Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing this week's greatest hits from Mexico, the Czech Republic, and France!

Still happily reading through all the amazing pieces included in the brand new Winter 2018 issue, we bring you the latest literary news from around the world. Up first is Paul Worley with news about recent publications and translations. Julia Sherwood then fils us in on the latest from the Czech Republic. To close things out, Barbara Halla reports from France. 

Paul WorleyEditor-at-Large, Reporting from Mexico:

From Quintana Roo, Mexico, The Maya cultural site La cueva del tapir (The Tapir’s Cave), announced the forthcoming publication of a new Maya arts and culture magazine, Sujuy Ts’ono’ot: El arte de los territorios en resistencia. The unveiling of the issue will be held February 3 at 7 PM in Bacalar’s International House of the Writer. According to the information released on Facebook, contributors to the first issue will include Maya writers from the region, in addition to writers from Guatemala (Walter Paz Joj) and Bolivia (Elías Caurey).

On January 17, Zapotec poet Irma Pineda announced the publication of her latest collection of poetry, available in both digital and print versions via Amazon. Published using Createspace, the book marks an important moment in Indigenous literatures with more and more authors, particularly those who lack or do not want government support, embracing independent self-publishing. While self-publishing in print has been something of a norm for years, particularly for Indigenous writers who live in rural communities, this edition makes Pineda one of the more important authors to engage independent publication, and one of the very few to engage the digital medium. As such, it may herald a coming trend in Indigenous literatures.

On January 12, Yucatec Maya poet and playwright Feliciano Sánchez Chan released an open call for the participation of Maya writers in the 2018 edition of the Feria Internacional de Lectura Yucatán. Specifically, he seeks to coordinate the efforts of these writers in order to promote the exchange any materials that promote reading in the Maya language.

Finally, the thirty-four year-old Yucatec Maya writer Isaac Carrillo Can passed away in Yucatán’s state capital, Mérida, on November 24. A winner of México’s most highly prized Indigenous literary award, the Premio Nezahualcóyotl, Carrillo Can’s diverse body of work included everything from his novel Danzas de la noche to his participation in the art exhibition Indigeneity, Decoloniality, and @rt at Duke and Emerson Universities in the US.

Julia SherwoodEditor-at-Large, Reporting from Czech Republic:

2018 will mark anniversaries of several momentous events in the past one hundred years of the Czech Republic (as well as its former smaller half, Slovakia). The Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968 dealt a particularly heavy blow to literature, silencing some of the most acclaimed writers, jailing some, driving others into exile, and forcing yet others to compromise.

To art historian, poet and dissident Ivan Martin Jirous (1994-2007), also known as Magor (Loony), any compromise with the regime was anathema, despite serving five jail terms for his political views, some in prisons with the harshest régime for the worst repeat offendersDescribed by Tom Stoppard as “unique, a historian, a poet, a rock-and-roll magus, a brave spirit whose life testified that culture is politics,” Jirous gained notoriety as artistic director of the Plastic People of the Universe, the band whose imprisonment in 1976 triggered the petition that grew into Charter 77. Anglophone readers now have their first opportunity to sample Jirous’s poetry, which reflects both his prison experiences and his deeper, spiritual side. The publication of the slim volume My Itinerary Has Been Monotonous for Quite a While (trans. Marek Tomin) was spearheaded by the director of London’s Czech Centre, Tereza Porybná, who launched the book at the former Horse Hospital in central London on December 6.

The career of Milan Kundera followed a different trajectory. After settling in France in 1975, he abandoned his native Czech and switched to writing in French. Following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Kundera released his books for publication in the Czech Republic in dribs and drabs. After forty years of “wandering around the world disguised in other languages,” Kundera gave the green light for the last of his books to reach Czech bookstores, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, in November 2017, “with many alterations, cuts and new ideas.” Readers and critics familiar with the samizdat edition rushed to compare the two versions and were puzzled by the author’s decision to excise passages relating to “the President of forgetting,” former Czechoslovak president Gustáv Husák, and the “idiot of music,” the pop star Karel Gott. Was the celebrated author worried that the aging pop idol, pushing eighty and still wildly popular, might take him to court? As Kundera never gives interviews we will probably never know.

Barbara HallaEditor-at-Large, Reporting from France:

The French Ministry of Culture hosted on January 20 its second “La Nuit de la Lecture,” a night dedicated to reading. Almost two thousand libraries and bookstores all over France participated in the event, opening their doors from 6 PM to midnight and organizing more than four thousand events. The aim: attracting readers and visitors that might otherwise not get a chance to visit these public spaces during standard opening hours. But the individual events were not limited to reading in the traditional sense. Some highlights include perusing local archives in slippers, reading fairy tales in pajamas, and even a French Revolution-themed scavenger hunt arranged by the Central Library at Versailles.

Looking to the future, Shakespeare & Company recently released its events calendar for the first quarter of 2018. The list features an eclectic mixture of authors whose work were published or translated into English. Mohsin Hamid and Eddie Izzard kick-started the season and future events include conversations with Fiona Mozley, Jesmyn Ward, Reni Eddo, and Leila Slimani, among others. For those in Paris during any of these events, entry is free, but space is limited. To get a spot, make sure to arrive at least half an hour in advance.

It’s not too early to get excited about the Paris Book Fair, held this year between March 16 and 19. Russia will be the fair’s guest of honour, with a delegation of thirty authors representing the country’s contemporary literary talent. The fair will also work to promote literature from French speaking regions and territories and expects to host one hundred independent publishers tasked with the discovery of new talent in the country. As Young Adult literature begins to attract a larger crowd of French readers, the fair will feature for the first time in its history a “Young Adult Stage” to highlight the diversity of the genre. A full programme will be available on the website soon.


For more news from the Asymptote team: