Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Join us in Spain, Brazil, and South Africa this week as we take you on a literary escapade.

The tides of cultural change are reflected in the literary festivals of Spain, Brazil, and South Africa this week as our editors point us to the increased awareness of both past misrepresentation and the lack of representation altogether. As more dismal political news from around the world rolls in, such instances of rectification and progress from the cultural sphere are a source of light and comfort.

Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, reporting from Spain 

April might be the cruellest month for some glum, English poets, but in Spain, spring has arrived and ushered in a blossoming book fair season. Alicante has just wrapped up its 2019 Feria del Libre with a refreshing theme of Mujeres de Palabra, celebrated from March 28 to April 7. The long week was packed full of readings, signings, booths, and workshops. This year, many activities were aimed at younger readers.

Among many great Spanish writers was a personal favourite, Murcian writer Miguel-Ángel Hernández, whose 2013 novel Intento de Escapada (Anagrama) was translated into English by Rhett McNeil (Hispabooks, 2016) as Escape Attempt and was also translated into German, French, and Italian. Compared to both Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, Hernández’s El dolor de los demás (Anagrama, 2018), which he was signing at the fair, is now high on the reading list.

Looking ahead to the next fair a couple hours up the road from Alicante, Valencia is set to shake things up with the 54th edition of its book fair from April 25 to May 5. This year they have made a concerted effort to increase the number of female writers in an effort to combat years of misrepresentation and, for the first time, they have tipped the odds and have more women than men represented at book signing events. The Valencian fair is also looking to liven things up a bit by infusing their events with more nightlife. Spain, famous for its late dinners and even later nighttime festivities, is well equipped to allow its book fairs to sprawl well into the evenings. While a typical Spanish book fair will generally close down in the late afternoon (Alicante’s took the traditional lunch/siesta break between 2 and 5 pm, and stayed open until 9 pm), Valencia proposes to keep its tents open to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays to allow the bookish party to roll well into the night.

The fair will welcome some popular headliners like Rosa Montero, Manuel Vilas (also a featured author at the Alicante Book Fair), Benjamín Prado, as well as homegrown Valencian writers Sergio Villanueva and Elísabet Benavent. Benavent, who also goes by Betacoqueta online and recently launched herself out of the blogosphere with several popular novels, will actually be bringing some of her stories to Netflix come 2020.

Moving north to the capital, the Feria del Libro in Madrid (in its 78th year), running through the first half of June, will overlap with Madrid’s first ever anglophone poetry festival, the Unamuno Poetry Festival, and keep the love of literature rolling into the summer. 

Daniel Persia, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil

Carnaval may be home to the biggest and most world-renowned festivals here in Brazil, but those certainly aren’t the only ones. Seven authors have already been confirmed for the 17th International Literary Festival in Paraty, more commonly known as FLIP, to be held from July 10-14. Among those confirmed are Kalaf Epalanga (writer and musician from Angola), Carmen Maria Machado (queer feminist writer and National Book Award finalist from the US), and Grada Kilomba (interdisciplinary artist, writer, and theorist from Portugal). Under the artistic direction of editor Fernanda Diamant, the festival will welcome a more diverse collective of writers against the changing political and cultural backdrop in Brazil.

In the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to stay engaged in the literary community. Another of Brazil’s largest festivals, Flipoços (Literary Festival of Poços de Caldas, in Minas Gerais), is set to kick off at the end of this month, running from April 27 to May 5. This year’s festival, under the theme “Literature Without Borders,” will continue to facilitate access to books and authors; all events are free and open to the public. In collaboration with Sesc Minas, Flipocinhos, a parallel program for children’s literature, will host indigenous writers Daniel Munduruku and Auritha Tabajara. The translation of culturally responsive children’s literature in Brazil is largely uncharted territory, and this program is a prime opportunity for those eager to explore.

If you’re looking for more flexibility, check out Arte da palavra, a year-long project sponsored by Sesc that promotes literary exchange across Brazil. The project, currently in its third year, is split into three circuits: (1) authors, (2) oralities, and (3) literary creation. The “authors circuit enables writers to travel across regional boundaries and share their voices beyond their local contexts. The “oralities circuit focuses on narrative storytelling, showcasing artists working in multiple genres, including slam and performance poetry. The “literary creation” circuit engages the public in the act of writing, allowing authors to share their practices and support emerging literary talent in Brazil. Calendars for each circuit can be found on the website, but check the Facebook page, too, where you can find teasers for upcoming sessions and clips from past events!

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, reporting from South Africa

Long Way Down, the heady, hard-hitting 2017 young adult novel by American author Jason Reynolds, has been translated into Afrikaans (titled Lang Pad Onnetoe) by South African poet Nathan Trantraal. Trantraal, who writes in the Kaaps dialect and whose poetry deals with the marginalised community living on the Cape Flats, a zone to which people were forcibly removed during apartheid and in which gang violence is rife, brings a new dimension to Reynolds’s award-winning text, which deals with violence and revenge, and hinges on the choice of a teenager whether to murder his brother’s killer.

Violence is also the subject of South African author Fiona Snyckers’s latest novel, Lacuna. Taking inspiration from Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s 1966 response to Jane Eyre that assumes the point of view of Rochester’s mad, attic-bound wife, Snyckers writes back to J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace, giving a voice to the protagonist’s daughter Lucy, who is gang-raped during a home invasion on a remote small-holding. In Disgrace, Lucy’s response to the attack is to invite those involved to live on the land with her in order to farm it together— understood to be a metaphor for the overthrow of white supremacist rule and the subsequent transition of power in South Africa. “Lacuna is my attempt to provide the missing perspective,” Snykers told the Times, “to explore how a young South African woman might really react to a gang rape.” Snyckers is not the first writer to take on Coetzee’s oeuvre— Nthikeng Mohlele’s Michael K, published by Pan Macmillan last year, is a response to Coetzee’s 1983 novel Life & Times of Michael K.

Although the Franschhoek Literary Festival has had its moments of controversy—heated racial debate, a guest author struck by a brick during a robbery—it remains popular, and this year’s festival, held in the Cape Winelands from May 17 to 19, promises an interesting line-up of local and international authors. A stand-out event is “Translating the Classics”, in which Nkosinathi Sithole (No Matter When) and David wa Maahlamela (Stitching a Whirlwind: An anthology of southern African poems and translations) will be speaking to Antjie Krog (Country of My Skull) about Africa Pulse, a new series from Oxford University Press, in which eight African literary works have been translated into English.


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