eliane Marques, who will be reading their own poems as well as excerpts from works of black Brazilian and African writers. The informal reading is part of a partnership between the Baleia bookshop and the organizers of the FestiPoa literary festival.

Now, let’s go all the way up to the northeastern city of Salvador, where the international literary festival Flipelô has just wrapped up. The Flipelô, with over fifty activities unfolding over five days, has gathered a large roster of writers and important cultural figures such as Emicida, Maria Bethânia, Salgado Maranhão, Alexandra Lucas Coelho, Ronaldo Correia de Brito, Antonio Barreto, among others, paying homage to Jorge Amado, Zélia Gattai and Myriam Fraga. The first edition of the festival is a valuable addition to the calendar of literary festivals in Brazil, and stands out as a major event, comparable in size and scope to the most prominent literary event FLIP, that also recently concluded. You can read Asymptote’s interview with FLIP’s curator, Joselia Aguiar here.


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