Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news roundup brings us to South Africa, the United States, and Guatemala.

We’re back with another round of exciting literary news from around the globe. This week’s dispatches take us to South Africa, the United States, and Guatemala. 

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, reporting from South Africa:

An anticipated event on the Cape Town literary calendar, the annual Open Book festival,will take place from September 5-9. The inclusive festival, at which spoken-word performances and bookmaking classes are added to the program alongside interviews with international authors and panel discussions on feminism, appears to have a particular focus on migrancy and notions of place this year, with several talks hosted by the African Centre for Cities.

The attendance of influential urbanist, researcher, and author AbdouMaliq Simone points to this unofficial theme. Simone’s enduring optimism with regards to city spaces and the possibilities they hold for producing new forms of trade, particularly in the context of those inhabitants who are forced to adapt for reasons such as crumbling infrastructure or illegal residency, is a trait that looks to carry over to the rest of the festival.

At a talk titled “Who Are You?” Sierra Leonean writer Aminatta Forna, Iranian-Swedish writer and translator Athena Farrokhzad, and Zimbabwean author Sue Nyathi will exchange views with Johannesburg Review of Books editor Jennifer Malec on the topic of transnational identities; while at “Migrants and (In)visibility”, a number of researchers and authors, including Zimbabwean Oswald Kucherera (The Exodus Down South, 2016), will discuss the efficacy—and morality—of current laws in the context of immigrants and refugees.

At “Representing the Flats”, a topic close to home, poet Khadija Heeger and hip-hop artist Emile YX?, among others, will discuss bringing authentic representation of the Cape Flats—a zone generally associated with gangsterism and drugs—into the public domain. It will be interesting to see if the panel discusses the poetry of Nathan Trantraal (Chokers and Survivors, 2013; Alles Het Niet Kôm Word, 2017), one of the few poets writing about the Flats in the localised dialect of Afrikaans known as Kaaps, to have ever been published.

On a slightly different bent, Canadian Québécois graphic novelist Guy Delisle will be discussing his works, which focus on travel and include the eye-opening Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Graphic novels are a particularly democratic medium and this format looks to become an important space for discussing and representing the (im)migrant experience.

Kevin Wang, Assistant Editor, reporting from the United States:

On August 16 at WORD Brooklyn, celebrating Women in Translation Month, translators read from works by women they translate and shared insights about how translators work and the gender disparity in translated literature. The translators included Katrina Dodson, Allison Markin Powell, Tim Mohr, and Jenny Wang Medina.

Today, many presses are making an effort to publish more women in translation, as well as working to promote LGBTQ writers, writers with disabilities, writers from working-class backgrounds, and writers working in genres less often translated. In recent years, a number of publishers have honored women authors by offering discounts on their titles. Susan Bernofsky has compiled an excellent list of these publishers on her blog.

The annual Mississippi Book Festival was held on August 18, drawing thousands of book lovers to Mississippi’s capital of Jackson. More than 240 authors—national, regional, and local—held panels on literature, food, politics, civil rights, and Southern history, with Jesmyn Ward and Salman Rushdie headlining the festival.

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop hosted Lola: A Reading About Asian Grandmas on August 22. The reading, held in a packed room in the AAWW’s Midtown Manhattan space, was led by Kate Gavino, a critically acclaimed cartoonist whose new graphic novel Sanpaku explores a grandmother’s stories through the eyes of a Filipina preteen. Kate was joined by The Verge’s Angela Chen, Little A editor Vivian Lee, GQ Senior Editor Kevin Nguyen, Catapult’s Matt Ortile, and editor and author Rakesh Satyal, who all shared stories about grandmothers. The readings were funny, sad, joyful, often presenting valuable insights on the complicated effects of familial bonds on diasporic identities.

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Guatemala:

Guatemalan short story writer Rodrigo Fuentes made it into the long list of the Gabriel García Márquez’s Hispano-American Short Story Award for his collection Trucha panza arriba which is, also, Rodrigo’s literary debut. Trucha was originally published in Guatemala by SOPHOS in 2016 and then in 2017 in Bolivia by Editorial El Cuervo, and it’s the only collection written by a Central American author to have been shortlisted for the award. The award has been given annually since 2014. Guillermo Martínez, Magela Baudoin, Luis Noriega and Alejandro Morellón have all won the Premio Gabo.

Additionally, early August Guatemala’s Festival Internacional de Poesía de Quetzaltenango reached its fourteenth edition. The FIPQ is Guatemala’s most important literary gathering. And this year the festival gathered important Guatemalan poets such as Carmen Lucía Alvarado, Luis Mendez Salinas, Julio Serrano Echeverría and Sulama Lorenzo, as well as writers from Egypt (Emad Fouad), Uruguay (María Pintos), Brasil (Hamilton Faria) and the United States (John Pluecker). This year’s FIPQ was dedicated to the disappeared migrants of Guatemala, Guatemala’s most influential literary group, Nuevo Signo—formed fifty years ago in 1968, and two of Nuevo Signo’s founders, Delia Quiñónez and Francisco Morales Santos.


Read more news from the Asymptote blog: