Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Close-up on Brazil, Guatemala, and Hong Kong in this week's dispatches.

Between the pages of beloved books some sunlight gathers, as writers and readers from the various corners of our world gather to greet, honour, and celebrate one another. Crowds gather in search for literature in Rio de Janeiro, a Guatemalan favourite is shortlisted for a prestigious Neustadt International Award, and genre fiction takes the spotlight in Hong Kong. Travel with us between cobblestone and concrete, as our editors bring you the close-up view on global literary news.

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

One can hardly say it’s been winter here in the state of Rio de Janeiro, with the sun shining over the 17th edition of FLIP, the International Literary Festival of Paraty, from July 10 to 14. The festival—one of the world’s largest, and certainly Brazil’s most anxiously awaited—brought thousands of readers and writers to the cobblestone streets of Paraty in celebration of world literature. The main programming welcomed internationally acclaimed writers Grada Kilomba (Portugal, author of Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism), Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Nigeria, author of Stay with Me), and Kalaf Epalanga (Angola, author of Também os brancos sabem dançar), among others, with events in various languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and Libras (Brazilian Sign Language). But the magic of this year’s FLIP certainly wasn’t confined to the mainstage: the “houses” of Paraty’s historic center were transformed into venues for book readings, signings, and endless conversation; a parallel “Flipinha” brought the literary festival alive for children of all ages; and the first-ever FLIP international poetry slam packed the main plaza for an unforgettable night, featuring poets from Cabo Verde, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, the US, and the UK. Anyone looking for a recap of the main events can head to FLIP’s YouTube page to check out the action!

Those of us already with saudades of this year’s FLIP still have much to look forward to, with a stellar line-up of literary events still to come in Brazil. First up, from August 12 to 16, is the annual Litercultura festival at the Santa Maria Cultural Chapel in Curitiba. This year’s Litercultura will tackle the globally-relevant theme of “Fronteiras” (Borders), with a marvelous series of guest writers, including Igiaba Scego (Italy), Juan Cárdenas (Colombia) and Patrícia Campos Mellos (Brazil). Litercultura brings a small set of internationally-recognized authors to Curitiba each year to share their experiences as writers and talk about their works; past guests have included Ana Maria Machado, Alberto Manguel, and Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee, who will be judging Asymptote’s essay contest (submissions accepted until October 1). 

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

We kick off this week with wonderful news coming from Guatemala! The prolific and often revered Guatemalan author Eduardo Halfon is one of the nine finalists of the prestigious 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, awarded by the University of Oklahoma. Other finalists include Ismail Kadare, Abdellatif Laâbi, and Hoa Nguyen. Previous winners include Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, Tomas Tranströmer, and Edwidge Danticat. Claribel Alegría (Nicaragua/El Salvador) has been the only Central American author to win the prize, which he achieved in 2006. Augusto Monterroso (Guatemala) and Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua) have also been finalists. El Salvador’s Horacio Castellanos Moya was once part of the prize’s nominating juror.

Guatemala also recently bid farewell to poet, activist, and theologian Julia Esquivel. She spent her life helping the unprivileged and writing about the responsibility the church has with helping those in need. In 1994, the University of Bern awarded her an honorary doctorate. Her book of poems Florecerás Guatemala was translated into Dutch, German, and English. She was 89.

Finally, only a day after this year’s FILGUA (Guatemala’s international book fair, and the biggest in the region) closed its doors, it was announced that next year, they will join forces with Central America’s biggest book fair, Centramérica Cuenta, to welcome them in Guatemala.

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

In last year’s July dispatch, I reported on the annual Hong Kong Book Fair taking place at the city’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, which featured romance literature and authors such as Eileen Chang and Yi Shu. Held between July 19 and 23, this year’s book fair marks its thirtieth anniversary and instead showcases science and mystery fiction as genres of focus, with appearances from Kanae Minato, author of the bestselling novel Confessions, deemed the “Gone Girl of Japan” and adapted into film; Yan Lianke, most famously known for Dream of Ding Village, portraying the AIDS epidemic in Henan province, China; and eminent local sci-fi and mystery writers Ni Kuang and Chan Ho-kei. In collaboration with the French Consulate and European Union Office, the organizer is also presenting other writers in translation in a series of events, including French science fiction novelist Bernard Werber, recognized for his Empire of the Ants trilogy, and Finnish writer Selja Ahava, author of Things that Fall from the Sky, which won the 2016 European Union Prize for Literature.

However, with citywide protests still happening against the unpopular extradition bill—which allows the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement, including mainland China—politics casts a long and definite shadow over the fair’s programming. Local presses are responding to the movement in their exhibitor booths, like White Paper, which is selling copies of Freedom Is, a compilation of stories from the extradition protests, and Starry Night Publications, which has turned part of its booth into a “Lennon Wall” for customers to leave messages on post-it notes, a gesture of solidarity that has spread to various parts of Hong Kong.

While the Hong Kong Book Fair is guaranteed to have high attendance, also not to be missed is a series of events about Xi Xi, winner of the 2019 Newman Prize, at Eslite Hong Kong. Hosted by cultural organization Spicy Fish, the events range from a screening of early experimental films produced by the writer to a panel discussion, in response to the theme of the book fair, on the interactions between sci-fi and cinema with Xi Xi and local writers Ho Fuk Yan, Albert Tam, and Angela Su.


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: