Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Romania, Mexico, and Singapore.

We are in the thick of the World Cup, but that does not mean that everything else stops! We are back with the latest literary updates from around the world. MARGENTO reports from Bookfest Bucharest on the latest of Romanian publishing and Romanian-US connections that emerged during the festival. Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn discuss the latest publications from the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on indigenous writers. Finally, Theophilus Kwek tells us about recent news in the Singaporean literary world. Happy reading!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania: 

Bookfest Bucharest is one of the largest international book festivals in Europe, growing larger and larger by the year. This year it featured over 150 publishers. Although expanding, the festival seemed less loud this time for a quite mundane reason: the organizers placed the beer patios further away from the pavilions than they did in the past. The atmospherics and the events felt really animated, though, and sometimes even intense. The guest of honor was the United States, with a centrally placed and welcoming space hosting four to six events every day. One of the most popular panels was chaired by the ambassador himself—HE Hans Klemm—on the life and work of Romanian-born American critic and fiction writer Matei Călinescu (and the dedicated Humanitas series).

While the American organizers seemed to favor fiction, many of their Romanian counterparts at the US booth were poets and/or poetry translators. Prolific translator and Asymptote contributor Florin Bican launched his brilliant translations of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, Tara Skurtu launched her already praised latest collection in an event emceed by another poet, Svetlana Cârstean, and Asymptote contributor Andra Rotaru participated in a round table on US literary magazines.

The Romanian-US Fulbright Commission organized no fewer than two events—each drawing a crowd—on opportunities for Romanians to study and/or teach in the US and for Americans to do the same in Romania, while yet another panel focused on “academic thinking in translation.”

The Romanian-US connection was also active on other levels, sometimes beyond the guest of honor’s event dais. The ever-hipper frACTalia press, for instance, launched a machine translation series and a computationally assembled US verse anthology. Also, as foremost critic Ion Bogdan Lefter has noted, Dan Gulea’s latest book of literary criticism establishes a refined dialog with William Empson’s “classic” Seven Types of Ambiguity while actually making a plea for manifold clarity and a “complex paradigm shift” in world literature. While building on his “nine types of reading,” Gulea also revisits the oeuvres of Asymptote contributors Șerban Foarță and Mircea Cărtărescu.

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

As reported in La Jornada, on June 19 researcher María de Guadalupe Suárez Castro held a book presentation for her recently published book El Chilam Balam de Tekax: Análisis etnohistórico at México’s National anthropology museum in México City. The publication of this critical text is a major event in the elaboration of a Yucatec Maya literary history that further underscores how Indigenous peoples throughout the region adopted Latin script for their own ends. Composed in 1833 in the Yucatec Maya language, the Chilam Balam of Tekax is one of several Chilam Balam manuscripts in existence. While extensive critical attention has been paid to the Chumayel manuscript, with this particular manuscript even being online, others remain the province of specialists. The publication of this book not only highlights the complexity of these texts, but also includes a CD containing a facsimile of the original manuscript.

On June 20 it was announced that Yucatec Maya writer Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim was awarded the honorific “Hechas en Yucatán” (Made in Yucatán), which seeks to recognize the contributions of women either from the Peninsula or living in it, who have stood out in the arts, culture, community service, or science.

On June 23 in the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Ángel Sulub and others presented the new Yucatec Maya literary anthology Viajeros de la tinta (Travelers in Ink). As a compilation of young people’s writing from a Maya-language literary workshop, known as the Taller Literario Juvenil de la Zona Maya (Youth Literary Workshop of the Maya Area), the book highlights the ongoing dedication that Indigenous writers and intellectuals like Sulub have to promoting the maintenance and development of their mother tongues.

Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Singapore:

The shortlist for the biennial Singapore Literature Prize was announced last Tuesday, with 50 writers shortlisted in 12 categories for a cash prize of $10,000 each. This year’s Prize has 32 authors appearing on the shortlist for the first time. It also marks the first time a single publisher has dominated any category, with Epigram Books publishing all five titles (including Asymptote contributor Jeremy Tiang’s debut novel, State of Emergency) for Fiction in English. Familiar names from world literature, including poets Simon Armitage and Wong Yoon Wah, and novelists Okky Madasari and Kate Griffin, were among the judges. 

June was otherwise a busy month for Singapore writing with the Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Seminar drawing participants from across the city. Former Singapore Editor-at-Large Tse Hao Guang delivered a teachers’ workshop on the history of Singapore poetry at the National Library, while young writers Iain Lim, Patricia Karunungan, Crispin Rodrigues, Samuel Caleb Wee and Marylyn Tan presented a reading at the Singapore Art Museum. 


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