This is a particularly exciting week as we launch the brand new Summer 2018 issue of Asymptote, which is full of beautiful, thought-provoking, and daring writing from around the world. In particular, we encourage you to check out the multilingual special feature and to share your new literary discoveries with your friends and family!
Today, however, is Friday and that means it is time for another round of international literary news. To kick things off, Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu discusses recent publications and translations of Indonesian literature, including a Vietnamese translation of Khairani Barokka’s Indigenous Species. One of our brand new Assistant Blog Editors, Ilker Hepkaner, reports from the launch event of One Hand Clapping, a new exhibit at the Guggenheim in New York City that brings together poetry and visual imaginations of our future. Happily soaking in the Portuguese sunshine, Editor-at-Large Lindsay Semel tells us about two recent literary events—DISQUIET International Literary Program and the Braga Book Fair—that celebrate both local and international writing. Finally, Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman shares her experience at Manarat, a film festival celebrating the Mediterranean film industry that took place along the Tunisian coast.
Norman Erikson Pasaribu, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Indonesia:
Loài bản địa, the Vietnamese translation by Red (Yen Hai) of Khairani Barokka’s first book Indigenous Species was launched on July 14 at the Tổ Chim Xanh cafe in Hanoi. Narrating the kidnapping of a young girl and her blindfolded experience down a river in environmentally wrecked Kalimantan, Indigenous Species was nominated for a Goldsmiths Public Engagement Award. Read Barokka’s essay about the translation process in Diacritics and an interview with her in Electric Literature about the book.
Five poems from Afrizal Malna’s Khatulistiwa Literary Award-winning book Museum Penghancur Dokumen (Document Shredding Museum) were published in The Brooklyn Rail, in Daniel Owen’s translation. Publishing his first book in 1984, Afrizal Malna was considered avant-garde by his peers and influenced many contemporary Indonesian poets. He won an S.E.A. Write Award in 2010, with his book Teman-temanku Dari Atap Bahasa (My Friends from the Roof of Language).
“Kasur Tanah” (Earth Mattress) by Muna Masyari just won Kompas’s Best Stories 2017. Accepting around three hundred submissions weekly, Kompas is one of the newspapers that started the blooming of sastra koran (newspaper literature). “Kasur Tanah,” derived from Madurese “kasorra tana” (the bed for the dead), explores the local tradition in Madura of honoring past mentors, for example, Quran-reading teachers.
Ilker Hepkaner, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from New York City:
What happens to poetry, language, and translation when cars can fly? Will globalization and automation yield to less thrill in translation, or will translated uprisings save our souls in the ever-shrinking world of the future? One Hand Clapping, an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York City with a catalogue that not only documents but extends the exhibition, answers these questions with a future imagined within today’s globalization paradigms. In this future, poetry has a principal seat.
Besides snippets from the exhibition’s content, the catalogue brings together poems (and their translations) by Wu Qing, Zhang Xiu, Nicholas Wong, and Xu Lizhi. At the launch event, “Glitch,” the curator of the exhibition Xiaoyu Weng discussed the deliberate design choices behind the catalogue’s visuals with editor Andrew Merkle and designer Chris Wu. They said the catalogue’s vivid visuals were complemented by a purposeful layout of the poems. Some poems in their original languages appear larger than their translations, for example, while the typography of the catalogue is sometimes futuristic with residues of the past. Poems allure the reader right into the middle of chaotic technological innovation and political oppression. For example, Hong Kong-based poet Nicholas Wong’s poems describe a future where poets collaborate with the AI in order to save Cantopop lyrics from the political oppressors of 2052 Hong Kong. Or, Xu Lizhi’s poetry appears with one line in English and one line in Chinese, visually representing his life as a worker-poet at the Shenzen factory of Foxconn. Xu assembled electronic devices for companies like Nokia and Apple and wrote poems before taking his own life at the age of twenty-four. The poetry in this catalogue embodies the human element in the futures imagined.
The catalogue’s launch event on July 17 was also a treat for poetry lovers. “Glitch” was hosted by Nicholas Wong, Sawako Nakayasu, Feliz Lucia Molina, Tan Li, and Lynn Xu, who brought their words (and sometimes their silence, as in Nakayasu’s twelve-minute performance of poetry projection displayed in complete silence) into the future, and filled it with poems. They proved that poetry is also a soul-saving device of our times and beyond. The exhibition is on until October 21, and the catalogue can be purchased from the Museum Store or online.
Lindsay Semel, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Portugal:
The eighth annual DISQUIET International Literary Program took place in Lisbon during the first two weeks of July. A project of Dzanc Books, the Fundação Luso-Americana, and the Centro Nacional de Cultura, the program promotes communication and understanding between writers from North America, Portugal, and the entire geography of Portugal’s diaspora and colonial empire via a program of workshops, readings, lectures, discussions, and meetups. Though I wasn’t able to be there, Jennifer Acker, editor of The Common, attended the last week of the program and kindly shared her reflections. She moderated a discussion with writer Isabel Lucas about her book, Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, a chapter of which was translated into English by Eric M. B. Becker for Words Without Borders, and participated in a panel about publishing with Rosalind Porter and other prominent U.S. editors. Other highlights for her included a short story reading by Luso-American author Katherine Vaz and Portuguese writer/performance artist Patrícia Portela. Both coincidentally read stories surrounding the theme of death and separation. Acker spoke highly of a talk by Fernando Pessoa expert Richard Zenith about Pessoa’s early heteronyms and personas, and the transformation of his writing style over time from the erudite to the vernacular. The talk included a spirited reading of Pessoa’s early work. She also noted Taiye Selasi’s reading at Lisbon’s Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom.
For book lovers in the north of the country, June 29 – July 15 saw the Braga Book Fair. A rich event in a small city, the program included art and theater expositions and poetry battles as well as roundtable debates with such titles as “Religion and the Book” and “The Influence of Life on Fiction.” Renowned authors gave interviews and workshops, including previous Asymptote contributor Lídia Jorge. There were also presentations of books from various genres that were published within the last year. Notable titles include Nómada, a much-anticipated poetry collection by João Luís Barreto Guimarães, Cair Para Dentro, the third in the trilogy Paternidades Falhadas by Valério Romão, and Não Respire, the autobiography of the journalist Pedro Rolo Duarte, who passed away from cancer this May, just six months after the launch of this, his last book.
Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Tunisia:
Just in time for a heat wave, the Manarat ( منارات) film festival held its first edition this past week in Tunis. Manarat, which means “lighthouses” in Arabic, included films from countries around the Mediterranean, with over ten nationalities participating, among them Turkey, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Egypt, and Palestine.
Manarat celebrates contemporary Mediterranean identities, as Dora Bouchoucha, the festival’s artistic director and the first female Tunisian movie producer in history, explains: “it is this shared Mediterranean world that the film festival Manarat tries to consecrate in order to make the Tunisian spectator proud to be an integral part of this geographic space.” This goal is also reflected in the content of the films selected, which deal with issues felt across the Mediterranean, from immigration to terrorism and the Palestinian question.
Addressing problematic tendencies in festivals of this kind, Manarat stands out for having an all-female panel of judges and accessible film screenings across the country. Few judging panels at film festivals consist solely of female members, and perhaps even fewer are composed entirely of actresses. In this case, actresses from across the Mediterranean, including Egypt, Palestine, and Tunisia, were deliberately chosen to make up the judging panel (some of whom were interviewed about their experience here). When asked in a recent interview whether this was just a coincidence, Bouchoucha wittily responded that “it was a choice, however, if they were all men, this question would not occur to anyone.”
With free screenings on beaches along the Tunisian coast, in cities as far away from the capital as Gabès, Manarat demonstrated its commitment to democratizing access to art by bringing independent films to less privileged audiences.
Here’s to hoping this marks the first of many editions for such an unprecedented film festival.
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