Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

This week, we remember a prolific Catalan novelist and celebrate the achievements—including prizes, publications and a Ph.D.—of Indigenous writers from Mexico, Colombia and Australia.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Australia

In October, Australian literary magazine The Lifted Brow announced that their fortieth issue would be produced entirely by a First Nations collective of writers, artists, editors, academics, and activists. The cover and contributors for the issue, which was titled Blak Brow, were revealed in late November. The issue launched on Wednesday, December 12th, at the Footscray Community Arts Centre in Melbourne, and is also now available to be ordered.

Poet, essayist, and scriptwriter Sam Wagan Watson has been named this year’s winner of the Patrick White Literary Award. Established by the late writer Patrick White, the prize is given to authors “who have made a significant but inadequately recognized contribution to Australian literature.” Watson is the second Indigenous writer to win the prize since it was first awarded in 1974.

Bram Presser has won this year’s Voss Literary Prize for his debut novel, The Book of Dirt. Set during the Holocaust and based on a fictionalized version of his own grandparents’ experiences, which Presser researched for the book, the novel also won three NSW Premier’s Literary Awards earlier this year in the Fiction, New Writing, and People’s Choice categories.

Manel Mula Ferrer, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Spain

2018 marks the end of the Any Manuel de Pedrolo [The Year of Manuel de Pedrolo], a celebration of one of the most prolific Catalan writers during the year that would have marked his 100th birthday. Pedrolo experimented in almost every genre imaginable and worked to increase the accessibility of Catalan language and culture in spaces they hadn’t occupied before. At the same time, his writing was often banned by censorship institutions under the Franco regime, and some of his work had to wait more than ten years to be published.

Besides his prolificness, one of the most notable facts about Pedrolo is that, between 1963 and 1970, he directed a crime novel collection for Edicions 62, a Catalan publishing house. In addition to facilitating the translation and publication of American and European crime classics, the collection intended to provide a space for new Catalan examples of the genre, although not with much success. This took place at a moment when concerns about the validity of Catalan literature and its ability to identify with a certain condition of normalcy were not unusual in Catalan critical discourse.

An English translation of one of Pedrolo’s most famous novels, Mecanoscrit del segon origen (Typescript of the Second Origin), translated by Sara Martín and with a foreword by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson, was published earlier this year. The story follows the struggle of Alba and Dídac, who, after surviving the destruction of the earth by a mysterious force, take on the task of preserving the remnants of human civilization. The novel is arguably one of the most well-known books in Catalan, and is often mandatory reading for secondary school students in Catalonia.

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico and Colombia

The past few weeks have been full of major developments in the world of Indigenous letters. Tsostil poet, anthropologist, and translator Xun Betán saw the publication of his long-anticipated Tsotsil translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince by Argentinian publishing house Los injunables. Speaking on the importance of translating works of literature into Indigenous languages and the presence of Indigenous voices in literary spaces, Betán said, “Indigenous peoples are often invited to adorn different functions as though we were flower vases. I always reply that’s not who we are, that we are entitled to human dignity and to express ourselves like anyone else.” Betán’s work with the Tsotsil poetry collective Snichmal Vayuchil was previously featured on Asymptote’s blog.

Further to the north, Mephaa poet Hubert Malina has been in the news for a number of reasons. First, he published Las sombrerreras de Tsítsídiín, for which he won 2017’s American Indigenous Literary Prize. This controversial publication takes up the topic of the violence visited upon young women and girls in Malina’s home state of Guerrero, which has been on the front lines of the hemispheric “War on Drugs.” The month also saw the publication of Malina’s Cordel torcido, a work which, according to the author, deals with stories and customs from the town of Malinaltepec. Finally, Jaime Sa’akäsmä published a short piece of criticism on Malina’s Cicatriz que te mira. This piece not only adds to the growing critical corpus on Malina’s work, but also becomes one of the few pieces of critical work by an Indigenous critic about an Indigenous author. Both Malina’s poetry and essays have been featured previously in Asymptote.

In Colombia, the Tule writer and intellectual Abadio Green, a.k.a. Manibinigdiginya, recently became one of the country’s first Indigenous persons to complete his doctorate. Given the cultural, economic, and social structural inequalities Indigenous peoples face in Colombia and throughout the rest of the hemisphere, this is a major accomplishment.


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: