Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week, our editors bring you the literary news from Egypt, Poland, and the UK.

Solidly into the hustle and bustle of December, we are back with more updates from around the world. Omar El Adl shares the latest in film and academia from Egypt. We learn about the happenings on the Polish literary scene from Julia Sherwood. Finally, Cassie Lawrence updates us on recent literary prizes and a new publisher in the UK.

Omar El Adl, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Egypt:

The Townhouse Gallery is hosting an event titled Mise.en.scène on the representation of women and the main female characters in author Ehsan Abdel Qudoos’s work, through the screening of films based on his writings. The event took place over two days, December 5 and 6. The first day featured a screening of Henry Barakat’s Thin Thread, followed by a conversation with women’s rights advocate Doaa Abdelaal. On the second day, there was a screening of I Am Free by Salah Abu Seif, followed by a conversation with Arabic literature professor Samia Mehrez, moderated by Nour El Safoury.

On December 6, Cimatheque hosted an event titled Serge Daney In Another Place to launch a book with writings on prominent film critic Serge Daney. The book is a collection of writings appearing in Arabic for the first time as well as essays produced by participants of a film workshop that was set up by Cimatheque in April 2017.

The American University in Cairo will host a lecture entitled “Arab Theatre in the United States” on Monday, December 11 in the Tim Sullivan lounge. The lecture will be given by composer Taibi Magar, composer and writer Daniel Lazour, and lyricist and writer Patrick Lazour as part of the Center for Translation Studies’ Interdisciplinary Lecture Series.

Lastly, the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts is holding a three-day seminar on philosopher Maimonides by Aaron Tugendhaft of the University of Chicago. Tugendhaft’s work focuses on the relationship between religion and politics in the ancient Near East. The three-day event is scheduled for 6 to 9 pm on December 12 and 13  and 7 to 9:30 pm on December 14. It is a free event and open to the public, but space is limited; those interested should send an email to karim@ci-las.org to receive the readings. Though the sign-up deadline has passed, it is best to write and check in case of cancellations.

Julia Sherwood, Asymptote Editor at Large for Slovakia, reporting from Poland:

Dan Brown, Siri Hustvedt, Andrei Kurkov, Jan Němec, Lukas Bärfuss, Jacek Dukaj, Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Krisztina Tóth, Anna Kim, Mariusz Szczygieł, Dorota Masłowska, and Olga Tokarczuk were just some of the renowned authors from around the world converging on Kraków fromOctober 23 to 29  for the annual Conrad Festival. This year’s edition was named for Joseph Conrad’s Tales of Unrest, with the seven days of the festival labelled by emotions both positive and negative: fear, anger, hope, hostility, humiliation, pride, and dignity. The festival’s Artistic Director, Michał Paweł Markowski, believes that these emotions “best describe humans and communities experiencing unrest, as a link between the individual and the collective, between passions and revolution, between worry and healing.” The Conrad Award for the best literary debut of 2016 went to Anna Cieplak for Ma być czysto (Keeping it Clean).

To celebrate the 160th anniversary of the Polish-British author and bring to a close Joseph Conrad Year 2017, a collection of stories and essays entitled Conradology has been published by Comma Press with the support of the Polish Cultural Institute, the Polish Book Institute, and the British Council. Edited by Becky Harrison and Magda Raczyńska, Conradology features writing by Farah Ahamed, S. J. Bradley, Agnieszka Dale, Jacek Dukaj, Giles Foden, Zoe Gilbert, Jan Krasnowolski, Richard Niland, Wojciech Orliński, Grażyna Plebanek, Sarah Schofield, Kamila Shamsie, and Paul Theroux. It explores Conrad’s “enduring relevance in both countries, bringing together the themes that shaped his life and work—the sea, colonialism, war, travel—in conceptual essays, near futuristic tales and new journeys through the heart of darkness, cementing Conrad’s reputation as a true citizen of the world.” Writer and journalist Wojciech Orliński, novelist and Asymptote blog contributor Grażyna Plebanek, Sarah Schofield, and Professor Robert Hampson launched the book in London on December 5 and Liverpool on December 6.

Two contemporary Polish authors, who have followed in their famous compatriot’s footsteps and switched to writing in English, launched their latest books in November in London. Agnieszka Dale’s debut collection Fox Season and Other Short Stories and A. M. Bakalar’s novel Children of Our Age were both published by Jantar Publications. November also saw the US publication of two collections by Ryszard Krynicki, a major figure in contemporary Polish poetry whose work has so far been little known in English: Our Life Grows (NYRB, trans. Alissa Valles) and Magnetic Point (New Directions, trans. Clare Cavanagh, see review by Asymptote contributor Sean Gasper Bye in Words without Borders). Described as the Polish answer to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the 2008 narrative poem-cum-drama On Mother and Fatherland by poet, literature scholar, and translator Bożena Umińska-Keff is another noteworthy Polish book published in English this year, this time by MadHat Press (trans. Alissa Valles and Benjamin Paloff).

Cassie Lawrence, Senior Executive Assistant for Asymptote, reporting from the UK:

Sally Rooney was awarded the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award for her excellent novel Conversations with Friends. If you haven’t already picked up a copy I highly recommend getting your hands on it, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. Rooney is the first Irish writer to win, and the second consecutive winner from Faber. The shortlist included Julianne Pachico and Claire North. Comments from the judges can be read at The Guardian.

The judges for the Women’s Prize for Fiction have been announced, with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme editor Sarah Sands as Chair. Previously the Baileys Prize for Fiction, the award sees £30,000 given to the winner for the best writing incorporating excellence, originality and accessibility. The award ceremony will take place in June in Central London. Co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer, radio and television journalist Anita Anand, writer and comedian Katy Brand, and actress Imogen Stubbs make the rest of the judging panel.

A trio of booksellers from East London are launching a new publisher, Peninsula Press. Sam Fisher, Will Rees, and Jake Franklin plan to publish a mix of fiction and non-fiction after claiming that their work has meant that they have identified gaps in the market that are not being filled by traditional publishers. They also plan to publish a selection of pocket essays with four authors already confirmed for 2018: Will Harris, Deborah Smith, Olivia Sudjic, and Josh Cohen. Best of luck to the press, it sounds like a great endeavour.


Read more dispatches from the Asymptote blog: