Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The first dispatches of 2018 bring us the literary news from Albania, Argentina, and the U.K.

As the new year gets underway, we are back with more literary news from all over the world. Barbara Halla updates us on the progress of the National Library in Albania. We learn about events in the Argentinian literary scene from Sarah Moses. Finally, Alice Fischer shares several articles highlighting the best books of 2017 and updates us about a new literary agency in the UK.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large for Albania:

2017 proved a difficult year for the field of Albanian studies: Prominent Albanologist Robert Elsie passed away in October 2017. Elsie left behind a vast bibliography on Albanian history and language, not to mention hundreds of English translations spanning centuries of Albanian literature, all available for free on a dedicated website. Despite the loss, some good news awaits his fans and researchers in this field. I.B. Tauris, an independent publishing house based in London, will issue in early 2018 two of Elsie’s never-before-published works: “Albanian Bektashis” and “The Book of Kosovo.” No definitive publication date is available yet, but interested readers can find many of Elsie’s previous books for sale on I.B. Tauris’s catalogue. Updates on the upcoming publications will be published on Elsie’s personal page, now maintained by his life-partner, Stephan Trieweiler.

In other news, the National Library of Albania might close its doors for 2018 as a comprehensive renovation and re-organization project is underway. The renovations became imperative after a fire last March burned through a portion of its stacks, though rare and irreplaceable items were spared. The National Library is already working under reduced capacities. Patrons are not allowed to the borrow books or other items, and thus the building functions only as a study and reading space. Interviewed by local news stations, the Library’s director, Persida Asllani, emphasized the need for this temporary closure to allow for a speedy, albeit gradual, reconstruction.

On top of its traditional functions, the National Library also serves  as Tirana’s public library and houses the American Corner, a cultural hub for English-language literature and activities, supported by the U.S. Embassy in Albania. Notwithstanding the ban on borrowing hard copy materials, the Library has digitized various elements from its rare collections of manuscripts, maps, and magazines published before 1944, now available online.

Sarah Moses, Editor-at-Large for Argentina: 

In mid-December, the National Library held a series of literary events with Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson. On December 11, Atwood spoke to Alberto Manguel, the library’s current director, about the adaptation of her novels The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace for television, and the relevance of her work and speculative fiction in the current political climate. Later that week, local scholars and writers were invited to discuss the literary genre in a panel titled “The Shadow of the Future: Technopolitical Concerns in Dystopian Literature.” Afterwards, Manguel spoke with Argentinian novelist and short story writer, Angélica Gorodischer, known for her large oeuvre of dystopian works. Kalpa Imperial (Small Beer Press, 2013), translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, is the first of Gorodischer’s more than twenty books to appear in English.

At the very end of 2017, several independent publishers and bookstores held sales and year-end events. On December 21, the inaugural La Conjura book fair took place at El Quetzal, a cooperatively owned cultural centre. More than thirty-five presses participated in the fair and many authors were in attendance to recommend their favourite titles and sign copies of their work. Bookstores such as micasa and Runrún offered books at discounted prices throughout the month.

Looking to the new year, bookstore and publisher Eterna Cadencia, a Buenos Aires institution, compiled a list of titles by local and international authors, coming out with sixty presses small and large, that readers can look forward to in 2018. Though 2017 was a tough year for the Argentinian publishing industry, the number and variety of books scheduled for release are a testament to the tenacity of national presses.

Alice Fischer, Senior Executive Assistant, writing from the UK:

Literary news was scarce as the Christmas holidays approached—but, as is traditional, there was no shortage of “Best of 2017” book lists. The White Review‘s “Books of the Year” compiles the reading experiences and recommendations from members of the editorial team, contributors to the magazine, and authors. For The Guardian, independent publishers pick their favourite books of the year. And, as we enter a new year, Alex Preston writes in The Guardian on the novels to look out for in 2018.

Earlier in December, the Republic of Consciousness Prize long list was revealed. Founded in 2016 and sponsored by the Times Literary Supplement, the Prize rewards literary fiction—more specifically, the best of “hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose”—published by small presses based in the UK and Ireland. The long list features thirteen works of literary fiction (a healthy and exciting mix of English-language and translated fiction, short stories, novellas, and novels), including Mathias Enard, Eley Williams, Ariana Harwicz, and Preti Taneja. The shortlist will be announced on February 15.

A rather damning report commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE) found that print sales of literary fiction have fallen over the last decade, and that “despite some recent positive indicators, they remain significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties.” Collapsing sales, along with the falling price of a literary fiction book over the last fifteen years, and falling advances, mean that few writers are able to support themselves through literary writing alone. The report identifies a “need for more support and new support models for literary fiction.”

Some much more welcome and exciting news from the past few weeks was the announcement that the Good Literary Agency, a new agency dedicated to championing under-represented voices in publishing, is receiving a major grant for over £580,000 from ACE. The agency is the project of author Nikesh Shukla, who edited the bestselling book of essays The Good Immigrant, and literary agent Julia Kingsford. Next spring, the pair will also be launching The Good Journal, a literary journal showcasing “the very best work by writers and illustrators of colour.”


Read more dispatches from the Asymptote blog: