Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Mexico, Guatemala, and the UK.

We’re still elated over the launch of our Spring 2018 issue, but that doesn’t mean the work of compiling literary news ever stops. Our weekly roundup brings us to Mexico, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Mexico

April has been an exciting month for the Tsotsil Maya poetry collective Snichimal Vayuchil. First, on April 12 the collective participated in a transnational indigenous poetry reading with Kimberly L. Becker, a poet of mixed Cherokee, Celtic, and Teutonic descent. Poems were read in English, Spanish, and Tsotsil, with collective coordinator Xun Betán translating several of Becker’s works into Tsotsil. The event was sponsored by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States, and Abuelita Books in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

Then on April 18, the collective held a book presentation for the recently published translation of their first book, Snichimal Vayuchil, at La Cosecha bookstore, also in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Readings were done in Tsotsil, Spanish, and English, with commentary provided by translator Paul M. Worley and Adriana Toledano.

On April 13, there was a poetry reading held at Casa Utrilla in San Cristóbal as a homage to the recently deceased Chiapanecan cultural icon Jorge Paniagua Herrera. Participants included Chary Gumeta, Marco Antonio Campos, Matza Maranto, Roberto Rico, and Carlos Gutiérrez Alfonzo.

Finally, April 19 marked the beginning of the 6th Annual Book Fair in San Cristóbal, which ran until April 22. In addition to book sales and authors’ readings, the fair included puppet shows, theater, music, and dance.

José García Escobar, Editor at Large, reporting from Guatemala

We kick things off with influential Nicaraguan writer, Sergio Ramírez who, on April 22, received the prestigious Cervantes Prize from the hands of the King of Spain, Felipe VI. Sergio, the author of more than twenty-five books, became the first Central American writer to receive the prize, and he is now in the company of other great writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Ramírez dedicated the distinction to the people of Nicaragua, who have been protesting and suffering violence and political repression from the government of Daniel Ortega.

If you want to know more about Sergio, check out the interview we did with him earlier this year.

Additionally, the Santo Domingo’s International Book Fair named Guatemala as their special guest this year. As part of the exchange, many of Guatemala’s most important writers attended the fair. Among those were up and coming young talents such as Wingston González, Martín Díaz, Rosa Chávez, and Esteban Sabino, as well as Miguel Ángel Asturias National Literature Prize in Literature Winners Francisco Morales Santos, Mario Roberto Morales, Delia Quiñónez, and David Unger.

Finally, Guatemala recently lost one of its most beloved and influential writers, the philosopher and professor Margarita Carrera. Also a winner of the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature, Margarita published more than twenty books, and her career spanned close to seventy years. She was the first woman to graduate with a literature degree in Guatemala, was a member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, and participated in the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa in 1982. Margarita passed away at the age of eighty-eight.

Daljinder Johal, Executive Assistant, reporting from the UK:

Currently, the United Kingdom has been preoccupied with the Commonwealth. From watching the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Australia from April 4 to April 15, to the UK city of Birmingham anticipating their turn as hosts in 2022, to the buzz around news that Prince Charles will be the next Commonwealth head.

In comparison, after almost three years of renovations, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre has more quietly reopened. To mark this event, there is a celebratory programme of music, dance and literary events in the revitalised space and in the wider Southbank Centre. This included a special sixtieth anniversary reading of Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, on Sunday, April 15.

The celebration of the novel’s anniversary is, of course, a global affair. Activities are taking place in nine other African countries, the US, and Canada.

When it comes to finding the best British and Irish novelists writing today, the Times Literary Supplement found this easier said than done. Scottish author, Ali Smith, topped a poll from around two hundred critics, academics and authors. Nevertheless, British literary journalist and editor, Alex Clark, commented on the increasingly complex notion of identity in the UK. Many contributors to the poll mentioned the difficulty of selecting based on nationality with writers such as Kamila Shamsie (Pakistan, England) or Zadie Smith (England, US, Italy).

In other prize news, The Guardian and 4th Estate BAME short story prize, tapping into the talents of black, Asian, and minority ethnic writers in the UK, is now open for entries for its third year.

From the publication of Achebe’s debut novel to such competitions today, the UK literary scene has seen significant changes with many more authors with links to Commonwealth countries. With current events, there has been great debate over Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth. Yet perhaps it’s also the time to apply the same interest to recognising such changes and expanding attitudes to identity in the literary world.


Read more news from the Asymptote blog: