Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Our editors have you covered with the latest news in world literature!

This week, our editors report on the commemoration of Amjad Nasser, one of Jordan’s most celebrated writers, as well as Syrian poet Adonis’ discussion with his translator Khaled Mattawa at London’s Southbank Centre. From Brazil, the International Literary Festival of the Peripheries (FLUP) and the Mulherio das Letras have taken place, with both festivals seeking to give voice to underrepresented writers and speakers. In France, the winners of two of the most prestigious literary awards were announced at the beginning of the week. Read on to find out more!

Ruba Abughaida, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Lebanon

This week, word-lovers celebrate the life and work of Jordanian poet, novelist, essayist, and travel memoirist Amjad Nasser (1955-2019), who launched his writing career as a journalist and activist for Palestinian rights. His debut poetry collection, Praise for Another Café, was published in 1979 when he was just twenty-four years old. A Map of Signs and Scents, a collection of sixty poems spanning from 1979-2014 and published by Northwestern University Press, features new English translations of his work by Fady Joudah and Khaled Mattawa.

In 2014, his poem A Song and Three Questions, was praised by Saison Poetry Library as “one of the fifty greatest love poems of the last fifty years.” Translator Jonathan Wright said of Nasser’s lyrical novel Land of No Rain: “I’m not sure what to call Land of No Rain. The publishers call it a novel. I call it a meditation.” 

The UK’s Southbank Literature Festival saw Syrian poet Adonis in conversation with Khaled Mattawa, Libyan poet and Adonis’ regular translator. They discussed poetry, translation, the blurred cultural lines between geographical points of East and West, and read their poems to a packed audience. 

Adonis, now eighty-nine, was named GQ’s Middle East Icon of the Year last month and continues to be long favoured to win a Nobel prize. He has a new collection of Chinese themed poems called Osmanthus, which will be translated and released in Chinese before Arabic. The collection of fifty poems are said to be inspired by Adonis’ recent trip to China and reflect his admiration for its natural beauty, history and culture.

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

In the midst of political tension, economic uncertainty, and environmental destruction in the Amazon, Brazil’s literary community has shown remarkable resilience, garnering a number of notable achievements over the past several weeks.

The 8th International Literary Festival of the Peripheries (FLUP) took place from October 16-20 at the Rio Art Museum (MAR) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—not too far from the Cais do Valongo, one of the largest slave ports in world history. As suggested by its name (a play on FLIP, the country’s more “mainstream” international literary festival), FLUP creates a space for writers of color from the peripheries to share their art, literature, and culture. This year’s festival paid homage to writer, actor, painter, folklorist, and political activist Solano Trindade, who helped to organize the First Afro-Brazilian Congress of 1934 in Recife, Pernambuco. Among this year’s speakers (over fifty strong) were Brazilian author Ana Maria Gonçalves and distinguished U.S. scholar Patricia Hill Collins. Much more than a single event, FLUP seeks to support marginalized writers in publishing their work. A few such authors include Ana Paula Lisboa, Yasmin Thayná, and Geovani Martins, whose debut novel O sol na cabeça (The Sun on My Head, translated by Julia Sanches) was recently named a finalist for the Jabuti Prize, one of Brazil’s highest literary honors.

Meanwhile, women took center stage at the 3rd National Encounter of the Mulherio das Letras in Natal from November 1-3. Initiated in 2017, the literary collective (the largest of its kind in the nation) seeks to strengthen ties among female writers and respond to the overwhelming dominance of male writers at literary festivals and in the publishing sphere (Regina Dalcastagnè’s research, for instance, revealed that 72.7% of published Brazilian writers were men). Mulherio das Letras has since expanded internationally, with its first encounter in Portugal earlier this year and another happening this weekend with Brazilian writers in the United States as a part of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference in Atlanta.

Both FLUP and the Mulherio das Letras stand out as examples of literary resistance and advancement in a time that asks us to reevaluate our position in the world, whether on the local, national, or global level.

Sarah Moore, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from France

Two prestigious French literary prizes were announced on Monday November 4 with the prix Goncourt awarded to Jean-Paul Dubois and the prix Renaudot to Sylvain Tesson.

Dubois’s novel Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon (Not all men live alike in this world) published in August by Éditions de l’Olivier, takes place in a prison in Montreal, Canada where the narrator, Paul Hensen, looks back over the defining moments of his life. It is a novel about regret and failure, written with both humor and a great sadness. The voting took place in two rounds with Dubois competing against Belgian author Amélie Nothomb in the second round, and finally winning with six votes against four. Dubois is the author of twenty-two novels, none of which have been translated into English yet. Bernard Pivot, the president of the Goncourt jury claimed that “if Jean-Paul Dubois’s novels had been translated from English, his status in France would be comparable to that of John Irving or of William Boyd.”

Sylvain Tesson was awarded the prix Renaudot for La panthère des neiges (The Snow Leopard) published by Gallimard in October. Tesson is a travel writer whose previous books include Berezina (Europa Editions, 2019) and Consolations of the Forest: Alone in Siberia (Penguin, 2014), which won the prix Médicis for non-fiction in 2011. Tesson was also the recipient of the prix Goncourt de la nouvelle (the Goncourt short-story prize) in 2009 for his book Une vie à coucher dehors (A Life of Sleeping Outside, Gallimard, 2009). La panthère des neiges recounts his journey in Tibet with photographer Vincent Munier in search of a rare sighting of a snow leopard, of which only a few thousand now remain. Whilst Tesson enjoys enormous success already in France, his win came as a surprise as he didn’t feature on the shortlist of four finalists competing for the prize.

This particular awards day is always a huge event in the French literary world and a grand affair, hosted in Paris at the Drouant restaurant where both prizes are announced. Unlike many literary awards of equal prestige, the prize money for the Goncourt is negligible, at merely ten euros, and for the Renaudot, nothing at all. However, what they lack in prize money is made up for in a steep rise in sales—between 2012-2016, a Goncourt winner sold approximately three hundred and forty-five thousand copies, and a Renaudot winner two hundred and twenty thousand.