Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

We're back with weekly updates in world literature from around the globe!

We’re back with our regular Friday column featuring weekly dispatches from our Asymptote team, telling you more about events in world literature. Join us on a journey to Guatemala and Chile, before heading to New York City, to find out more about the latest in world literature.

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

We begin with great news coming from the Guatemalan author Eduardo Halfon whose novel Mourning (Duelo in Spanish) got shortlisted for the 2018 Kirkus Prize. Halfon, whom we interviewed for our blog last June, is sitting beside other fantastic writers such as Ling Ma, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Lauren Groff. Mourning, published by Bellevue Literary Press, was translated into English by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. The winner will be announced on Thursday, October 25, 2018.

Additionally, Halfon was just declared the recipient of the 2018 Miguel Angel Asturias National Prize in Literature, the most important literary prize in Guatemala.

On a much sadder note, recently, one of Guatemala’s most influential and emblematic poets, Julio Fausto Aguilera has passed away at the age of 88. He won the Miguel Angel Asturias prize, in 2002; he was part of the arts collective Saker-Ti, and one of the founding members of Nuevo Signo—arguably one of the most important literary groups in Central America. He wrote close to twenty books of poetry, and his family confirmed that he left two manuscripts that they hope will get published soon. Francisco Morales Santos, his friend en Nuevo Signo’s editor, called Julio Fausto a worthy and unbreakable man. Many other writers such as Vania Vargas and the most recent winner of the Miguel Angel Asturias Prize, Francisco Alejandro Méndez, also mourned the death of Aguilera.

To read more about Aguilera and Nuevo Signo, click here.

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

On September 28, 2018, the Chilean Minister of Culture announced that novelist Diamela Eltit (1949-) was the winner of the National Literary Prize, the country’s highest honor for a writer of fiction. The author of over fifteen avant-garde novels and books of essays exploring the margins of Chilean society during and under Pinochet’s dictatorship, Eltit is only the fifth women to receive the prize, following Isabel Allende in 2010, Marcela Paz in 1982, Marta Brunet in 1961, and Gabriela Mistral in 1951 (Mistral had already received the Nobel Prize in 1945). Eltit beat out a highly competitive group of authors, including Carlos Franz, Enrique Lafourcade, Hernán Rivera Letelier, and Roberto Merino.

Eltit’s artistic career began with her participation in the radical performance art group El CADA (Art Action Collective), whose interventions in the city-space of Santiago represented a very visible and important mechanism of protest at the time. Her first novels, Lumpérica (1983) [E. Luminata] and Por la patria (1986) [For the Fatherland], had as their subject the marginal peoples and places of the city, creating a critical space of resistance for the subaltern and the suffering. Her subsequent writings—in novels like El cuarto mundo (1988) [The Fourth World], El padre mío (1989) [My Father], Vaca sagrada (1991) [Sacred Cow], and Los vigilantes (1995) [Custody of the Eyes]—explored Latin American identity, race/mestizaje, the violence of corrupt governments, and the (masculine) gaze of the State. In Los trabajadores de la muerte (1998) [The Workers of Death], Mano de obra (2002) [Work Force], Jamás el fuego nunca (2007) [Never the Fire, Never] and Fuerzas especiales (2013) [Special Forces], among others, Eltit denounced hegemonic power structures such as the neoliberal exploitation of workers and the dangers of nationalism and the market economy. Her hermetic body of work is precise and yet (neo-)baroque in its multifarious challenges to global and local power structures. Eltit divides her time between Santiago and New York, where she writes and teaches at the Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana and at New York University.

Ilker Hepkaner, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from New York City: 

New York City’s literary scene has something to offer to every reader of translation. Last week, translation of medieval texts was the topic at “Future Humanities: Translating World Literatures” event at The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU. The panel discussion brought editors and directors of special libraries and collections, such as Loeb Classical Library, which has been publishing Greek classics since 1911, and Loeb’s progenies, such as Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which translates medieval texts from Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, and Old English into English; and the Library of Arabic Literature, which focuses on translating medieval Arabic literature to English. The presentations of the editors showed that endowments, institutional support, grants, foundations, patronage, and sometimes book sales are behind century-long endeavors of translation, like Loeb Classical Library, or new institutions, such as Murty Classical Library of India, which publishes translations of medieval literatures of the Indian subcontinent.

Those interested in the translation of more contemporary pieces will love the next event in this dispatch. Us&Them Reading Series, founded by Sam Bett and Todd Portnowitz, is a reading series which brings translators together, who are also writers themselves, and share both sides of their works. At their latest event on Friday, October 5, 2018 at Molasses Books in Bushwick, Brooklyn, writer/translators will read their original pieces in addition to their translation work. Nick Glastonbury will read from A Place Upon Your Face Turkish author Sema Kaygusuz’s novel, forthcoming in 2019. Brian Sneeden will read Phoebe Giannisi’s poetry translated from Greek. Will Schutt will join them with Edoardo Sanguineti’s work, which appeared originally in Italian. Kira Josefsson and Jacqui Cornetta will conclude the night with “Lover’s Tongue, Mother Tongue: Translingual Variations,” a piece experimenting the lingual and personal borders in English, Italian, and Swedish—with more languages to come in the future. The event is free, and open to everyone. New Yorkers, and those interested from afar, can subscribe to Us&Them’s mailing list via emailing them.


Read more about happenings in world literature on the Asymptote blog: