Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

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In this edition of weekly dispatches, we remember Argentine author Hebe Uhart, celebrate the continuation of Guatemala’s national book fair, and look to China for news of cultural exchange and literary prizes. 

Sarah Moses, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Argentina:

Argentine author Hebe Uhart passed away on October 11 at the age of eighty-one. Uhart was the author of numerous collections of travel essays, stories, and novellas, and in recent years dedicated herself exclusively to the former, visiting towns in Argentina as well as countries in Latin America and further abroad to document what she saw. Her most recent work was a collection of non-fiction pieces about animals, which included her own sketches.

Uhart was born in the town of Moreno and moved to the capital to study philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires, where she later taught. For many years, she also led writing workshops out of her home. She was recognized as one of the greats among both readers and colleagues, and authors such as Mariana Enríquez and Inés Acevedo have written about her work. In 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa Manuel Rojas.

To date, Uhart’s writing has been hard to come by in English. Readers keen on discovering the author are in luck; a collection of her stories, selected and translated by Maureen Shaughnessy, is forthcoming from Archipelago Books in October 2019.

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

In early October, Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture announced decree 528-2018, which declares that FILGUA, the country’s national book fair, will continue to be an annual celebration and that the Guatemalan government will devote 1 million quetzales (roughly $130,000 USD) to it per year. FILGUA’s total costs usually come to around 4 million quetzales. However, Raúl Figueroa Sarti, a member of the book fair’s board, admitted that the grant is very much appreciated since it will help alleviate a large part of FILGUA’s economic burden.

In other news, Guatemalan writer and poet Adelaida Loukota Estrada became the first winner of the Certamen Permanente Centroamericano “15 de septiembre,” a literary prize open to any writer living in Central America or the Dominican Republic. In recognition of her short story collection Algo que le pasa a otras personas, Adelaida received a diploma and 20,000 quetzales.

Jiaoyang Li, Editor-At-Large, reporting from China:

Earlier this month, the University of Hong Kong held a “Dialogue between Chinese and Indian Writers” at the University Museum and Art Gallery. The event was organized by the Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and two prominent literary magazines, Today from China and Almost Island from India, which have been creating opportunities for cultural exchange between contemporary Chinese and Indian writers since 2009. This year, poets and artists such as Beidao, Ouyang Jianghe, Zhai Yongming, Irwin Allan Sealy, K. Satchidanandan, Kabir Mohanty, and Mohi Baha’ud-din Daga attended the event. Poets read their work on a mirror stage with a huge metal ball behind them, while the audience sat scattered on the stairs, all as if an ancient ritual ceremony were taking place. In addition to the poetry reading, the event featured Chinese and Indian musicians Mohi Bahad O. Dagar, Li Yuanqing, Qiu Lixin, and Li Jinsong, who put on various impromptu performances, including the ancient melody of Tanpura. At this event, two ancient civilizations—China and India—collided, met and merged in the time and space of poetry.

Several weeks later, on October 26, the “21st Century College Students International Literary Festival” paid tribute to the British writer Ian McEwan. Co-sponsored by Renmin University of China, Tencent News, and the International Writing Center of Oriental Literature, the festival was founded in 2016. It awards a yearly prize of $10,000 to a writer who has world influence and pays close attention to themes like human love, dilemmas, and ideals. In a speech about “Digital Revolution and AI” at Renmin University, the seventy-year-old McEwan said, “Today we are still in the early stages of the digital revolution. Perhaps history has just completed the first chapter. The following chapters will have a deeper impact on how we understand our own humanity, which in turn affects our literature and all our art forms. At this moment, these new chapters are just being written… until an AI writes the first meaningful and original novel—if it is true—we will have the opportunity to see ourselves by the eyes of ‘others’ and that will undoubtedly prove one thing: a new, conscious creation has been born around us. A great adventure will unfold here, whether it is good or horrible.”


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