Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from Slovakia, the UK, Mexico and Guatemala.

This week brings us some exciting news from Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and Mexico, thanks to Editors-at-Large Julia Sherwood, Paul Worley, and Kelsey Woodburn as well as Senior Executive Assistant, Cassie Lawrence. Here’s to another week!

Julia Sherwood, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Slovakia:

Two festivals concluded the hectic literary festival season in Slovakia. LiKE 2017, a contemporary literature and multimedia festival was held in Košice, the eastern metropolis, running parallel with the 14th Žilina Literature Festival in the country’s north. The latter, held from September 28 to October 8 in the repurposed New Synagogue and entitled Fakt?Fakt! (Fictitious Truth or Truthful Fiction?), focused on the alarming spread of disinformation, pre-empting the decision by Collins Dictionary to declare “fake news” the official word of the year 2017. The programme featured student discussions, workshops on how to distinguish fact from fiction, as well as readings and meetings with literary critics and writers. Michal Hvorecký discussed his latest novel, Trol (The Troll), a dark dystopia set in the murky world of Russian fake news factories, which has acquired a frightening new relevance far exceeding what the author had anticipated when he set out to write his book a few years ago.

Also appearing at the Žilina Festival, Ondrej Štefánik arrived soon after winning Anasoft Litera, Slovakia’s most prestigious literary award for his 2016 novel Som Paula (My Name is Paula). The book’s qualities were deemed to stand out from standard Slovak literary production and the jury praised the author for being one of the few male writers capable of putting himself in the shoes of women today. While this award has generally met with approval, the choice of Jakub Zaťovič as winner of Poviedka, the best short story award, for “O psoch” (A Story About Dogs) was lambasted, with some critics describing it as outright kitsch.

Two Slovak women writers did the rounds of literary festivals in the US and the UK. In September, Asymptote contributor Jana Beňová presented her European Prize for Literature-winning novel Seeing People Off (trans. Janet Livingstone) – a book that is “at once gritty yet beautiful, intelligent yet unpretentious, with a strange humor reminiscent of Daniil Kharms but with more tenderness“ (Kenyon Review) – at the Brooklyn Book Festival, where she appeared alongside Karl Ove Knausgaard, as well as at the Franklin Park Series  and at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, Uršuľa Kovalyk returned to the UK in early October to promote her coming-of-age story The Equestrienne in London and at the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Gertrude Stein, Delmore Schwartz, Charles Bernstein, Robert Lax, Craig Dworkin, Steven Zultanski, and Trisha Low are just some twentieth-century American writers who had not been familiar to Slovak readers. The latest issue of Revue svetovej literatúry (World Literature Review), Slovakia’s oldest journal featuring literature in translation, is set to change that. Edited by literature scholar and translator Ivana Hostová, and writer and translator (and Asymptote contributor) Peter Macsovszky, the journal aims to introduce Slovak readers to authors outside the mainstream of American literature.

Cassie Lawrence, Asymptote Senior Executive Assistant, UK:

Saturday, November 11 saw the annual Society of Young Publishers conference taking place in Oxford. Many young professionals gathered to discuss the big issues surrounding publishing, such as diversity, sustainability and ethics. Speakers included Managing Director of Orion, Katie Espiner, CEO of The Publishers Association Stephen Lotinga, founder of Reading In Heels Alice Revel, and Fitzcarraldo Editions founder Jacques Testard.

Now for the awards. Writer and translator Emily Ford recently won the RSL V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize for her short story “The Hikers.” Ford fought off competition from Hazel Atkinson, Grace Browns and Gemma Reeves to take home the £1,000 prize. Another perk of winning was taking part in a panel discussion with acclaimed author Tessa Hadley, which took place on the November 8.

English PEN have awarded titles from fifteen different countries with the PEN Translates awards. Co-chair Ros Schwartz said of the selection that publishers were becoming “more adventurous with their choices” reports The Bookseller. Countries included in the list were Iraqi Kurdistan, Mauritania, Colombia and Italy with titles such as Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Shape of the Ruins and Butterfly Valley by Sherko Bekas. These titles will now receive grants to bear the cost of translation.

Leeds-based publisher Peepal Tree Press have won the Clarissa Luard Award for Independent Publishers. The press plan to put the £10,000 award to launching a new fortnightly podcast. Specialising in international writing from the Caribbean, its diasporas, and the UK, the podcast will be entitled “The New Caribbean Voices”. The winner was announced alongside the David Cohen Prize for Literature at a ceremony at BAFTA in London, which went to the legendary playwright Tom Stoppard.

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Asymptote Editors-at-Large for Mexico:

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, has been a hub of literary activity over the past few weeks. The XV Festival Cervantino Barroco took place in San Cristobal from November 3–5. On Friday the 3rd, among other events there was a poetry reading by Jorge Contreras Herrera, a book presentation held for Ornán Góméz’s Anoche mataron a mi nahual (Last Night They Killed my Nahual; 2017), winner of the 2016 Premio Internacional de Novela Marco Aurelio Carballo. On Saturday the 4th, there were panels of poetry readings that included Snichimal Vayuchil member (Tsotsil) Susi Bentzulul and Chary Gumeta, among others, followed by two panels on the 5th that featured numerous authors, including (Tsotsil) Mikel Ruiz, (Ch’ol) Canario de la Cruz, (Tseltal) Antonio Guzmán Gómez,  (Zoque) Lyz Sáenz, Norma Vargas Macossay, and Alejandro Aldana Sellschopp. A number of these same writers travelled to Guatemala the weekend of November 10–12 to participate in the III Festival Internacional Poesía Sin Fronteras.

The XXII Encuentro Festival de Teatro Comunitario de los Volcanes (The 22nd Volcanoes Community Theater Festival) took place from November 9 –19 in San Cristobal de las Casas. Opening with a panel discussion of contemporary indigenous theater throughout that included Raúl Péretz Ehecatl, and Maya dramaturges Petrona de la Cruz (Tsotsil) and Diego Méndez Guzmán (Tseltal), the festival held presentations and put on plays throughout the city.


Read more dispatches from the Asymptote blog: