Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

In these dispatches, we see efforts in world literature to feature underrepresented voices.

World literature will be inclusive only through a continuous effort of organizing against the dominant, listening to the underrepresented, and making space for the unheard to bloom. This week our Editors-at-Large report such efforts from Australia, Hong Kong, and Slovakia. Read on to find out how the voices of women, indigenous and local peoples are being amplified around the world.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Australia:

As part of an effort to resist the colonial systems that are the Australian publishing industry, the Australian media and arts industries, and modern Australia itself, the literary quarterly The Lifted Brow made the decision to hand over the entire production of their December issue to an all-First-Nations team of writers, editors, and ancillary staff. “We at TLB are too white, in all senses of that term,” read the magazine’s official statement on the matter. “[I]t’s way past the time that this should’ve changed. Our job and responsibility now is to push back against these oppressive and harmful regimes-within-regimes, not because we can undo the past, but because we can make better the present and the future.”

To this end, responsibility for selecting the personnel for this initiative—titled Blak Brow—has been passed to Moondani Balluk, an academic unit at Victoria University dedicated to sharing and fostering respect for Aboriginal knowledge, as well as pursuing equity and educational access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The magazine has expressed a wish for this project to “shape and change our organization permanently, which we would actively welcome and which we would set in place.”

In other news, the Wheeler Centre, a Melbourne-based organization dedicated to books, writing, and ideas, have revealed the first round of award-winners for The Next Chapter—a new scheme to nurture and grow a generation of budding writers “who reflect the diversity of Australian identities and experiences.” Each recipient will receive 15,000 AUD and be paired for 12 months with a mentor who will help them develop their work and connect them with people in the writing industry. The Wheeler Centre has also promised to promote the work of any recipients who are successful in finding a publisher. More about all ten recipients can be found here.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia:

The winner of the 2018 Anasoft Litera, Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, is the writer and philosopher Etela Farkašová for her novel “Scenár” (The Script), whose protagonist couple, a literary translator and a natural scientist in their seventies, are coming to terms with aging.  As Farkašová explains in an interview, her novel deals with issues she has previously covered in her essays: “Apart from aging I explore the issues of speed and slowness as characteristics of the pace of life, the issue of the superfluity of words – especially sterile ones – in our lives and the need to find time for quiet, calm concentration, immersion in one’s own thoughts, a more profound and complex self-reflection.” One of the Anasoft Litera jury members, critic and feminist Derek Rebro, noted that “while the book won’t change our current obsession with pseudo-efficiency, dynamism, and quantity, it engages us and makes us think about issues – including ageism – which may result in action”.

Anasoft Litera’s readers’ prize went to another author on the shortlist, Daniel Majling. His literary spoof “Ruzká klazika” (Rushian Clashics), was purportedly written by inmates of camps in remote north-east China, “mostly retired literature professors, preferably epileptics, who are forced to drink litres of vodka, set up anarchist cells, and argue about the existence of God in order to get as close as possible to the conditions under which real Russian classics were written”.  Majling is primarily known for his graphic novel “Rudo”, featuring the asocial cynic Rudo, which, though originally serialised in Slovak, has so far appeared in book form only in a Czech translation (a Slovak version is due to appear shortly) and, most recently, “Zóna” (The Zone).

Some new names to watch have emerged from two recent literary competitions: Jana Turzáková’s short story “Medzi dvomi vlakmi” (Between Two Trains) has won Poviedka (Short Story) 2018, while Nicol Hochholzerová won Medziriadky (Between the Lines), a contest in which 50 budding writers get a chance to participate in a week-long creative writing workshop led by acclaimed authors including past Asymptote contributor Mária Ferenčuhová, Czech poet Petr Borkovec and literary critic Marta Součková.

Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong

On October 5, Cha, an online Asian literary journal, organized a panel with translators Yoyo ChanJennifer Feeley, and Andrea Lingenfelter on translating female writers and its significance in the current political and cultural climate. The event was part of the Cha Reading Series, which is hosting another panel on the pleasures of translation on October 18, featuring local academics and translators Lucas Klein, Maialen Marin-Lacarta, and James Shea.

Autumn sees the return of the annual Hong Kong International Literary Festival, taking place from November 2 to 11 for its 18th edition in the city’s newly revitalized heritage Tai Kwun, once a Victorian Central Police Station compound. Travel writing, LGBTQ+ rights, and feminism are some of the major themes of the programme, with appearances from Geoff DyerCheryl Strayed, Irvine Welsh, Meg Wolitzer, and Jenny Zhang.

Attending writers hail from various countries and languages. Featured writers in translation include prolific Mexican writer and poet Guadalupe Nettel, deemed by Granta magazine as one of the best untranslated writers before her English debut with the short story collection Natural Histories (in Spanish, El matrimonio de los peces rojos); Ma Jian, exiled Chinese writer, most known for Stick Out Your Tongue and Red Dust (《亮出你的舌苔或空空蕩蕩》and《非法流浪》in Chinese respectively), his latest novel China Dream to be released later in November; and Intan Paramaditha, Indonesian writer and past Asymptote contributor, with her first work in English, Apple and Knife, translated by Stephen J. Epstein from Victoria University of Wellington.

Local writers are also under the spotlight with the participation of Dung Kai-cheung, whose novel, The History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera (《天工開物‧栩栩如真》) was released in English this year; Hon Lai-chu, author of The Kite Family (《風箏家族》); and Chris Song, Editor-in-Chief of the bimonthly Chinese and English poetry journal Voice & Verse. Writing workshops, outdoor poetry performances, and live music round out the festival’s offerings.


Read more about latest in World Literature: