Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and Indonesia.

June is upon us and we are settling in for some summer reading. Join us as we catch up with our international correspondents about the literary happenings around the world. This week brings us the latest on indigenous literature from Colombia and Mexico, book fairs in Argentina, and new artistic endeavors in Indonesia!

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

From April 25 to 29 in Bogotá, Colombia, indigenous writers and scholars and critics of indigenous literatures from throughout the Américas came together in the 5th Continental Intercultural Encounter of Amerindian Literatures (EILA). The theme for this iteration of the bi-annual conference was “Indigenous Writing, Extractivism, and Bird Songs.” The centering of these concerns reflects a turn in the field of Indigenous literatures towards recognizing indigenous ways of writing that take place beyond Latin script, as well as ongoing ecological concerns that are at the heart of a good deal of indigenous literatures and Indigenous activism. In addition to literary readings and panels held at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, writers and critics presented to the general public at Bogotá’s International Book Festival (FILBO), and indigenous poets gave a reading in the town of Guatavita, home to a lake sacred to the Muisca people. Among the writers in attendance were (K’iche’) Humberto Ak’abal, (Yucatec) Jorge Cocom Pech, (Wayuu) Vito Apüshana, (Wayuu) Estercilla Simanca, (Wayuu) Vicenta Siosi, and (Yanakuna) Fredy Chicangana.

From May 16 to 19, the 6th International Contemporary Poetry Festival was held in San Cristóbal de las Casas, México. This year’s event paid home to the Uruguayan-Mexican poet Saúl Ibargoyen, and was dedicated to Mexican and Central American immigrants. Readings were held at a number of different events throughout San Cristóbal, with highlights including Ibargoyen himself giving a powerful reading of his “El escriba otra vez.” With the festival’s being dedicated to immigrants, the work of Central American poets such as (K’iche’; Guatemala) Marvin García, (Honduras) Waldina Mejía, (El Salvador) Juana A. Ramos, held a particular resonance, as in their works they underscored the ongoing material conditions that prompt people to leave these countries, as well as their deep love and hopes for them.

Sarah Moses, Editor at Large, reporting from Argentina:

The 44th edition of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair was on until mid-May at La Rural in the neighbourhood of Palermo. The fair drew 1.2 million visitors for twenty days of talks, panel discussions, book presentations, and workshops.

This year’s city of honour was the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. Programming included poetry, contemporary fiction, and an homage to writer Mario Levrero (Montevideo, 1940-2004), who is regarded as one of the most original voices to have come out of Latin America. His work is a singular mix of genres and themes: it contains elements of detective novels, science fiction, fantasy, parapsychology, and his own life. Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos considered Levrero to be one of the best untranslated writers back in 2013. Levrero’s work has since begun to appear in English. “The Abandoned House” was published in the July 2015 issue of Asymptote in a translation by Frances Riddle, and The Luminous Novel (translated by Annie McDermott) is forthcoming from And Other Stories.

Each year, before the book fair opens its doors to the public, three days of professional development are held for individuals working in different areas of the publishing industry. The jornadas profesionales are an opportunity for booksellers, editors, illustrators, and literary translators to attend workshops and talks given by specialists in their field.

Buenos Aires is known as the city with the most bookstores per capita and in addition to offering a range of titles, often in large part by national authors, many bookshops also hold readings and other literary events. While the book fair was going on, across the city in the neighbourhood of San Telmo, the May edition of the Lecturas y licores reading series took place at relative newcomer, Caburé Libros. The event is an opportunity for local writers and poets to read their work (and those listening to consume plenty of beverages).

La Coop, another bookshop that opened its doors in the past few years, primarily carries titles by independent, local presses. The shop also regularly holds events, and in April organized a night of readings by contemporary Mexican poets who were in the city for the book fair.

Norman Erikson Pasaribu, Editor at Large, reporting from Indonesia:

This May marks the twentieth anniversary of Indonesia’s reformasi. Dia.Lo.Gue, an art gallery in Kemang, South Jakarta, made an exhibition of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s archives and notes for the occasion. Exiled in Buru along with many leftist intellectuals for around a decade (1969-1979) by the New Order regime, Pramoedya’s work gained readership through under-the-counter distributions of photocopies of his books. Today his work is widely read. Falcon Pictures recently announced the line-up of actors for the movie adaptation of This Earth of Mankind, generating cynical comments online over their casting of Minke, the book’s main character.

Indonesia will be the market focus for the 2019 London Book Fair. At the beginning of May, British Council invited six publishers to meet Indonesian publishers and attend panels at this year’s Makassar International Writers Festival. Read this British Council’s interview with Oneworld Publications’ Julie Mabey Wrecking Ball Press’s Shane Rhodes, and Tilted Axis Press’s Saba Ahmed sharing her journey in the publisher’s blog. This visit is important to increase the visibility of Indonesian literature in the UK publishing scene. Recent UK publication of Indonesian authors includes Eka Kurniawan (Pushkin Press) and Khairanni Barokka (Tilted Axis Press).

InterSastra, a translation initiative run by Asymptote’s past contributor Eliza Vitri Handayani, also released their brand-new, bilingual series #Unrepressed. This series will highlight literary works that speak of matters that are still considered taboo, such as gender equality, sexuality, environmental concerns, challenging religious dogma, and mental health. Some published pieces include Ashraf Fayadh’s and Wiji Thukul’s poetry. Thukul was known as one of the boldest protesters of Soeharto. He was also one of the missing activists.


Read more about the highlighted regions here: