Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa: 

South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.

In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.

Another interesting addition was Amy Jephta’s Afrikaans play, Kristalvlakte, in the first-time published author category alongside Moses Shimo Seletisha’s Tšhutšhumakgala and Mohale Mashigo’s The Yearning, which recently won the University of Johannesburg Prize.

The Literary Translators Award shortlist includes Bridget Theron-Bushell’s Afrikaans-to-English translation of The Thirstland Trek: 1874–1881, Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko’s translation of isiXhosa imbongi (praise poems) DLP Yali-Manisi’s praise poems, as well as Opland, Maseko and Wandile Kuse’s translation of nineteenth-century writing by the isiXhosa intellectual, William Wellington Gqoba, from Volume 1 of The Opland Collection of Xhosa Literature, William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali: Xhosa Histories and Poetry (1873–1888).

In the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award shortlist are Etienne van Heerden, a novelist and academic writing in Afrikaans, alongside Sepedi writer Aletta Matshedisð Motimele, and the isiZulu sangoma (traditional healer) and storyteller Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa. Literary greats such as Keorapetse Kgositsile, Es’kia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer, Miriam Tlali, Mongane Serote, Sindiwe Magona, and Zakes Mda have all been previous SALA winners.

The first week of October saw the release of annual South African literary zine Ons Klyntji. The theme of this year’s edition was “International” and featured writing, illustrations, and photography by South Africans “about here and elsewhere,” including work that looks at life in Georgia, India, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, France, UAE, Uganda and Malawi. Highlights include new work by Ryk Hattingh (shortlisted for the kykNET-Rapport Prize), novelist Eben Venter, and poets Toast Coetzer and Moses Mtileni (previously featured in Asymptote).

New in translation is Bonita Avenue, the debut novel by Peter Buwalda, hailed as “the Netherlands’ Jonathan Franzen,” which has been translated into Afrikaans by Zandra Bezuidenhout.

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, Guatemala:

It’s anniversary, debut translations, and award season in Central America’s literary scene!

Just last week, two of Guatemala’s most important indie presses, Catafixia Editorial and F&G Editores celebrated their eighth and twenty-fourth anniversaries, respectively. Catafixia has published up-and-coming young Latin American poets like Julio Serrano Echeverría, Vania Vargas, and Alfredo Trejos, as well as well-established writers such as José Kozer (Cuba) and Guggenheim Fellow Raul Zurita (Chile). F&G, on the other hand, has also contributed to the immense well that is Central American literature with authors like David Unger, Valeria Cerezo, and Arnoldo Gálvez Suárez. Before the year ends, F&G will publish a new edition of Miguel Ángel Asturias‘s El Papa Verde as part of their effort to reissue the Nobel Prize-winning Guatemalan author’s entire bibliography.

Additionally, the novelist, short-story writer, and journalist Francisco Alejandro Méndez recently received the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature—Guatemala’s most prestigious literary prize. Francisco is the author of books such as Manual para desaparecer, Ruleta Rusa, Saga de libélulas, and Completamente Inmaculada; he is Guatemala’s most important noir fiction and crime fiction writer.

On the other side of the isthmus, in Panama, the annual Ricardo Miró Literary Prize, the oldest in the country, was awarded. Pedro Crenes Castro’s “Cómo ser Charles Atlas” won the short-story category, Jhavier Romero Hernández’s La brujula del invierno won the poetry category, Manuel de Jesús Paz’s Autopsia Psicológia won the theatre category, and Luis Pulido Ritter won the essay category. The novel category was not awarded. The Ricardo Miró Award is Central America’s most generous award, giving its authors $15,000.

On a final note, Guatemalan writer Arnoldo Gálvez Suárez recently returned from a seven-city tour in Germany where he presented the translation of his 2015 novel Puente Adentro, entitled Die Rache der Mercedes Lima. This is Arnoldo’s first translation into German. The translator is Lutz Kliche, who has previously translated Eduardo Galeano, Sergio Ramírez, and Ernesto Cardenal.

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, Brazil:

Regional literary festivals abounded in Brazil this October. The Jornada Nacional de Literatura, an annual literary event that was suspended in 2015 in the wake of Brazil’s financial crisis, returned this year to Rio Grande do Sul on October 2-6 in partnership with the University of Passo Fundo. Meanwhile, on October 5-8, the region of Bahia celebrated the Festa Literária Internacional de Cachoeira (FLICA) in the city of Cachoeira. The festival highlighted Afro-Brazilian literature with the release of new books by Cidinha da Silva and Lívia Natália.

Immediately following FLICA, the eleventh annual Bienal do Livro de Pernambuco took place in the city of Olinda. This biennale, one of the most important literary events in the North and Northeast of Brazil, paid homage to novelist Lima Barreto (who was similarly honored at FLIP in July) and Pernambucan writer Fernando Monteiro.

In the coming weeks, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo promise a range of events. This weekend (October 2629) is the seventeenth annual Primavera Literária do Rio. Organized by LIBRE, a cohort of independent publishers, the free event will explore topics such as the democratization of literature. Then, on November 11, another publishing event: the art book festival Feira Miolo(s), organized by publisher Lote 42, will take place in the Mário de Andrade Library in São Paulo.

For those interested in reported non-fiction, the first-ever Festival 3i (Innovated, Inspiring, Independent journalism) will take place in Rio on November 1112. Festival 3i invites eight online Brazilian media platforms, including Agência Pública and Repórter Brasil to discuss everything from financing independent media to technology in journalistic storytelling. Guest speakers include Glenn Greenwald, founder of The Intercept Brasil. Tickets can be purchased here.

As these diverse events connect writing with politics, Brazil also commemorates avant-garde actress Ruth Escobar who passed away at age eighty-two on October 5. Escobar acted in some of Brazil’s most notable theater productions, including Roda Viva (1968), written by Chico Buarque and directed by Zé Celso, while at the same time resisting Brazil’s last dictatorship. She openly condemned the censorship and arrests of authors by the authoritarian regime.


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