Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from the US, Australia, and the Czech Republic.

In addition to our usual roundup this week of the latest and most exciting prizes and competitions, our Editor-at-Large in the USA, Madeline Jones, shares some important news about sexual harassment in the nation’s media and publishing industry; Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao draws our attention to the online harassment of an Indigenous poet, just over a week before the start of Australia’s first Indigenous literature festival; Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood fills us in on the most exciting new works being released in Czech Republic, and pens a short obituary for a legendary and fearless translator who rubbed shoulders with some of the mid-century’s greatest authors and defied the Czech Soviet authorities. We hope you find this week’s news informative, and we express our solidarity with all women around the world who are standing up to abuse.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reporting from the USA: 

The American publishing and media industries have been rocked by an outpouring of sexual harassment and assault accusations against powerful men who have used their standing and infl-uence—and in some cases millions of dollars—to silence women’s complaints. The New York Times and The New Yorker reported the first stories implicating Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in a number of harassment and assault charges on October 5th, which sparked a revolution. Over fifty women have since come forward with complaints about Weinstein’s behavior, he has been fired from his own company, and Hachette Book Group promptly shut down Weinstein Books. The hashtag #metoo sprung up in the wake of these first accusations, demonstrating the sweeping extent of harassment across all areas of work and life, and a list started circulating among women in journalism and media called “Shitty Media Men” where women shared specific names of male perpetrators who had made unwanted advances or offered quid pro quos and who are still employed at prominent magazines and newspapers.

Revelations have since led to the firing or placing on leave of Editorial Director of Vox Media Lockhart Steele, Amazon Studios executive Roy Price, Editor Leon Wieseltier and Publisher Hamilton Fish of The New Republic and top editor at NPR Michael Oreskes. Prominent political journalist Mark Halperin, who has worked for ABC News, Bloomberg Politics, NBC and MSNBC over the years and authored major bestsellers like Game Change, has also been called out for harassment and subsequently removed from his role as contributor on Morning Joe. HBO cancelled a planned miniseries with Halperin and Penguin Press cancelled his much-anticipated next book.

In more celebratory news, George Saunders won the Man Booker for his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, making this the second year in a row that the prize has gone to an American, and the National Book Awards has announced its shortlist. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on November 15th.

The American literati has also been buzzing about “Ghost”, an anonymous advisor from inside the publishing industry to the hit television show Younger, which is set in the New York book publishing scene and certainly takes some liberties with their portrayal of the business’s inner workings. Publishers Marketplace, the subscription book deal reporter and industry gossip spreader, has suspicions about Ghost’s identity based on the details reported in Vogue, but bets are still out…

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with the latest from Czech Republic:

To mark the publication of The Well at Morning (Karolinum Press), a collection of poems by twentieth-century Czech poet and translator Bohuslav Reynek, B O D Y features an essay by Irish poet, critic, and Reynek’s English translator, Justin Quinn. He homes in on Reynek’s decision to end one of his poems with the French word lait. “We are physically situated in a language—the coding carved in our oldest bodily memories. No matter how fluent we become in other languages, we are anchored thus in our first words. The word lait remains recalcitrantly untranslated, in acknowledgement both of his wife, as well as the limits of his own skills as translator.” You can read two poems by Bohuslav Reynek in B O D Y and an interview with Justin Quinn on Czech Radio’s website.

Twelve years ago the Czech Ministry of Culture reinstated the State Prizes for literature and translation, first awarded in 1920 and given annually, until the Communist Party takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. This year the prize went to writer Jáchym Topol both for his latest novel Citlivý člověk (A Sensitive Person), and in acknowledgement of his literary output to date. The legendary translator from English, Eva Kondrysová, sadly passed away on September 17th, aged 90, just a few days after learning that she was the recipient of the state prize for translation (and a day after the death of the popular writer Petr Šabach). In the course of her career Kondrysová brought Czech readers the works of, among others, Jane Austen, Henry Fielding, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith. She has also cooked plum dumplings for Allen Ginsberg, and after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, she evaded the secret police to meet Philip Roth. She also lent her name to many blacklisted translators, enabling them to publish in hard times.

Dreams from Beyond, an anthology showcasing Czech speculative fiction in English edited by Julie Nováková, has been available for free as a download since 2016. Rachel Cordasco introduces the anthology, now also available in print, and presents other Czech examples of the genre available in English. These include The Fifth Dimension by Petr Vopěnka (Barbican Press, 2015), one of a dozen Czech authors who have responded to a survey recently conducted by the literary journal HOST about what the future holds: “We will be banging in vain on the doors of eternity but will never find out why we are here. Nor shall we ever encounter an extraterrestrial civilisation—we’ll be like gold diggers sifting the deposit of the universe.” Czech speakers will enjoy the futuristic rap contributed to the survey by writer Petra Hůlová. Meanwhile, her Three Plastic Rooms (Jantar Publishing), an outrageous monologue by an ageing prostitute, launches on November 16th in Prague and on November 21st in London in Alex Zucker’s translation, which has received the PEN Translates Award.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Australia: 

The Boundless literary festival took place this weekend on October 28th. In line with its focus on Indigenous and culturally diverse writing, panelists attempted to engage in frank discussion about whether white writers have the right to tell other people’s stories and the need for more diverse voices on the Australian literary scene. Boundless comes as a breath of fresh air after incidents at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival and last year’s Brisbane Writers Festival foregrounded an appalling lack of awareness and sensitivity concerning race and racism. Alarmingly, ten days prior to Boundless, high school students attacked Indigenous writer Ellen van Neerven via Twitter en masse following the inclusion of her poem “Mango” on the national Higher School Certificate exam. In an interview, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, director of one of the main organizations behind the festival, cautioned that the mere occurrence of the festival shouldn’t be cause for celebration. Those involved in Boundless need to critically assess its successes, failures, and where to go next.

In award-related news: Sam Carmody’s The Windy Season has won the 2017 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, and the shortlist for the Voss Literary Prize has been announced: Dodge Rose by Jack Cox, Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan, Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison, The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn, and A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe. The winner will be announced on December 1st .

The shortlist for this year’s Most Underrated Book has come out as well. The finalists are Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink, Susan McCreery’s Loopholes, Christina Kennedy’s Horse Island, and the graphic novel The Invisible War—a collaborative project by Ailsa Wild, Briony Barr, Gregory Crocetti, Ben Huchings, and Jeremy Barr.

Last but not least, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Book Club has opened its national poll for The Book Club’s Five of the Best in 2017. Members of the Australian public are welcome to weigh in with their favorite reads released this year. Voting closes on November 23rd .


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