Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Music, art and linguistics have been knocking on literature's door around the world this week. Asymptote members bring you the scoop.

Literature is interdisciplinary by nature, and the world showed us how this week. From visual art exhibitions and a reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Hong Kong to a music festival infiltrated by writers in Slovakia and a commemoration of the late sociolinguist Jesús Tuson in Catalan, there is much to catch up on the literary world’s doings this week.

Hong Kong Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan brings us up to speed:

Themed “Fictional Happiness,” the third edition of Hong Kong Literary Season ran from June to late August. The annual event is organised by one of the most important Hong Kong literary organisations, the House of Hong Kong literature. This year the event featured an opening talk by Hong Kong novelist Dung Kai-cheung and Taiwanese writer Luo Yijun, a writing competition, an interdisciplinary visual arts exhibition, and a series of talks, workshops and film screenings. Five visual artists were invited to create installations inspired by five important works of Hong Kong fiction in response to the exhibition title, “Fictional Reality: Literature, Visual Arts, and the Remaking of Hong Kong History.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration has been a hot trend in the Hong Kong literary scene recently. Led and curated by visual artist Angela Su, Dark Fluid: a Science Fiction Experiment, is the latest collection of sci-fi short stories written by seven Hong Kong artists and writers. The book launch on September 2 took place at the base of Hong Kong arts organisation, “Things that Can Happen,” in Sham Shui Po. The experimental project was initiated as an artistic effort to reflect on recent social turmoils through scientific imagination and dystopian visions. The book launch also presented a dramatic audio adaptation of one of the stories, “Epidemic Investigation,” from the collection.

On September 6, PEN Hong Kong hosted a bilingual reading session (Cantonese and English) as part of the International Literature Festival Berlin (ILB) at Art and Culture Outreach (ACO) in Wan Chai. About twelve Hong Kong writers, journalists, and academics participated in “The Worldwide Reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” by reading excerpts of their choice from works that deal with issues of human rights.

Amid the literary and artistic attention to Hong Kong social issues and history, local literary magazine, Fleur de Lettre, will take readers on a literary sketching day-trip in Ma On Shan on September 9. During the event named “August and On Shan,” participants will visit a former iron mine in Ma On Shan to imagine its industrial past through folk tales and historical relics.

Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood on the sizzling summer festivities in Slovakia’s literary and music circles:

A scorching hot literary summer season in Slovakia kicked off on June 1 with BRaK, the Bratislava Book Festival, a showcase for non-commercial publishing, featuring book designers and illustrators as well as authors. Now in its fourth year, BRaK presented writers from Czech Republic (Michal Ajvaz) and Poland (Weronika Murek and Jacek Hugo-Bader) as well as the French Algerian author Jean-Michel Guenassia and the Argentine Canadian essayist and novelist Alberto Manguel, German writer and graphic artist Birgit Weyhe, illustrators Géraldine Alibeu and Maurizio Quarello, and the Ukrainian book designer duo Art Studio Grafika.

For several years running literature has managed to infiltrate Pohoda, one of Central Europe’s biggest music festivals held on a former airfield in Trenčín. No less than sixty authors, undeterred by a weather forecast promising a hailstorm, appeared at the Martinus Bookshop literary tent. Attendees included Slovak cult writer Dušan Mitana, his Czech colleagues Jáchym Topol and Marek Šindelka, as well as several Slovak authors. The biggest draw was the Israeli writer Etgar Keret who came to launch Osem percent ničoho (Eight Percent of Nothing), a selection of short stories he specially selected for this publication, translated into Slovak by Silvia Singer. Naming Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five as the book that influenced him most, Keret said it “taught him about the power of humour and the need to try and change things even if you know they are unchangeable.”

The picturesque medieval mining town of Banská Štiavnica provided an altogether more intimate setting for the fifteenth year of the poetry festival Cap à l’Est, held between August 16 and 19. Aiming to build bridges between Paris and the Francophone poets of Central and Eastern Europe, the festival featured poetry readings, classical music concerts, art exhibitions, a performance by the Roma theatre Romathan from Košice in eastern Slovakia, and French classes for children. The founding poets—Guy Goffette (France), Aksinia Mihaylova (Bulgaria), Dagnija Dreika (Latvia) and Simona Popescu (Romania) —read from their works alongside the Portuguese poet Rui Cóias and a range of Slovak authors, including past Asymptote contributor Mária Ferenčuhová, at various venues across the historic old town and its environs.

Last but not the least, Manel Mula Ferrer reporting from Catalonia:

Perhaps the most important event for Catalan literature, the xxxv Setmana del Llibre en Català (35th Week of the Book in Catalan) will take place outside Barcelona’s Cathedral between September 8 and 17. The Setmana will gather professionals and readers from all around the world, specially from the Catalan-speaking territories. Headliners for the Setmana include international bestsellers Paul Auster, who will present his latest book 4 3 2 1 which has recently been translated into Catalan, and Jaume Cabré, author of Jo confesso (Confessions), who has been awarded the 21è Premi Trajectòria (21st Trajectory Award) for his lifelong contribution to the promotion of Catalan culture. Other writers who will participate in the Setmana include Jordi Coca (Under the dust), Jordi Puntí (Lost Luggage), Italian writer and translator Erri de Luca (The Day Before Happiness) and Galician writer Suso de Toro (Tick-Tock).

The short story in Catalan also seems to have something to celebrate this month. To begin with, the Setmana will host the award ceremony of the increasingly popular Premi Núvol de Contes (Núvol Award for short stories) which, granted by the online publication Núvol, seeks to revitalise a genre often marginalised in the field. This month also marks the fifteenth anniversary of the publication Paper de vidre, a literary journal that offers its readers carefully curated short stories, not only Catalan originals but also translations.

Finally, we want to commemorate Catalan writer and sociolinguist Jesús Tuson, who passed away on August 5th. He wrote about sociolinguistics and against the central government policies that opposed linguistic immersion. With his books being read at most Catalan courses in secondary school, he has bequeathed us generations of enthusiastic young readers.


Read more from around the world: