Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The first ever Asymptote Book Club meet-up took place this week! Find out more, and read about news from El Salvador, in these dispatches.

In this week’s dispatches, we cover Salvadoran literary news and a special Asymptote event! We begin in London, where members of the Asymptote Book Club came together to chat about our fall book selections—and much more. From there, we delve into updates from El Salvador, including the death of a renowned poet and a women’s literary gathering.

Marina Sofia, Marketing Manager, reporting from the UK

One of the downsides of working for an international literary journal is that our volunteers and readers are scattered all over the world, so in-person gatherings are a rarity. It was therefore all the more special to see members of the Asymptote Book Club in London on November 29 at our first ever meet-up. Designed to be an informal drop-in event to celebrate our first anniversary, it included a quick tour of the current Rights for Women exhibition at the Senate House Library, followed by a discussion over drinks at the recently-opened Waterstones bookshop on Tottenham Court Road. Although we had to compete with a parallel (and noisy) event, our spirits were undampened as we discussed the surprisingly pulpy historical fiction of Ahmet Altan (October’s title) and the acrobatic linguistic challenges of translating Thai writer Prabda Yoon (September’s title). It was a great opportunity to see what readers thought we were getting right (diverse selection of genres, languages and countries; high literary quality) and what they would like to see more of (questions for online discussion; face-to-face events, perhaps including publishers). Thank you to all who ventured out on a windy and rainy evening and contributed to the lively debates!

It’s been a great first year for the Asymptote Book Club—twelve countries, twelve languages, and twelve very different authors, with two titles shortlisted for the US National Book Award for Translated Literature and two recipients of English PEN Translates Awards. We cannot wait to see what the second year will bring! If you would like to be part of the journey, find out more at https://www.asymptotejournal.com/book-club/.

Speaking of exhibitions, you might also want to explore Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at the Barbican. Although focused primarily on famous artist duos such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Dora Maar and Picasso, there are plenty of couples with links to literature, too (Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst). The curators emphasise the “adult nature” of certain of the exhibits, but, by way of contrast, the Cats on the Page exhibition at the British Library promises to be a fun day out for the whole family. After all, who can resist Mog, Macavity the Mystery Cat or the endless smile of the Cheshire Cat?

Nestor Gomez, Editor-At-Large, reporting from El Salvador

René E. Rodas, one of the great Salvadoran poets, passed away on November 30 in Xalapa, Mexico, at fifty-six years of age. Rodas lived abroad for over two decades in Spain, Canada, and Mexico, and published his first two books of poetry, Civilus I Imperator and Diario de Invierno (Winter Journal), in Toronto. While Civilus I Imperator was formatted as the monologue of a solitary man plagued by cruelty and bitterness, and Diario de Invierno (Winter Journal) was a collection of experimental poems, Rodas’s third published work, Balada de Lisa Island, is distinct in its use of short, precise stanzas. Its love narrative centers on a woman named Lisa in search of a stranger with a story for her. There is no trite imagery or stylistic pretentiousness, no hints of narcissistic writing, and Lisa is not some grand romantic lady. Her father is a typographer who “woke up dead in a garden of chaos and lead” and her mother is a waitress who dreams of one day singing with Pink Floyd. Miguel Huezo-Mixco, a poet and close friend of Rodas, said that Balada de Lisa Island reminds us that love is the berth for great poetry. In an interview in 2005, Rodas defined himself as a timid and empathetic man who was perhaps a little too obsessed with deserts, and confessed that his favorite literary genre was poetry. His return to El Salvador was spurred by his yearning for the Salvadoran coast, El Boquerón, and his beloved hometown of Santa Tecla.

In recognition of November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, two readings were held in San Salvador on November 21 and 28. They were sponsored by Los Miércoles de Poesía (Poetry Wednesdays), which is a project of Fundación Cultural Alkimia, and Los Tacos de Paco restaurant. Women artists in attendance included poet Aída Párraga, educator and poet Maura Echeverría, Los Miércoles de Poesía cofounder and Índole Editores coeditor Susana Reyes, 2010 Casa de las Américas recipient and dramaturge Jorgelina Cerritos, psychologist and poet Eva Ortiz, and poet Laura Zavaleta. A more formal discussion on raising awareness of violence against women was hosted on December 1 by the Women’s Association for Life and Dignity and the Gender Studies Department of the University of El Salvador. Titled “The Feminist Artistic Women’s Forum,” the event held discussions throughout the day, including “A Conversation on Exchanging Experiences,” “A Discussion on Identifying Demands and Establishing A Collective Manifesto by Feminist Artistic Women,” and “Artistic Presentations.”


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: