Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Central America, Albania, and Hong Kong.

We are a week out from the launch of our Summer 2018 issue of Asymptote and we could not be happier about the reading we have enjoyed and the positive response we have received from readers. As we get ready for the weekend, we bring you the latest news from around the world. José García Escobar reports from Central America, Barbara Halla from Albania, and Jacqueline Leung from Hong Kong. Happy reading!

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America:

Guatemala has just closed its annual book fair, the Feria del Libro de Guatemala (Filgua), which hosted some of the most important publications and announcements of the year.

First, it was announced on Thursday, July 19 that the latest winner of the prestigious Premio Luis Cardoza y Aragón (Luis Cardoza and Aragón Prize) for Mesoamerican poetry was the Mexican writer, René Morales Hernández, with his book, Luz silenciosa descendiendo de las colinas de Chiapas. Born in Chiapas, René Morales joins the ranks of well-known and critically acclaimed writers such as David Cruz from Costa Rica, Maurice Echeverría from Guatemala, and the Garífuna poet, Wingston González, featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 Issue.

Additionally, the now defunct Premio BAM de Letras (BAM de Letras Prize) officially presented the paperback version of the book of its last winner, Coreografía del desencanto by the Guatemalan writer Marlon Meza Teni. On previous occasions the BAM de Letras Prize has recognized the work of writers such as Arnoldo Gálvez Suárez and Valerica Cerezo, also featured in Asymptote.

Finally, like every year, veteran indie publishers Catafixia Editorial arrived at Filgua armed with new publications. This year Catafixia published eight books, which include two new books of poetry, one by the Ecuadorian writer Rocío Soria, entitled Deterioro, and one by the Guatemalan poet, Paolo Guinea, entitled Después de Dios también hay miedo. Catafixia also re-published many out of print non-fiction books, such as interviews done by the anthropologist Stella Quan Rosell and another by writer, philosopher and guerilla leader, Mario Payeras.

This year’s Filgua also gathered many of Guatemala’s veteran intellectuals like Delia Quiñónez, Francisco Morales Santos, David Unger, and Arturo Arias.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania:

As summer is in full swing here in Albania, literary news has been scarce, as writers and editors head to the beach. Under these circumstances, I have decided to cover an issue that has taken over the Albanian cultural scene for almost a year: the bitter debates around the demolition and radical revamping of our National Theater. My initial reluctance to cover this event came from a belief that this was more literature-adjacent, rather than straightforward literary news. But I was reminded, recently, of how important performance has been and remains to the understanding of literature itself.

The Albanian National Theater was designed and built in 1939 by Giulio Berté, an Italian architect and, like many buildings that adorn Tirana’s city center, has a fraught history: much of the city’s then-modern architecture were funded by Mussolini’s fascist government. Nevertheless, the theater has served Tirana for the past eighty years through various regime changes. Last year, however, the Albanian Parliament approved a plan to destroy the current venue and build a completely new theatre on its premises. The decision has proven to be highly controversial, sparking public protests and strikes from the Actors Guild and citizens alike.

Part of the issue lies in the legality of the Prime Minister’s decision. But this project raises questions beyond money and law. In the past thirty years, Tirana’s landscape has changed at breakneck speed. Several historical landmarks have been destroyed or left to chance: this includes historic movie theaters, the “New” Bazaar, and century-old picturesque houses built during Ottoman rule. The winning bid’s design was recently unveiled and it envisions a highly modern and geometrical building that saves nothing from its predecessor and clashes with the surrounding understated architecture. Actors who grew and made the stage their home are weary of losing their memories and a physical space that embodied their journey through art, for them and all Albanians. So, the question then becomes, is Tirana losing its historical memory and part of its soul in this rush toward the future?

Jacqueline Leung, Editor-in-Large, reporting from Hong Kong:

From July 17 to 24, the 29th annual Hong Kong Book Fair set Hong Kong in the mood for love with its theme of romance literature. The programme featured ten famous Hong Kong writers whose works reflect, through place and sentiment, the transformation of the city over the years. Writers introduced ranged from the literary to the popular, including Eileen Chang, most famous for Love in a Fallen City and Lust, Caution; Yi Shu, prolific author of romantic works, dubbed one of Hong Kong’s three literary miracles (alongside Jin Yong and Ni Kuang, her brother); and Zita Law, columnist and writer of New Age romance novels. An exhibition was held at the convention center, displaying out-of-print editions, manuscripts, and scenes from film and theatre adaptations.

This year’s book fair is one of the largest, with a record 680 exhibitors participating in the convention and over three hundred events. Among the exhibitors, over three hundred were from Taiwan, bringing with them renowned writers such as Lung Yingtai, literary giant and Taiwan’s first Cultural Minister; Lo Yi-chin, award-winning writer and critic; and Jimmy Liao, beloved Taiwanese illustrator, visiting Hong Kong on the twentieth anniversary of his career. Readers could meet with these influential writers in a series of seminars and signings.

In addition to its Asian focus, the fair brought back literature from further afield with the support of the Consulate General of France and the European Union Office. French novelist, essayist, and historian Chantel Thomas spoke about female power and identity in the eighteenth century, whereas Latvian writer Jānis Joņevs, whose 2013 debut Jelgava 94 won the European Union Prize for Literature, discussed the current state of European literature.

Almost a million people visited the fair last July and exhibitors expected greater turnout this year, despite poor weather. One of the fair’s major draws is the availability of books and merchandise at a discounted price, as well as limited editions and signed copies. People were seen rushing to booths when the fair first started and it was not unusual to find fairgoers packing their purchases in suitcases.


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