Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

From literary festivals to prize winners, this is the week in world literature.

This week, dispatches from Spain and Central America witness the rise of Spanish-language writers and events that support and promote the literatures of up-and-comers alongside established stars of the field. To celebrate the community of world literature is a necessary joy, and our editors are here with the revelry. 

Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, reporting from Spain  

It was time for big celebrations in a tiny, trilingual bookshop located in the centre of Madrid on the night of May 10. Francesca Reece had been named winner of the second ever Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize, and ten other writers were being honoured alongside her in the publication of Eleven Stories 2019, the shortlist for the competition which follows after the sold out original Eleven Stories from their inaugural 2018 contest.

The event celebrated the launch of the mini collection with readings from ten of the eleven shortlisted authors. The project is an international prize based out of the bookshop Desperate Literature in Madrid, but with partners in London, Paris, and New York, it has drastically evolved over just its first year. After feedback from the inaugural winner and shortlist, the founders decided to add a one week stay as the artist-in-residence at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy, and a consultation with a New York literary agent who works for Foundry Literary + Media. With the aim of giving as much support to emerging and non-traditional writers as possible, they sought to develop additional assistance alongside a cash prize and are looking to continue this line of development for next year’s iteration. This year they partnered with five literary journals: 3:AM, Structo Magazine, Helter Skelter, The London Magazine, and The Second Shelf (women only), who will publish stories from the shortlist throughout the year. They also added a collaboration with the Casa Ana in Andalucia, who selected Jay G Ying from the shortlist for another residency.

In addition to upping the stakes in their third year of the prize, they are also looking to up their reach and diversity. While they had eight hundred submissions from forty-three countries in 2019, they still felt that there was an overwhelming amount of entries from the United Kingdom and United States, and wanted to push into the rest of the vast English-speaking world around the globe. Co-founder of the prize, Terry Craven, said that next year they will be hosting a lottery for fee waivers to encourage more diverse entries.

That same night, out to the east coast of Barcelona, writers and artists gathered in an event hosted by the city’s Center for Contemporary Culture (El Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, or CCCB). The event was joined by many diverse organizations: Lafede.cat—Organizations for Global Justice, Iridia—Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, SOS Racisme Catalunya, Mundo en Movimiento, Oxfam Catalunya, and the Institute for Human Rights of Catalunya in an effort to raise awareness of racism in Spain and Europe as a whole, with the aim of creating a more equal and diverse society. Spanish writer Desirée Bela-Lobedde read in support, along with Silvia Albert Sopale (writer and star of the one woman play No es país para negras) along with many others as part of the #WeAreMore campaign.

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America

Later this month, University of Texas Press will put out the English translation of Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s Human Matter. Though he’s mostly known for his fiction—Roberto Bolaño called Rodrigo the most disciplined writer of his generation—Human Matter is one of Rey Rosa’s most celebrated books. The protagonist of the novel, a fiction writer, visits the Historical Archive of the Guatemala National Police and discovers millions of records of people detained before and during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996). The book was translated into English by Eduardo Aparicio.

Today is also the last day of Central America’s most celebrated literary festival, Centroamérica Cuenta. Celebrated for the first time in Costa Rica, the festival put together writers and journalists like 2019 Alfaguara Prize-winning author Patricio Pron (Argentina), 2018 Miguel de Cervantes Prize-winning author Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua), celebrated author Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador), author and poet Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua), investigative reporter Jon Lee Anderson (United States), and young Latin American authors like Vania Vargas (Guatemala) and Gabriela Wiener (Peru) for a week of workshops, readings, book presentations, seminars, and other activities based around Central and Latin America’s social and cultural reality.

Finally, on a much sadder note, Salvadoran writer and journalist Tomás Andréu passed away last week after his health deteriorated. Andréu was most famous for his work as a cultural reporter. He’s also the author of books such as De ningún lado hacia ninguna parte (2000) and Los frutos ingrávidos (2005).


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: