Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing this week's greatest hits from the four corners of the literary globe!

Our weekly news update continues in the dawn of this exciting and unpredictable year, but before we get down to business, Asymptote has some very important news of its own (in case you missed it): our new Winter 2018 issue has launched and is buzzing with extraordinary writing across every literary genre! Meanwhile, our ever-committed Editors-at-Large—this week from Brazil, Hungary and Singapore—have selected the most important events, publications and prizes from their regions, all right here at your disposal. 

Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Singapore:

2017 ended on a high note as Singapore’s literary community celebrated the successes—and homecomings—of four fiction writers who have gained international acclaim: Krishna Udayasankar, Rachel Heng, JY Yang, and Sharlene Teo. At a packed reading organized by local literary non-profit Sing Lit Station on December 30th, the four read excerpts from their recent or forthcoming work, from Yang’s Singlish-laced speculative short fiction, to fragments of Teo’s novel Ponti, winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award. The following weekend, Udayasankar and Heng joined other Singapore-based writers such as Toh Hsien Min and Elaine Chiew for two panel discussions on aspects of international publishing, which aimed to promote legal and ethical awareness among the community here.

Other celebrations in the first fortnight of 2018 took on more deep-seated local issues. Writers, musicians and artists from among Singapore’s migrant community presented a truly cosmopolitan evening of song and poetry to a 400-strong audience that included fellow migrant workers, migrant rights activists, and members of the Singaporean public. Among the performers were the three winners of 2017’s Migrant Workers’ Poetry Competition, alongside Rubel Arnab, founder of the Migrants’ Library, and Shivaji Das, a prominent translator and community organizer. Several days after, indie print magazine Mynah—the first of its kind dedicated to long-form, investigative nonfiction—launched their second issue with a hard-hitting panel on ‘History and Storytelling’. Contributors Kirsten Han, Faris Joraimi and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow all spoke persuasively about contesting Singapore’s official narratives of progress and stability, and the role of writers in that truth-seeking work.

Looking ahead, Balasingamchow will be conducting a prose workshop for Singapore’s ‘Writing the City’ community, while the Singapore-London literary journal We Are a Website will be hosting readings with local non-profit Katha in celebration of International Women’s Day in March. And don’t forget that there’s barely a week left to submit to the inaugural Hawker Prize, established by Sing Lit Station to recognize the best poetry published in Southeast Asia—so get your nominations ready.

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, with important updates from Brazil: 

Brazil is notorious for slowing down in the summer heat between New Years and Carnaval. But alongside the celebrations and vacations, the past month also brought ample literary news.

On December 19th, the publisher Editora Record launched a book of Alberto da Cunha Melo’s complete poems in São Paulo. December also bore news of the death of surrealist author and prolific translator Raul Fiker, who passed away on the 23rd.

The final weeks of 2017 inspired reflections on recent literature. El País Brasil published a list of the best books released this past year according to three prominent critics, Manuel da Costa Pinto, founder of the magazine Cult, Josélia Aguiar, curator of the FLIP literary festival, and Ketty Valêncio, founder of Livraria Africanidades. In naming their favorite books in 2017, they pointed to the work of writers such as Milton Hatoum, Ana Martins Marques, and Vagner Souza.

Some darker news lies on the horizon. The Brazilian federal government will provide no new literary books to public schools in Brazil in 2018, the newspaper Globo reports. The government has not purchased any literature for its school libraries since 2014.

However, Brazilian literature continues onward through other initiatives, private and public. Itaú Cultural in São Paulo presents the indigenous group Huni Kuin’s oral traditions. The exhibition, which will be up until February 13th, also makes available a book on Huni Kuin culture and origin myths.

The Moreira Salles Institute (IMS) in Rio de Janeiro has another must-see exhibition: a display of Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s humorous and critical quips—referred to as “popcorn”—published between 1979-1981. The exhibition, up through mid-February, displays these words alongside the drawings of political cartoonist Ziraldo. IMS also opens its space to reflect on the work of novelist Erico Verissimo (1905-1975) in an event on January 18th.

Meanwhile, the São Paulo Cultural Center presents a series of January events for collaborative storytelling. One such event is Psicodrama, on January 13th in Piso 23 de Maio, in which participants will collectively construct dramatized stories.

May the coming weeks stimulate ideas in the lethargy of heat and humidity!

Diána Vonnák, Editor-at-Large, with the latest news from Hungary: 

After an intense December, the new year started quietly in Hungary. I collected a few highlights from the holiday season.

Seagull Books just published two short novels, The Book of Mordechai and Lazarus by the acclaimed poet and novelist, Gábor Schein, translated by Adam Z. Levy and Ottilie Mulzet. Poems of Schein have appeared in World Literature Today, and Music and Literature published an essay by him, but introducing him in longer form works to English-speaking audiences was long overdue.

Krisztina Tóth, one of the most beloved contemporary authors, turned 50 on December 5th, 2017. In a magazine interview, when she was asked about ‘ageing with grace,’ she cheekily said she’d rather become younger and uglier. Still, it might have been worth the wait for this moment: friends and colleagues organized a surprise event for her in the Petőfi Museum of Literature, where they read out their favourite poems by Tóth, and Magvető, her publishing house, published her selected poems in a new edition for the occasion.

Hungarian Literature Online started an event series called Brody Lit Night a while ago, where they hold reading meetups in English. In the December edition they invited the poet and short story writer Dénes Krusovszky, who was just awarded the Zoltán Zelk prize on December 12th. The event was recorded and the podcast version is available on HLO, featuring newly translated pieces from Krusovszky.

These busy events happen against a rather bleak cultural political background. The Hungarian government has been busy redistributing funding in the broader cultural scene. After having discontinued funding for several longstanding cultural and literary journals, a parallel infrastructure was set up for the mentoring of emerging new talent, leaving existing organisations virtually penniless. In the last days of the year, an unprecedented amount of public funding, approximately 4.5 million euros, was allocated to the central body of this new infrastructure, the so-called Carpathian Basin Talent Support Ltd. led by people known more for their political connections than their literary output. The new year will doubtlessly test the resilience of those who wish to stay out of this.

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