Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly dose of literary news

A quick zip through the literary world with Asymptote! Today we are visiting Iran, Brazil, and South Africa. Literary festivals, new books, and a lot more await you. 

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, fills you up on what’s been happening in Iran:

The Persian translation of Oriana Fallaci’s Nothing and Amen finding its way into Iran’s bestsellers list almost fifty years after the first publication of the translation. The book was translated in 1971 by Lili Golestan, translator and prominent Iranian art gallery owner in Tehran, and since then has had more than a dozen editions published. The most recent round of sales is related to Golestan giving a TEDx talk in Tehran a few weeks ago about her life in which she spoke of how that book was the first she ever translated and how its publication and becoming a bestseller has changed her life.

In other exciting news from Iran, the Tehran Book Garden opened its doors to the public recently. Advertised as “the largest bookstore in the world,” the space is more of a cultural complex consisting of cinemas, cultural centers, art galleries, a children’s library, science and game halls, and more. One of the key goals of the complex is to cater to families and provide the youth with a space for literary, cultural, scientific, educational, and entertainment activities. The complex is considered a significant cultural investment for the the Iranian capital of more than twelve million residents and it has since its opening become a popular destination with people of different ages and interests.

Finally, a piece of news related to translation from Iran that is amusing but also quite disturbing. It relates to the simultaneous interpretation into Persian of President Trump’s speech in the recent U.N. General Assembly broadcasted live on Iranian state-run TV (IRIB). The interpreter mistranslated several of his sentences about Iran and during some others he remained silent and completely refrained from translating. When the act was denounced by many, the interpreter published a video (aired by the IRIB news channel and available on @shahrvand_paper’s twitter account) in which he explained that he did not want to voice the antagonistic words of Trump against his country and people. This video started another round of responses. Under the tweeted video, many users reminded him of the ethics of the profession and the role of translators/interpreters, while others used the occasion to discuss the issue of censorship and the problematic performance of IRIB in general.

Let’s now go to Brazil, where Maíra Mendes Galvão, Editor-at-Large, will be our tour guide:

The independent publishing scene in Brazil is picking up steam in the midst of a political and economic crisis. Small-scale literary festivals are popping up in an effort to fulfill a need for cultural activities that neither a government in turmoil nor the private sector with its specific interests can cover. One of those initiatives is the FLIBA – Festa Literária do Baixo Augusta, set to take place on 19 September, an initiative backed by Clube de Autores, a platform of support for independent digital and print publishing. Activities will be held at a pedestrian passage underneath Consolação Avenue, at the heart of the Brazil’s major economic center, the city of São Paulo, and include readings, music, performance and interactive literary experiences.

One of the very important roles of smaller-scale literary festivals is to celebrate the work of lesser known authors and cultural players, usually minorities or local figures that did not make it to the forefront but should be recognized and honored for their contribution to Brazilian intellectual life and culture. FLI-BH, in the city of Belo Horizonte, did just that, honoring Laís Corrêa de Araújo in the festival that just wrapped up on September 17. Laís was a poet, translator, essayist, chronicler and critic and a member of a generation that included the brothers Campos, Décio Pignatari, Benedito Nunes, Luiz Costa Lima and Boris Schnaiderman.

Speaking of women in literature, the Federal University of Bahia, UFBA, is hosting the joint event VIII Seminário Internacional Mulher e Literatura and XVII Seminário Nacional—Mulher e Literatura: transgressões, descentramentos, subversão (International and National Women in Literature seminars with the theme “transgressions, de-centralizing and subversion”), from September 17-20. Panel subjects range from eroticism and women’s sexuality in literature, ageing female bodies in literature, abortion, the portrayal of black women and the works of writers such as Paulina Chiziane, Nélida Piñon, Cristina Ubax Ali Farah, Buchi Emecheta, Ana Paula Maia, Beatriz Bracher, Angélica Freitas and others.

Onwards to South Africa with Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs:

The Open Book Festival, a literary event that also includes comics and zines, took place across several locations in Cape Town in the first week of September. It aims to contribute to a new understanding of literature and ‘elsewhere’ and featured diverse panel discussions with local and international authors, including Man Booker-winner Paul Beatty, The Guardian’s Children’s fiction award-winner Alex Wheatle, Congolese writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Dutch poet Awkwazi, and South African writers Deon Meyer, Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese, Sindiwe Magona and Sylvia Vollenhoven, among others. Alex Wheatle’s storytelling, which focused on his life in Brixton and the use of dialect and location in his books for children and young adults (“I wasn’t seeing these stories on the shelves in bookshops”) was particularly inspiring.

In awards news, Hilda Smits’ debut poetry collection, Die bomereusagtigsoosons was (The trees giants, like we were), has won the 2017 Ingrid Jonker Prize for poetry. The collection looks at the emigrant experience of someone who has left a ‘homeland’ (in this case South Africa) and is trying to make sense of their identity in a new environment. Smits contrasts childhood memories with the unfamiliar realities of a life far from home, creating a personality for her adoptive city, with which she converses and which welcomes her alternately as an ordinary citizen and a tourist. Previous winners include Asymptote featured poet Nathan Trantraal, Marlene van Niekerk, and Mongane Wally Serote.

Young Afrikaans readers can look forward to a new translation of Dutch author Guus Kuijer’s popular Polleke children’s books. They were originally published in 2003 and have been recently translated into Afrikaans by Martjie Bosman and are now available in a single volume.

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