Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week, our Editors-At-Large from Nigeria and Indonesia tell us more about the latest in literary news.

 Join our Editors-at-Large as they reflect on this week’s most important literary news—and look ahead to exciting upcoming events! From Nigeria, Olufunke Ogundimu reports on festivals in Lagos and beyond. Norman Erikson Pasaribu, writing from Indonesia, discusses a renowned Toba Batak author and a promising young translator.

Olufunke Ogundimu, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Nigeria:

Autumn is the season of literary festivals in Nigeria, beginning in September with the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival, which aims to celebrate and increase access to arts and literature in northern Nigeria. October ushers in the Aké Arts and Book Festival and the Lagos International Poetry Festival, and the season ends in November with the Lagos Book and Arts Festival.

The theme of this year’s Aké Arts and Book Festival was “Fantastical Futures.” From October 25-28, visitors attended events, exhibitions, and conversations that focused largely on a re-imagined African future. The first two days of the festival were devoted to Project Inspire, an initiative that involved featured authors visiting schools to read to pupils and talk to them about books, reading, and careers in writing. The festival also hosted two panels in Yoruba and Igbo languages for the first time; in the past, panels were held in English only. The “Divinity and Spirituality in Igbo Tradition” panel discussed the demonization and criminalization of traditional practices in Igboland, while the Yoruba panel focused on “Entertainment, Education and Technology in the Mother Tongue.”

The festival’s gaze turned to the past, momentarily, with a panel on “The Journey of African Literature.” The speakers explored the change and growth of African literature while examining its role in both politics (as a form of protest) and history (as a means of telling and preserving our stories). Other festival highlights included a fiction workshop, an art exhibition showcasing futuristic interpretations of Lagos, eight book chats, and twenty-two panel discussions. The book chats, intimate one-hour sessions in which two accomplished authors discussed theme, technique, plot, character, and style in their work, were headlined by Nigerian sci-fi and fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor, Ghanaian novelist Ayesha Harruna Attah, and American writer Paul Beatty, among others. English author and screenwriter Ben Aaronovitch, known for his work on Doctor Who, taught a fiction-writing workshop called “Getting Started on that Novel;” the festival also presented a stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives and screened various films, including Kenyan drama Rafiki and the critically-renowned 1745: An Untold Story of Slavery.

Norman Erikson Pasaribu, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Indonesia:

October has been full of good news for Indonesian literature. Two books of short stories by Sitor Situmorang, one of the most well-known Toba Batak writers, have just been published by Silkworm Books, a publisher of English books in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The first, Red Gerberas, was translated by Harry Aveling, while the second, Oceans of Longing, was translated by Aveling in conjunction with Keith Foulcher and Brian Russell Roberts.

Born in 1924 to a wealthy family in North Sumatra, Situmorang received a Dutch education and lived in the Netherlands as an adult. He became known for his short stories about Europe, told from an Indonesian perspective, and for his criticism of European imperialism. His story “Ibu Pergi Ke Surga” (Mother Goes to Heaven), for example, illustrates the push-and-pull between Christianity and indigenous belief in a Toba Batak family and the ways in which this dysfunction affects the relationship between parents and children. The story is reminiscent of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which Situmorang, given his European education and interest in French literature, would surely have read.

In other news, former Asymptote contributor Mikael Johani was recently selected as one of the mentees for the National Centre for Writing’s Emerging Translator Mentorships. He will be mentored by Pam Allen as he continues to work on his translation of Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas’s Non-Spesifik.

Finally, the Indonesian Book Committee announced last week a list of twelve Indonesian writers who will go to the UK for the 2019 London Book Fair, where Indonesia will be honored as a special guest. The list includes Seno Gumira Ajidarma, a prominent writer and essayist, as well as former Asymptote blog contributor Dewi “Dee” Lestari, who recently told the British Council that “Indonesia has a lot of exciting things to offer the UK, there are so many stories to tell.”


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: