Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt.

Welcome back for a fresh batch of literary news, featuring the most exciting developments from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt. 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia:

Hot on the heels of the prolonged Night of Literature, held from 16 to 18 May in sixteen towns and cities across Slovakia, the fifth annual independent book festival, BRaK, took place between 17 and 20 May in the capital, Bratislava. In keeping with the festival’s traditional focus on the visual side of books, the programme included bookbinding, typesetting and comic writing workshops, activities for children, and exhibitions of works by veteran Czech illustrator, poster and animation artist Jiří Šalamoun, as well as French illustrators Laurent Moreau and Anne-Margot Ramstein. The last two also held illustration masterclasses, while the German Reinhard Kleist launched the Slovak translation of his graphic novel Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, accompanied by a local band.

Chinese dissident poet Liao Yiwu launched the Slovak translation of his prison memoir, For a Song and a Thousand Songs, bookending it with an improvised flute and song session. Other guests included Iraqi author Hassan Blasim, Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares, and Luigi Serafini, author of the Codex Seraphinianus, a wondrous encyclopaedia written in an imaginary language with an invented script and depicting imaginary fauna, flora, anthropomorphic and organic objects, a stunning cross between Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Švankmajer. BRaK ended with an afternoon dedicated to the memory of Peter Krištúfek, the prolific Slovak writer (full disclosure: I was the co-translator of his novel The House of the Deaf Man), essayist and filmmaker who was tragically killed in a road accident on 23 April aged forty-four, leaving behind several unfinished film and book projects, which his widow is determined to bring to fruition.

In brief: The biannual Ján Johanides prize for fiction was awarded to Silvester Lavrík’s novel Nedeľné šachy s Tisom (Sunday Chess Games with Tiso), a critical examination of recent Slovak history. The prize for best work of fiction by a writer under twenty-five went to Jakub Juhás for his Novoročný výstup na Jaseninu (New Year Ascent of Jasenina Hill). And the beautiful new edition of The Bloody Sonnets, the anti-war poems by Slovak classic Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, translated by past Asymptote contributor John Minahane, was launched on 23 May.

Rita Mattar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The International Literary Festival of Paraty (Flip) will take place between July 25th and 29th. In its sixteenth edition, the festival, which in the past received big names such as Zvetlana Alexievitch, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Toni Morrison, and Paul Auster, will have the Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst as its honored author.

With the curatorship of the journalist Joselia Aguiar for the second consecutive year, the festival already confirmed the presence of Leïla Slimani, Franco-Moroccan author of the 2016 Goncourt Prize winner Chanson Douce [Lullaby]; André Aciman, author of the novel Call Me by Your Name, the Portuguese Isabela Figueiredo, author of the novel A gorda [The Fat Woman] and the Franco-Congolese Alain Mabanckou, author of the novel Petit Piment [Black Moses].

On May 29, the cultural institution Sesc debuted the Play_Lit talk show. Inspired by playlists, sections of the old music magazines in which the interviewee listened to excerpts of songs and commented on them, the event will be a talk-show format, with free entry. It will be curated by the writer Joca Reiners Terron, who invites a writer to listen to extracts from literary, cinematographic, theatrical, and musical works, and then explain the influence of those excerpts on his own artistic trajectory.

In the first episode, the program received the Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum. The next episodes of the project Play_Lit feature the authors Noemi Jaffe (6/12), Nuno Ramos (7/17), Maria Valéria Rezende (7/31), and Evandro Affonso Ferreira (8/28).

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Egypt:

On 6 and 7 June, the play He Fell Suddenly will be put on by the acting team of Cairo University’s Engineering faculty. The performance will take place at the Dokki branch of the Goethe-Institut Kairo as part of the institute’s Shubbak El Fann programme. The play won first place at the Avant-Scène festival hosted by the Institut français d’Egypte. Both events will be held at 9 pm and entrance will be free.

From 6 to 10 June, comedy play “The Danish Experiment” will be performed at the Alhosabir Theater in the Ramses area at 9 pm to 11 pm. The Danish Experiment is back for a final five nights by popular demand. The play is about a young man who goes against his family and society for his dreams.

Last month, an Arabic reading of Yann Verbugh’s playtext Ogres was planned by the Zouzak Theatre Company, L’Institute Français, and L’Institut Français du Liban on 14 May for Beirut Pride. However, organisers were informed that the event would not go forward by General Security and eventually, all activities were halted by the General Prosecutor of Beirut. Although theatre productions in Lebanon pass through its censorship bureau, the organisers were told readings were exempt. The event’s main initiator was told he had the option of signing a document acknowledging the decision to halt all activities or he would be referred to an investigation by a judge. The full statement can be found here.

Jordanian Novelist and short-story writer Jamal Naji died last month. Naji was a prominent author of Palestinian descent and his writing often featured Palestinian themes. His novel When Wolves Got Old was shortlisted for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2010. Some of his other works include: Life on the Edge of Death, The Night of the Feathers, The Target, The Remnants of the Last Storm, and The Road to Balharith. He was also given the prize of the Jordanian state in 2014 and was president of the Jordanian Writers Association from 2001-2003.


Read more recent news from the Asymptote blog: