Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news focuses on Latin America.

It was a busy week for literature in Latin America. Festivals, conventions, and prize ceremonies brought writers and translators together, and our team members are soothing our fomo with their reporting. Find the latest news about world literature on the Asymptote blog every Friday!

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The hottest summer I ever saw was the winter I spent in Rio de Janeiro. That is likely what writers and readers say as they flock to the tropical state for major literary festivals this July and August.

Brazil’s most important literary event of the year, the Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), took place from July 25–29 in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The festival organizer, Joselia Aguiar, explains in an interview that this year’s edition focused on interiors—“love, death, desire, God, transcendence.” Aguair also sought to include other artistic genres at the event, inviting guests such as actor Fernanda Montenegro. Also in Paraty and simultaneous to Flip, a group of publishers hosted book releases and even more literary programming in an event called Casa Paratodxs.

Thirsting for more Brazilian books after Flip came to a close? Luckily, it’s just a few hours from sleepy Paraty to bustling Rio de Janeiro where the Carioca Book Festival takes place from August 3–5. More than seventy publishers participate with the goal of connecting readers to bookmakers. Authors also speak in panel discussions on topics such as LGBTQ+ literature and using social media to publicize independent publications.

Of course, Brazil’s literary scene extends beyond one single state. From August 8–12, the Pelourinho International Literary Festival (Flipelô) will take place in the historic district of Salvador, Bahia. The festival promises political discussions on topics such as Brazil’s legacy of slavery and indigenous voices in literature.

At the end of August, head farther afield to Brazil’s inland capital, Brasília for the Brazilian Book and Reading Biennial (BBLL) on August 18–26. With the goal of incentivizing and democratizing access to literature, the event has a jam-packed program. Also in Brazil’s interior is the upcoming International Colloquium on Literature and Gender. Register now for the event, which will take place from September 5–7 at the State University of Piauí in Teresinha.

Finally, Brazilian literature travels to the Northern Hemisphere: Ana Maria Machado was selected this July as a finalist for the 2019 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature. The winner will be announced in October.

Scott Weintraub, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Chile:

Every two years the Chilean literary world gears up for battle. In August 2018 the National Literary Prize will be awarded following fierce lobbying by academics, writers, publishers, bookstores, and politicians. This award represents the highest honor that a Chilean writer can receive in their home country, and carries a substantial cash prize as well as a lifetime stipend.

The National Literary Prize is awarded biannually; since 1993 it alternates between poetry and prose. Incredibly, in the history of the prize, forty-nine men have won as opposed to only four women. Previous awards have been controversial, as was the case in 2000, when poet Raúl Zurita triumphed amidst a bitterly-split jury, some of whom criticized his win as politically motivated after he dedicated a poem to then–President Ricardo Lagos and read at Lagos’ inauguration. The two most recent winners of this honor were novelist Antonio Skármeta (2014), best known for his novel about Pablo Neruda, The Postman (which was made into the film Il Postino by director Michael Radford), and poet Manuel Silva Acevedo (2016), who was recognized for his skillful portrait of the precarious nature of the poetic office, according to Chilean minister Adriana Delpiano.

This year’s lobbying has been particularly competitive. The front-runner is novelist Diamela Eltit, a public intellectual whose experimental prose challenges institutions and evinces a complex critique of Chilean society and neoliberal market practices. Another popular candidate is the columnist, essayist, and writer of chronicles Roberto Merino, the author of a diverse and lucid body of work and an important figure in the poetic scene under Pinochet’s dictatorship. Third, Germán Marín is in the running for his vibrant short stories and novels exploring historical memory. Finally, the prolific essayist and columnist Enrique Lafourcade—a critic of the perceived favoritism involved in the National Literary Prize—is a potential selection by the jury, which is composed of the Chancellor of the Universidad de Chile, a member of the Council of Chancellors, the Minister of Culture, the previous winner, a member of the Chilean Academy of Language, and two literary figures (selected by the Minister of Culture).

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

Highlighting the increasing attention being paid to issues of translation in the publication of Indigenous literatures in México, on July 27 at Galería Muy in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, the Tsostil writer Mikel Ruiz delivered a talk entitled “Escribir y auto-traducirse con ¿ética y estética? El lugar de la escritura en el Tsotsil” (Writing and Self-Translation ¿Ethics and Aesthetics? Writing’s Place in Tsostil). The talk marks another moment among México’s Indigenous writers in which these intellectuals are commenting upon and elaborating Indigenous literary theories in addition to their literary works.

On July 29, México’s Secretary of Culture announced Zapotec poet Esteban Ríos Cruz as winner of the 2018 Nezahualcóyotl Prize in Indigenous Literature for the book Ca Guicchu’ Guendarieedasiló/Espigas de la memoria, literally “Sprigs of Memory.” Born in 1962 in Asunción Ixtaltepec, Oaxaca, with this award Ríos Cruz is the third Zapotec author to be honored with the Nezahualcóyotl Prize, following in the footsteps of Victor de la Cruz (1993) and Natalia Toledo (2004).

Duruing the Festival DiVerso, which ran from July 20–29, Pluralia Ediciones’ recently published Naxiña’ rului’ladxe’/Rojo Deseo (Red Desire) by Zapotec poet Irma Pineda was awarded the Caballo Verde (Green Horse) prize. In addition to recognizing Pineda’s poetry, the prize recognizes the edition itself, taking into account the overall editorial project, the press’s overall catalogue, and the textual object itself. As such, this honor underscores the excellent work being done by the Indigenous publisher.

Josefina Massot, Assistant Editor, reporting from Argentina:

The first-ever PEN Latin America Congress was held in Buenos Aires from June 26–28. Prominent writers, journalists, and intellectuals from sixteen countries gathered at the city’s Biblioteca Güiraldes and the Casa de la Lectura to discuss a series of issues at the intersection of writing and politics.

Perhaps the most pressing was free speech, given blatant censorship in countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Mexico. PEN International’s President Jennifer Clement lamented the murder of Mexican journalist Rubén Pat on June 25 (it is the seventh press–related death in the country this year). Venezuelan writer Milagros Socorro spoke about the current state of literary affairs under Maduro: PEN Venezuela’s leading members have gone into exile and publishers Random House and Alfaguara, among others, have also left the country. Nicaraguan author Tania Ortega denounced the mounting political violence instigated by Daniel Ortega’s government: more than 350 people have been murdered by state or state-affiliated groups in 2018 alone.

Clement later joined Kettly Mars (Haiti) and María Ramos Rosado (Puerto Rico) in a discussion of the role of women in literature and at large. Also present were PEN Argentina’s President Luisa Valenzuela and Irene Chikiar Bauer, from PEN Argentina’s Women’s Committee. PEN Argentina has recently been vocal regarding women’s rights: in the midst of a heated national debate on the legalization of abortion, it has published a document defending local pro-choice female writers and journalists from attack.

A third topic of discussion was linguistic diversity in Latin America—in particular, the issue of indigenous communities’ right to public education in their native languages and the latter’s importance in preserving their history and traditions. The closing panel, “PEN Pregunta” (PEN Asks), invited audience members to write a one-minute creative or reflective piece of writing on Latin American issues, to be later read out loud. Shortly afterwards, in tone with its host city, the Congress closed to the beat of a tango show.


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