Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

June is a month of commemoration and celebration from opposite sides of the Pacific.

Literature has always been at the forefront in movements for societal change, and, in the efforts to continually push for action, we perceive the bold literary markers that fulfill art’s role to pay tribute, to inspire, and to call for attention. It’s been thirty years since the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 in Beijing. It’s been over fifty years since the Latin American Studies Association was founded in the spirit of building civic engagement. It’s been fifty years since the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 2019 in New York City. From commemorations in Hong Kong, joyous displays of pride in the US, and unprecedented exchange of Latin American academic dialogues occurring in Boston, our editors bring you news that show a valiant, ongoing endeavour towards justice.

Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong

2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, also called the June Fourth Incident, for which it is tradition among different parties in Hong Kong to hold annual commemoration. In light of the anniversary, the city’s literary journals are organizing special features and events to take stock of the cultural, political, and social changes the incident has caused in Hong Kong, China, and beyond.

Cha, Hong Kong’s resident literary journal in the English language, is publishing a special edition of original English and translated works, photography, and art exploring the incident and its aftermath. The issue will include a selection of translated works by Chinese poets Duo Duo (featured in Asymptote’s Summer issue last year, also translated by Lucas Klein), Meng Lang, Lin Zhao, Xi Chuan, and Yian Lian, as well as a translation of “One Family’s Story” by Ding Zilin, co-founder of the Tiananmen Mothers. Alongside the Tiananmen issue, Cha is also collaborating with PEN Hong Kong to hold a remembrance reading with local writers at Bleak House Books on June 3.

Another remembrance reading is held by the Chinese literary journal Fleur des lettres on June 4, featuring writer Wong Pik-wah followed by an open-mic session. Alongside arrangements for commemorating Tiananmen, the journal has also just released its latest issue, focusing on the concept of disability. In it is a section on transcription poetry, in which transcripts are arranged into poems, portraying the original text in a new light. With an essay and four poems by Allan Sutherland (works trans. Aurora Tsui), the journal provides an introduction to this poetic form that has been used to give voice to the disadvantaged and has yet to be known in the Chinese literary circle.

On bridging gaps and literary practices, biannual journal Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature has just launched in late May. Published by Duke University Press for Lingnan University of Hong Kong, Prism is based in Hong Kong and aims to utilize its geographical position—as an English-language journal of Chinese literature actually based in the region—to encourage new dialogues between Western and Chinese literary theories.

Paul M Worley, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Mexico

Perhaps counterintuitively, one of the most important events in Mexican literature taking place during May happened not in Mexico City, Monterrey, or elsewhere, but in Boston, MA, in the United States. For the first time in the history of the Latin American Studies Association, its annual meeting had a program dedicated specifically to Latin American Indigenous languages and literatures. With the inaugural iteration put together by US-based scholar Gloria Elizabeth Chacón and the Mexico-based scholar Luz María Lepe Lira, panels presenting under this track highlighted not only the growing and sustained interest in these literatures, but also ongoing efforts to create more equitable, less Eurocentric spaces within these official sanctioned gatherings.

For example, the panel in which I participated with Chacón; Lepe; my co-author, the Guatemalan-Canadian scholar Rita M. Palacios; the Guatemalan-American scholar Arturo Arias; and the Osage scholar Robert Warrior, one of the US’s preeminent critics of Native American Literature, not only highlighted recent scholarly production in the area of Latin American Indigenous Literatures, but also brought it into dialogue with current Native American literary scholarship. Chaired by Jaime Pérez González, the panel “El ser es y no-ser no es: debates sobre la ontología indígena en el trabajo de campo / Being is and non-being is not: debates surrounding Indigenous ontology in fieldwork” highlighted the work being done by Indigenous female linguists Ana Alonso Ortiz, Emiliana Cruz, Hilaria Cruz, and Isaura de los Santos Mendoza, whose work touches on everything from morphology to the survival of literary oral speech genres. Further, the “Otros Saberes / Other knowledges” track hosted a panel co-organized by Adam Coon and Alejandro Cerda García that, for the first time in LASA’s storied history, took place entirely in an Indigenous language, Nahua. Arias called this confluence of events historic, and in his comments on the aforementioned panel in which he participated, Warrior stated that these exchanges highlight the necessity of ongoing dialogue and exchange, particularly through the translation of literary and critical texts.

Nina Perrotta, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from the USA

June 2019 marks a milestone for the LGBTQIA+ community here in the States: the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. These violent clashes between police and the gay, lesbian, and transgender patrons of the Stonewall Inn in 1969 are often considered the “ground zero” of the American LGBTQIA+ movement. Just a year after Stonewall, in 1970, another landmark event for the gay community took place in the Big Apple: the city’s first Pride March.

Because of its special significance in the LGBTQIA+ history of New York City, the entire month of June 2019 will be packed with events hosted by NYC Pride and WorldPride, with approximately three million people expected to attend. Visitors with an interest in literature will want to check out the celebratory Public Forum: Queer and Now on June 17 and the Pride Poetry Extravaganza, featuring poet Dante Michaux, on June 19, along with the many other performances, events, and parties listed here. The month will end, of course, with the legendary Pride March itself on June 30.

If you don’t plan to be in New York this month, there are ample opportunities to celebrate Pride in other parts of the country (and virtually!). San Francisco, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the US, will feature its own Pride Parade and associated events, including a benefit strip show entitled “ManuSTRIPT, Literary Tales With Happy Endings.” A presumably less raunchy—but still literary—way to celebrate Pride is to peruse Penguin Random House’s Ultimate LGBTQIA+ Pride Book List and Book Riot’s Pride Reading List.

The approach of the Stonewall anniversary has prompted American news outlets not only to reflect on the LGBTQIA+ movement’s history, but to speculate about its future. On the one hand, there is substantial cause for optimism, especially given the widespread voter enthusiasm for gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg; on the other hand, President Trump’s transgender military ban and the controversy over “bathroom bills” represent clear steps backward for American LGBTQIA+ rights. Just last week, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence sparked an uproar on Twitter after urging Catholics not to support Pride events, which he described as “contrary to Catholic faith and morals” and “harmful for children.” The American LGBTQIA+ community and its allies have a lot to celebrate this month, but the fight for equality is far from over.


Read more dispatches from around the world on the Asymptote blog: