Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news roundup brings us to Vietnam and El Salvador.

This week, the Asymptote team fills us in on updates from around the world, featuring literary prizes awarded in both Vietnam and El Salvador. Speaking of prizes… if you are a translator, why not submit to Close Approximations, Asymptote’s annual translation contest! A year’s subscription to the Asymptote Book Club as well as cash prizes and inclusion in the Winter 2019 issue are all up for grabs, so get writing! 

Khai Q. Nguyen, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Vietnam:

In the second half of July, Nguyen Ngoc Tu, one the most prominent living female Vietnamese writers, was awarded a 3,000 euro prize by Litprom (the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian, and Latin American Literature founded in Frankfurt in 1980) for her widely acclaimed collection of short stories Endlose Felder (The Endless Field), translated into German by Gunter Giesenfeld and Marianne Ngo. Nominees include other notable female writers from around the world: Nona Fernandez (Chile, featured in our Summer 2014 and Winter 2017 issues), Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Israel, featured in our Summer 2018 issue), Han Kang (South Korea, Man Booker International prize laureate for The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith), Ae-ran Kim (South Korea), Shenaz Patel (Mauritius), Shumona Sinha (India/France), Kim Thuy (Canada, of Vietnamese origin).

Born in Ca Mau, the southernmost province of Vietnam in 1976, Nguyen Ngoc Tu became widely-known for her debut collection of short fiction, which is devoted to the lives of people in the Mekong Delta. The collection won her the first prize in the Writing Contest for Emerging Writers organised by Tre Publishing House, one of the biggest publishers in Vietnam, in conjunction with Tuoi Tre News, one of the leading broadsheet newspapers in the country. Nguyen Ngoc Tu writes prolifically in many genres, including short fiction, novels, essays and children’s books. Besides German, the collection has been translated into a number of languages such as English, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Thai, and French. The titular story was also adapted into a successful film named Floating Lives. Primarily focusing on the lives of people in the south of Vietnam and some current politics in the region, her fiction is considered by many as “untranslatable” because the author uses many regionally-specific dialect words and expressions. The collection, first published in 2005, has won many prizes, including Vietnam Writers’ Circle Prize and ASEAN Literary prize and nearly 160,000 copies have been sold in its native country only.

In the meantime, Quyen Nguyen, a fresh graduate with a Ph.D. in English Literature from Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), launched the inaugural issue of zzzreview, an online literary journal devoted to Vietnamese translation of world literature, criticism, interviews, and listings of notable books recently published in Vietnam.

Nestor Gomez, Editor-at-Large, reporting from El Salvador:

On July 30, the winners were announced for the first half of the 2018 Juegos Florales (Flower Games) of El Salvador, a national writing competition run by the Ministry of Culture and the National Organizing Committee of Juegos Florales. Juegos Florales is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and in the past five years has received nearly one thousand submissions and has declared fifty-four winners (thirty-eight men and sixteen women).

This first half of the competition included the genres of short story, children’s stories, poetry, essays, and children’s theater. Over 120 submissions were received throughout the country’s cultural centers of Ahuachapán, Santa Tecla, Cojutepeque, San Salvador, San Vicente, Sonsonante, and Santa Ana.

For the short story category, the judges of Ahuachapán (Julio Herrera, Rafael Ochoa Gómez, and René Figueroa) selected “Cuaderno de detectives” (Detective Notebook) by Roxana Méndez Arévalo for her use of language, character creation, and story development.

For the children’s story category, the judges of Santa Tecla (Mario Noel Rodriguez, Alexander Hernandez, and Alberto Pocasangre Velasco) selected Luces, plumas, pelucas y…¡acción! (Lights, feathers, wigs and…action!) by Edith Noemy Guadalupe Cubías for its use of fable, handling of topics for children with literary didactics, and attention to storytelling without using forced moralisms.

For the poetry category, the judges selected two winners. The judges of San Salvador (Noé Lima, Alfonso Fajardo, and Roxana Beltrán Cantarely) selected Poemas del hombre incompleto (Poems of an Incomplete Man) by Alberto Quiñónez Castro for its metaphorical quality and use of language. The judges of San Vicente (Pedro Valle, Rodrigo Barba, and María Cristina Orantes) selected La pipa del Albatros (Pipe of the Albatross) by Otoniel Guevara Quezada for its originality in poetic themes and its use of literary technique in the construction of metaphor, atmosphere, depth, and worldview.

For the essay category, the judges of Santa Ana (Camila Calles Miner, Cristian Hernández, and Willian Carballo) selected “El poder de una palabra o el para qué de la violencia” (“The Power of a Single Word or The What-For of Violence”) by Alberto Pocasangre Velasco for its subject relevance, provocative language, and clear, agile writing.

The judges of the children’s theater category from Cojetepeque and poetry cateogry from Sonsonante declared no winners.


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