Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Start your weekend with up-to-the-minute literary dispatches from around the world!

This week, we highlight a new Latinx literary magazine, an award-winning Catalan poet and translator, and a German-American literary festival in New York. We also learn about a Salvadoran who hopes to increase access to literature in his city by raising enough funds to build and stock a new library.

Nestor Gomez, Editor-at-Large for El Salvador, reporting from El Salvador

The Fall 2018 debut of Palabritas, an online Latinx literary magazine founded by Ruben Reyes Jr., is good news for Latinx writers from a variety of genres, especially those who are unpublished. Palabritas’ creation was inspired by a night of celebration of spoken word, poetry, and performances hosted by Fuerza Latina, a pan-Latinx organization of Harvard College. Reyes, a Harvard student and the son of Salvadoran immigrants, felt it was important to give access to unpublished writers from Latinx communities that are often ignored, such as LGBTQ+, the diaspora, and mixed-race communities. By providing a space for Latinx writers from all communities, Reyes hopes to minimize the exclusivity of published writers and bring them side-by-side with previously unpublished writers in the magazine.

In more news from the Salvadoran diaspora, Joaquín Tobar Martínez started a GoFundMe fundraiser after he “was awarded a grant from Davis Projects for Peace to build a public library/public space for the city of Puerto de La Libertad in El Salvador.” The fundraiser to supplement the grant is halfway to its goal of $8500, which, if reached, will directly fund new bookshelves, structural supports, interior and exterior finishes, planting, and light fixtures for the new space. To provide some perspective on the impact of this project, we should note that libraries in El Salvador are few and far between. Most of the largest libraries are in the capital city, and it is rare for smaller towns to host extensive libraries of their own. Instead, small towns collect whatever books they can, set up a room by the road, and post a makeshift sign that says “Biblioteca.” The Ministry of Education also maintains a “mobile” library of about 25,000 books that travels to these rural communities across the country. But by building a physical space in Puerto de la Libertad, Martínez hopes that he will not only encourage children to read, but also provide them with a place to go to in their free time, away from violence and gang influence.

Manel Mula Ferrer, Editor-at-Large for Catalan literature

Marta Pessarrodona has recently been awarded the 51è Premi d’Honor de les Lletres Catalanes (51st Prize of Honor of Catalan Literature), a prestigious recognition given to people who have contributed to the “cultural advancement” of the Catalan-speaking countries, as explained on the website of its organisers, Òmnium Cultural. Previous award winners include figures such as Quim Monzó (read more here), Teresa Pàmies, and Jaume Cabré.

Marta Pessarrodona is a well-known poet, and an anthology of her poetry was published in 2007 under the title Poemes 1969–2007: Antologia, although other books have followed since then. As a non-fiction writer, her work has often focused on outstanding female writers, such as Mercè Rodoreda (published by Asymptote here) and Montserrat Roig. However, I decided to feature her here because of her extensive work as a translator. On top of her poetry and non-fiction, she has translated from French and English into both Catalan and Spanish. Some of the authors she has translated include Harold Pinter, Marguerite Duras, and Virginia Woolf. As a matter of fact, according to an article by Núvol on the occasion of the award, the vice president of Òmnium Cultural highlighted the work Pessarrodona did to introduce the Bloomsbury Group to Catalan culture. Some of her work can be read in English translation here.

I’ve stopped writing for a moment to realise that my dispatches usually focus on contemporary writers that, although often a referent for readers of literature in Catalan, are perhaps not as well-known outside of this literary field. It feels even more discouraging in cases like this one, in which the author served as a bridge between different cultures, but that bridge was mostly unidirectional. And yet, we learn from this openness, from this dialogue, because this is also why we’re here: we’re here to connect.

Erik Noonan, Assistant Editor, reporting from the USA

From Friday, March 29 to Sunday, March 30, New York City welcomes the weekend-long Festival Neue Literatur, a showcase of German-language writing curated by translators Liesl Schillinger and Tim Mohr. According to the festival’s website, it is the “first and only festival to spotlight German-language and American fiction together.” This year’s festival will feature Austrian writers Daniela Emminger and Laura Freudenthaler, German authors Pierre Jarawan and Stefanie de Velasco, and Swiss writers Dana Grigorcea and Gianna Molinari.

Friday’s event, “Words with Writers,” will take place at the Austrian Cultural Forum. All six festival authors will be interviewed onstage by graduate students from local universities in a discussion moderated by award-winning translator Tim Mohr. On Saturday, the main event will be “Double Lives: Writers Who Translate,” featuring American author Idra Novey, writer of Those Who Knew; 2018 MacArthur Fellow John Keene; and Jennifer Croft, winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. Held at the Goethe-Institut New York, “Words with Writers” will be moderated by Karen Phillips, Executive Director of Words Without Borders. Also on Saturday, at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, Liesl Schillinger will moderate a panel entitled “Another Country: Distant Lands Close Up and Personal,” featuring Daniela Emminger, Pierre Jarawan, and Dana Grigorcea in conversation with Korean-American author Min Jin Lee, who is best known for her award-winning novel Pachinko.

The festival will wrap up on Sunday with “The Author’s Voice: Six German-language authors read from their work.” English-language translations will be read by actors Adelind Horan and Robert Lyons, with a discussion moderated by Tim Mohr.


Read more weekly dispatches from the Asymptote blog: