Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week, news of trans literature in Argentina, an inaugural book fair in Patagonia, and awards season in India.

Our editors report on literature’s integral role in political resistance and in supporting underrepresented voices, as feminist and trans theory workshops are organized in Buenos Aires and fuegino literature is promoted in Patagonia. In India, our reporter leads us through the awards season successes, celebrating many translated titles.

Allison Braden, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina

Last month, a primary election that predicted a decisive win for the opposition in Argentina’s upcoming presidential elections sent the economy into convulsions, and the peso’s precipitous drop in value made headlines around the world. Amid the debate around the country’s future, the candidates have been conspicuously quiet on an issue important to many Argentine women: abortion, which remains illegal in most cases. But where the politicians are silent, Argentina’s women are not. Anfibia, a digital magazine of literary journalism launched by the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, is offering a workshop to challenge dominant ways of knowing and to provide women with tools to narrate experiences of violence. Also in this year’s lineup is a four-part workshop and practicum on trans theory, which seeks to answer whether it’s possible to develop a collaborative theory of the trans experience to guide, not only personal creativity, but also policy. Trans literature has won acclaim in Argentina recently. Rising literary star and trans writer Camila Sosa Villada, for example, unites literature and performance. According to a recent profile, “Camila is poetry onstage and puts her body on paper” (my translation). Her book Las malas was showcased at this year’s Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires, the largest book fair in Latin America.

In Patagonia, efforts to launch a small book fair of its own came to fruition last month as the city of Neuquén played host to the inaugural Feria del Libro de Autoras y Autores Patagónicos, a three-day event celebrating and promoting Patagonian authors. During the fair, publishing representatives from Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost tip of South America, reached an agreement with the director of the Mariano Moreno National Library to provide the prestigious institution with some exemplars of fueguino literature and broaden the library’s representation. As far as political representation, who will lead the country come December remains up in the air, but in the meantime Argentines have conclusively reaffirmed the literary link between the personal and the political.

Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from India

It is awards season and quite a few translated titles have made the various shortlists and longlists. The second edition of the biggest literary award in the country (in terms of the prize money), the JCB Prize for Literature, has two translated works in its shortlist and the acclaimed Malayalam writer K.R. Meera on its five-member jury. There’s Gunpowder in the Air by Manoranjan Byapari, the first of his fiction to be translated into English by Arunava Sinha, was perhaps a no-brainer. The Bengali writer migrated from Bangladesh when he was three, spent his childhood in refugee camps, and some of his adult life in prison when he was involved with the Naxal movement, the history that fuels the novel. The other translated work is by Perumal Murugan, who was shortlisted last year as well. Trial by Silence and Lonely Harvest (treated as one novel), translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, are sequels to Murugan’s controversial One Part Woman. Last year’s JCB winner was a translated work too, and we are hoping the good streak continues.

The surprise this year is the shortlist for the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize. It features Byapari’s memoir Interrogating a Chandal Life: The Autobiography of a Dalit, translated by Sipra Mukherjee, which has already bagged the 2018 Hindu Prize.

Among the smaller awards (in terms of the prize money) is the Shakti Bhatt Prize. Although its shortlist does not feature any translations, it has a Bangladeshi novel—Babu Bangladeshi by Numair Atif Choudhary—and a Pakistani one—Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar. Meanwhile, the Atta Galatta–Bangalore Literature Festival has five translated works among the thirteen fiction titles that made the cut. There’s still three months left in the year to read these: Tamil modernist Poomani’s Heat, the first translation of his novel in English by N. Kalyan Raman; Blue Is Like Blue: Stories by renowned Hindi author Vinod Kumar Shukla and translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra; late nineteenth-century Kannada author Gulvadi Venkata Rao’s Indira Bai: The Triumph of Truth and Virtue translated by Vanamala Viswanatha and Shivarama Padikkal; black humorist and Malayalam writer Unni R.’s short fiction collection One Hell of A Lover translated by J. Devika; and Pulayathara, a novel on casteism in Christianity by Malayalam writer Paul Chirakkarode and translated by Catherine Thankamma.

The other big name in awards—the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature—will not announce its list until the end of September; but given a translated work bagged last year’s prize, we hope to see more translations here too.


Read more weekly dispatches from the Asymptote blog: