Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing you the latest in world literature news.

Never is there a dull period in the world of literature in translation, which is why we make it our personal mission to bring you the most exciting news and developments. This week our Editors-at-Large from Mexico, Central America, and Spain, plus a guest contributor from Lithuania, are keeping their fingers on the pulse! 

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

On February 21, numerous events throughout Mexico took place in celebration of the International Day of Mother Languages. In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, CELALI (the State Center for Indigenous Language and Art) held a poetry reading featuring Tseltal poet Antonio Guzmán Gómez, among others, and officially recognized Jacinto Arias, María Rosalía Jiménez Pérez, and Martín Gómez Rámirez for their work in developing and fortifying indigenous languages in the state.

Later in San Cristóbal, at the Museum of Popular Cultures, there was a poetry reading that brought together four of the Indigenous Mexican poetry’s most important voices: Mikeas Sánchez, Adriana López, Enriqueta Lúnez, and Juana Karen, representing Zoque, Tseltal, Tsotsil and Ch’ol languages, respectively. Sánchez, Lúnez, and Karen have all published in Pluralia Ediciones’s prestigious “Voces nuevas de raíz antigua” series.

Saturday, February 24 in Mexico City, there was a book presentation for Náandi, pireku ma cheti sapiini/Cantos de una mamá purépecha a su hijo (a) (Songs from a Purépecha Mother to her Child) by Purépecha writer Rubí Tsanda Huerta.

Also in Mexico City, Pluralia Ediciones announced that on March 2 they will hold a book presentation for the latest publication by Me’phaa poet Hubert Matiùwáa (Huberta Malina), Cicatriz que te mira (A Scar that Watches You). The title series from Malina’s debut volume, Xtámbaa/Piel de tierra (Earthen Skin), was featured in Asymptote’s January 2018 issue.

Olivia Snaije, Guest Contributor, reporting from Lithuania:

The 19th Vilnius Book Fair, the largest in the region, opened to great excitement last week on February 22. Its five hundred events over four days attracted a record-breaking attendance of over 67,000 visitors.

One of the first events was a panel about Lithuania’s presence at the London Book Fair. Chaired by British journalist Rosie Goldsmith, who runs the European Literature Network, four well-known Lithuanian authors exchanged views on Lithuanian literature. Kristina Sabaliuskaitė of the impressive and best-selling historical quartet, Silva Rerum, said that the period she chose to write about—seventeenth and eighteenth-century Lithuania—was a time when “cultures and religions co-existed peacefully and successfully.”

The octagenarian poet, Tomas Venclova, who was part of a Soviet bloc dissident circle that included Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, recalled reading a smuggled edition of Orwell’s 1984 with the help of a dictionary during the Soviet occupation and, after reading it, realizing he “could no longer stay in this country.” Novelist Undinė Radzevičiūtė said she thought in Russian but wrote in Lithuanian, which may explain why her writing style is “unusual,” less florid than most Lithuanian authors. In response to this, Kristina Sabaliuskaitė said that it was fanciful to think that one could be a purist as far as the Lithuanian language was concerned.

Lastly, Alvydas Šlepikas, a poet, playwright and author, said that his novel, My Name is Marytė, about Wolfskinder—orphaned German children who fled to Lithuania at the end of World War II—could only have been written following Lithuanian independence “because to portray German children as victims was taboo.” His book, he asserted, was a way to fill in “historical blank spaces.”

The 2017 Book of the Year prize was awarded to a Bildungsroman called Pietinia Kronikas. Written by Rimantas Kmita and published by Tyto Alba, it described the first years of Lithuania’s newfound independence. The Poetry Book of the Year was another Tyto Alba publication: Štai by Agnė Žagrakalytė. “People were happier than in the past years and came to the book fair prepared, and with lists,” said Jurgita Ludavičienė, the editor of Tyto Alba. “They were very interested in new titles and translated titles too. I have the impression that Lithuanians are very open to the world and to themselves.”

Manel Mula Ferrer, Catalan Editor-at-Large, reporting from Spain: 

Momentum builds up for Catalan literature followers worldwide as Mercè Rodoreda’s posthumous masterpiece, Death in Spring (La mort i la primavera), will be published by Penguin Books this April 5th in a translation by Martha Tennent. This highly lyrical novel, which had already seen the light in a translation published by Open Letter in 2009, follows the internal monologue of a young male in a timeless utopian town where people live in constant anxiety, threatened by beings that have never been seen, blindly following the cruelest customs, waiting for a tree-like death in a regime of fear only occasionally overturned by desire. This is one of the most famous novels by the most celebrated Catalan writer: lyrical but plain, intriguing but tender, it has all the ingredients of a classic.

Concerning Catalan publications, we’re excited to see one of Mallorca’s most celebrated poets, Sebastià Alzamora, publish his latest poetry book, La Netedat (The Cleanliness), after a five-year break from the genre. On a more controversial note, we recently found out that Mallorcan rapper Valtònyc has been sentenced to prison for his songs, which allegedly slandered the Crown and exalted terrorism. Artist support groups, including writer Biel Mesquida and cinematographer Agustí Villalonga, are organizing demonstrations throughout the country to protest against what they deem an attack on freedom of speech.

On a final note, we want to commemorate translator Joan Fontcuberta, who passed away last February. He introduced many of us to German and English literature, and has undoubtedly enriched Spanish and Catalan canons of translated works.

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America:

We kick things off with good news coming from Costa Rica; the winners of the Aquileo J. Echeverría National Literary Prize were announced. Alfredo Trejos and José María Zonta share the poetry award with their books Prusia, published by Catafixia Editorial (Guatemala), and El libro de la Dinastía de Bambú respectively. Trejos had previously won this prize in 2011 for Cartas sin cuerpo. Guillermo Barquero was announced as the winner in the short story category for Anatomía comparada, Carlos Fonseca in the essay category for La lucidez del miope, and Byron Salas in the novel category for Mercurio en primavera.

These awards are somewhat bittersweet, since Editorial Germinal, the publishing house behind of two of these titles—Barquero’s Cartas sin cuerpo and Fonseca’s La lucidez del miope—recently announced it is closing operations. During its impressive nine-year run, Germinal published Samanta Schweblin, Cristina Ramírez, Luis Chaves, Luis Negrón, Juan Villoro, and many others.

In Guatemala, as part of their theatric poetry project called Escénica/Poética, indie press veterans Catafixia Editorial premiered their latest play, based on the work of Guatemalan poet Francisco Nájera. Catafixia had previously adapted the work of Javier Payeras, Rosa Chávez, and Vania Vargas. This time, with the help of talented actors such as Patricia Orantes, Josué Sotomayor, Braulio Padilla, Marcelo Solares, and Herbert Meneses, Catafixia brought on stage Nájera’s potency and flare.

Finally, the Salon International de l’Edition et du Livre (SIEL) in Casablanca, Morocco recently received the Panamanian writers Giovanna Benedetti, Griselda López, and Pedro Crenes Castro. Benedetti presented a book of stories: Vértigo de malabares, and a collection of all her poems, Después de los objetos. Griselda López presented a book of short stories as well, entitled Las capas del tiempo. And Crenes Castro presented Cómo ser Charles Atlas, with which he won the 2017 Ricardo Miró National Prize for a short story collection, and Puente levadizo, an anthology of over twenty writers from Panama and Spain, where the author resides.


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