Posts by José García Escobar

“From a madhouse to a monastery”: Twenty-Five Years of Guatemala’s Magna Terra Editores

We turned into a McDonald’s of books . . . It was madness!

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Guatemala’s longest-lasting publishing house, Magna Terra Editores. Founded in November 1994 by poet and novelist Gerardo Guinea—and now run by him and his son Paolo—Magna Terra has published more than two thousand books and has propelled the careers of writers across three generations. As the press nears its bodas de plata, early this month I sat down with the two editors to talk about Magna Terra’s beginnings, the press’s many houses, and transitioning from a hectic McPress to a much more Zen indie house that boasts some of the best books produced in the country. Its author list is undoubtedly proof of this.

—José García Escobar

In the early 1990s, when Magna Terra was nothing more than a dream, its founder, Gerardo Guinea, and his family were exiled to Mexico City by the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996). He was one of many. Other famed Guatemalan writers, such as Luis Cardoza y Aragón and Raúl Leiva, also chose to live abroad given the local political climate. After all, the government often persecuted writers. Otto René Castillo, Luis de Lión, and Alaíde Foppa are just a few of the many intellectuals the government and army killed during the war. While in Mexico, Gerardo had the chance to visit and become familiar with local publishing houses. He met with Joaquín Diez-Canedo of Joaquín Mortiz Editorial, now part of Grupo Planeta, and Carlos López of Editorial Praxis. As he watched the editors working, the books piling up on the shelves enthralled him. He wondered, as the talks of peace in Guatemala became more frequent, if he could create something similar at home. READ MORE…

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!

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

The glorious fragrance of fresh literary works, hot off the presses from around the world.

It seems that national literatures around the world are shaping their next representatives as we receive further updates of new works by authors from around the globe. From publications by a Guatemalan indie press, to a remarkably young award honouree in Brazil, to a historic list of nominations for the most prestigious literary prizes in Japan, our editors are bringing you a glimpse of what is in yourand your bookshelf’sfuture. 

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

The biggest book fair in Central America, the Feria Internacional del Libro en Guatemala (FILGUA) is only a few weeks away. And like every year, on the days leading to FILGUA, the Guatemalan indie press Catafixia has been announcing its newest drafts. Mid-July, Catafixia will put out books by Manuel Orestes Nieto (Panama), Jacinta Escudos (El Salvador), and Gonçalo M. Tavares (Angola-Portugal). 

Additionally, this year’s FILGUA marks the tenth anniversary of Catafixia, which has helped launch the careers of poets like Vania Vargas and Julio Serrano Echeverría.

Last month, Costa Rican press los tres editores put out Trayéndolo todo de regreso a casa by Argentine author Patricio Pron, who won the Alfaguara Prize in 2019. los tres editores have previously published books by Luis Chavez, Mauro Libertella, and Valeria Luiselli. 

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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.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Explore the very latest in world literature, from Asymptote contributors!

Our dispatches this week range from the celebratory to the urgent. Slovak literature is victorious after a splendid showing in Paris, Guatemalan independent literature stakes out a spot on the main stage, and in Albania, writers have taken admirable steps in order to bring the importance of reading to public attention. Read on to keep up with the thrilling advances of these three national literatures.

 Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia

Slovak literature has been making waves in France: Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, was the city of honour at this year’s Salon du Livre, held from March 15 to 18. Years of painstaking preparations, spearheaded by the Slovak Centre for Information on Literature, have resulted in twenty-six brand new translations of books by Slovak authors being translated into French in the past year or so—twice the number published in the thirty years since Slovakia’s independence. Book launches and presentations were accompanied by readings, discussions, and exhibitions, featuring over a dozen writers, playwrights, and journalists, with a good sprinkling of graphic designers, artists, filmmakers, publishers, musicians, as well as some government representatives, which attracted scores of the reading public and captured the attention of the media (find links to the press coverage on the Embassy of Slovakia’s Facebook page).

The star authors included Pavel Vilikovský, the undisputed grand old man of Slovak fiction (he would surely reject this label), who rarely travels abroad these days, but could not turn down the invitation to Paris given that three of his books have appeared in French translation. He has also beaten another record, as his most recent book, RAJc je preč (The Thrill is Gone, 2018) has just been nominated for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft Litera. This is his fifth nomination since the prize was first awarded in 2006; he won it that year as well as in 2014, and judging by this book’s first reviews, he may well manage a hat-trick this year. READ MORE…

Jumping Between the Urban and the Rural: An Interview with Rodrigo Fuentes

Characters can take on a life of their own as you write them, and that can hold a great amount of interest and suspense for me.

In late 2016, the Guatemalan publishing house SOPHOS put out Rodrigo Fuentes’s literary debut, entitled Trucha panza arriba. The book follows, sometimes closely and at other times tangentially, Don Henrik, a white landowner living in Guatemala, and the way his decisions and economic and emotional downfall affect those around him. The book includes intense dramas like “Dive—available in Asymptote’s Winter 2019 Issue—and “Ubaldo’s Island”; vibrating suspense stories like “Whisky”; and profound character explorations like “Henrik.” And all of them are wrapped in exquisite dialogue, like “Terrace,” my favorite story. I told Rodrigo it was my favorite.

“Really?” Rodrigo said, somehow confused.

“Sí,” I told him, and said it was a tight story. “Apretada,” I said, “elegantly condensed, effective, quick as a flash.” READ MORE…

Two Failed Rappers Translating a Garifuna Wordsmith: An Interview with Urayoán Noel

I guess since I wrote a book about the Nuyorican poets, I have to think of myself as a teorista del flow—a theorist of flow.

Urayoán Noel has translated Garifuna poet Wingston González. I have too. His translation was for Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP). Mine was for Asymptote and Simon Fraser University. He grew up in a Spanish-language environment, yet speaking English. I did too, sort of. He’s a poet. I tried to be one. He’s puertorriqueño. I’m guatemalteco. He’s got a Ph.D. Yo no. We both like hip-hop. The three of us—Wingston included. I knew Urayoán because of Los días porosos, a book of poetry he put out with the Guatemalan press Catafixia. I remember liking the cover, and being blown away by his use of Spanglish—this was a time when I had only seen this kind of linguistic duality in the lyrics of musical acts such as Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine.

I knew Urayoán because of his poetry. He knew of me because I sent him an email saying that I had read his translation of Wingston’s poems, entitled No Budu Please, for UDP and that I wanted to interview him.

I thought it’d be interesting to match up two translators who had worked with the same poet. See if our process and approach were alike. Admittedly, I wanted to know if, in any way, Wingston’s electricity had affected us similarly.

I wanted a duel. Perhaps a rap battle. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

New Guatemalan publications, a feminist conference, as well as awards in translation feature in this week's literary updates!

This week brings notable translations of up-and-coming Guatemalan authors, an insightful conversation between two Nigerian writers, and the announcement of highly-regarded translation prizes in the UK. If you’ve been searching for exciting new writers and translators, look no further!

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large for Guatemala, reporting from Guatemala

In early December, Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP) put out No Budu Please, a selection of poems by the Guatemalan and Garifuna author Wingston González, translated by the Puerto Rican poet Urayoán Noel. No Budu, which has been favorably reviewed by Columbia Journal, Verse, and PANK, marks the first time Wingston’s work has been published in the United States. Additionally, Wingston’s book place of comfort has been incorporated into artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s performance and installation Heart of the Scarecrow, which will be on exhibit through March 9 at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

Across the pond, independent publishing house Charco Press is bringing another Guatemalan author into the English language. Celebrated short story writer Rodrigo Fuentes published a collection called Trucha panza arriba in Guatemala in 2017. Since then, the book has been reissued in Bolivia by Editorial El Cuervo and in Colombia by Laguna Libros. Trucha was even longlisted for the Premio Hispanoamericano de Cuento Gabriel García Márquez. And as of February 7, thanks to researcher and translator Ellen Jones, Trucha is now available in English as Trout, Belly Up. You can read one of the stories from the collection in our Winter 2019 issue.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Find out the latest in world literary news here!

In this edition of weekly dispatches, we remember Argentine author Hebe Uhart, celebrate the continuation of Guatemala’s national book fair, and look to China for news of cultural exchange and literary prizes. 

Sarah Moses, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Argentina:

Argentine author Hebe Uhart passed away on October 11 at the age of eighty-one. Uhart was the author of numerous collections of travel essays, stories, and novellas, and in recent years dedicated herself exclusively to the former, visiting towns in Argentina as well as countries in Latin America and further abroad to document what she saw. Her most recent work was a collection of non-fiction pieces about animals, which included her own sketches.

Uhart was born in the town of Moreno and moved to the capital to study philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires, where she later taught. For many years, she also led writing workshops out of her home. She was recognized as one of the greats among both readers and colleagues, and authors such as Mariana Enríquez and Inés Acevedo have written about her work. In 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa Manuel Rojas.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

We're back with weekly updates in world literature from around the globe!

We’re back with our regular Friday column featuring weekly dispatches from our Asymptote team, telling you more about events in world literature. Join us on a journey to Guatemala and Chile, before heading to New York City, to find out more about the latest in world literature.

José García Escobar, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Guatemala:

We begin with great news coming from the Guatemalan author Eduardo Halfon whose novel Mourning (Duelo in Spanish) got shortlisted for the 2018 Kirkus Prize. Halfon, whom we interviewed for our blog last June, is sitting beside other fantastic writers such as Ling Ma, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Lauren Groff. Mourning, published by Bellevue Literary Press, was translated into English by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. The winner will be announced on Thursday, October 25, 2018.

Additionally, Halfon was just declared the recipient of the 2018 Miguel Angel Asturias National Prize in Literature, the most important literary prize in Guatemala.

On a much sadder note, recently, one of Guatemala’s most influential and emblematic poets, Julio Fausto Aguilera has passed away at the age of 88. He won the Miguel Angel Asturias prize, in 2002; he was part of the arts collective Saker-Ti, and one of the founding members of Nuevo Signo—arguably one of the most important literary groups in Central America. He wrote close to twenty books of poetry, and his family confirmed that he left two manuscripts that they hope will get published soon. Francisco Morales Santos, his friend en Nuevo Signo’s editor, called Julio Fausto a worthy and unbreakable man. Many other writers such as Vania Vargas and the most recent winner of the Miguel Angel Asturias Prize, Francisco Alejandro Méndez, also mourned the death of Aguilera.

To read more about Aguilera and Nuevo Signo, click here.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news roundup brings us to South Africa, the United States, and Guatemala.

We’re back with another round of exciting literary news from around the globe. This week’s dispatches take us to South Africa, the United States, and Guatemala. 

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, reporting from South Africa:

An anticipated event on the Cape Town literary calendar, the annual Open Book festival,will take place from September 5-9. The inclusive festival, at which spoken-word performances and bookmaking classes are added to the program alongside interviews with international authors and panel discussions on feminism, appears to have a particular focus on migrancy and notions of place this year, with several talks hosted by the African Centre for Cities.

The attendance of influential urbanist, researcher, and author AbdouMaliq Simone points to this unofficial theme. Simone’s enduring optimism with regards to city spaces and the possibilities they hold for producing new forms of trade, particularly in the context of those inhabitants who are forced to adapt for reasons such as crumbling infrastructure or illegal residency, is a trait that looks to carry over to the rest of the festival.

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The youth carry the fire and the rejection against tyrants in their blood: An Interview with Gioconda Belli

This new rebellion has been a spontaneous movement, organized by the social memory we, as Nicaraguans, have after fighting another dictatorship.

Since the late 1950’s people in Nicaragua began actively fighting and opposing the Somoza dictatorship—Anastasio Somoza took power for the first time in 1937. In the mid-1970’s the opposition grew stronger, and in 1979, the Sandinistas came together, and launched the People’s Revolution. Guerrillas, artists, rebels, and civilians united against the somocistas. And on July 19th, 1979, victory was announced. The Sandinista Revolution brought together people like the Cervantes Prize-Winning Author, Sergio Ramírez, the former Catholic priest and poet, Ernesto Cardenal, the poet and novelist Gioconda Belli, and the current Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega Saavedra.  

Ortega later came to power in 1979 for a four-year period and then again in 2007. He has since become a mirror image of Somoza; he has been in office for more than ten years and has recently silenced, threatened, and killed members of the opposition.

In mid-April of this year, thousands gathered on the streets of Nicaragua to show their discontent against the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, in particular for issues relating to environmental rights, corruption, public health, and lack of transparency. Four months later, the protests have not slowed down and neither has the repression coming from the Policía Nacional de Nicaragua and other orteguistas. Every day, images of bravery and brutality come from Nicaragua. El presidente, who was once part of the Sandinista revolution that ousted the Somoza dictatorship that shackled the country for more than thirty years, has now become a tyrant himself and has betrayed the ideals that he, alongside writers and activists like Claribel Alegría and Sergio Ramírez, fought so diligently for in the seventies and eighties. 

Gioconda Belli, one of Central America’s most beloved and important writers, has openly criticized Daniel Ortega and his government. In early August, the poet and novelist won the Hermann Kesten Prize for her outstanding efforts in support of persecuted writers, and she joined the ranks of other prominent writers and Human Rights advocates, such as Harold Pinter and Iryna Khalip.

Belli, who was one of the artists that walked alongside the Sandinista revolution, next to people like Ernesto Cardenal and Carlos Mejía Godoy, says she’s hopeful. “There is always hope,” she says. She also admits she trusts in the Nicaraguan youth that has bravely fought for a fairer society. The revolution, she argues, in the hands of the young men and women marching in Managua, in León, in Masaya, is alive and well. “Whenever you think of tyrants, such as Daniel Ortega, you must remember that their time will eventually come,” she adds. Finally, art, music, and literature, according to Belli, are the tool Nicaragua has to plan for a better future.

More than three hundred people have been killed by the hands of the orteguismo since the protests began, on April 18th. Daniel Ortega has been in power since 2007.

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From the Headbanger, the Metalhead, All the Way to the Failed Hip-Hopper: An Interview with Wingston González

For me, poetry is the metadata of life.

If I were to describe Wingston González as a poet, I’d say he’s an unusual poet. Scratch that. To be more precise, the fractured aesthetics, the cadence, the triplets, the vertiginous narrative found in Wingston’s poetry, can only be summoned by the unusual artistic upbringing he had. Born in Livingston, brought up on Garífuna culture, traditional Guatemalan education, classical literature, and hip-hop music, Wingston stands as an undeniably original and musical wordsmith—utterly unique within the tradition of Guatemalan literature.

He is also an entrancing performer and a fascinating poet that keeps changing and augmenting his cultural and intellectual heritage.

Early July, Wingston and I got together at Casa Cervantes in downtown Guatemala City to talk about his creative process. Of course, we effortlessly drifted towards other topics. We ended up talking about music—like we often do—and ignoring the mathematical structure on which language is based. Wingston’s poetry, I might argue, has almost an allergic reaction to the formulaic configuration of Spanish. And it is thanks to that free will and unhindered flow that his verses explode and reach out with utter casualness.  

Wingston argued that as time passes, he is less worried about fulfilling what is expected of him as a poet. The narrative fabric of his poetry is often based on everyday life and he admits he thrives on capturing that everydayness, either through the plot, though mostly through the words.

During the translation process of the Four Poems, featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, he repeatedly confessed that while writing them he was concerned people might not understand what he was trying to say.

“I wanted to play with the language, but I was unsure if it made any sense,” he insisted, and months later, in Casa Cervantes, he repeated that line.

The result—and his poetry in general—though intellectual and highly literary, is also tinged with elements of the quotidian plus the type of slang and idiolects found in Livingston, in Guatemala. From references to Garífuna culture, musical narrative, unorthodox rhythmic pattern, ritualistic cadence, inventive spelling, stutters, theatrical delivery, and—as he calls them—a set of useless facts, these Four Poems show many of the poet’s tricks, antics, and cultural inheritance. His unrestrained flow truly showcases the vitality he wants to impregnate in his poetry.

José García Escobar (JGE): Your poems featured in Asymptote’s July issue, I think, are a perfect example of the type of aesthetics you used at the beginning of your career. In them, there is a lot of experimentation, musicality, unusual rhythm and unorthodox narration—things you rarely use now. How has your approach towards poetry changed over the years?

Wingston González (WG): I don’t know if my approach has changed, but the process definitely has. Naturally, when you start writing, you’re not entirely aware of what you’re doing. The act of writing becomes automatic. That happened to me. But right now I’m not as worried as I was in the past with the limitations of language. I’m more concerned with the limitations of human nature. I think that with my poetry I’m getting closer to how I speak every day. That is my intention now, to use everyday language. Even if these poems, the ones featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, are pretty experimental, I remember I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I was trying to say. I thought, “What am I doing with my ax!” I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to reach the reader. Now I’m not as concerned about this.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Central America, Albania, and Hong Kong.

We are a week out from the launch of our Summer 2018 issue of Asymptote and we could not be happier about the reading we have enjoyed and the positive response we have received from readers. As we get ready for the weekend, we bring you the latest news from around the world. José García Escobar reports from Central America, Barbara Halla from Albania, and Jacqueline Leung from Hong Kong. Happy reading!

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

Guatemala has just closed its annual book fair, the Feria del Libro de Guatemala (Filgua), which hosted some of the most important publications and announcements of the year.

First, it was announced on Thursday, July 19 that the latest winner of the prestigious Premio Luis Cardoza y Aragón (Luis Cardoza and Aragón Prize) for Mesoamerican poetry was the Mexican writer, René Morales Hernández, with his book, Luz silenciosa descendiendo de las colinas de Chiapas. Born in Chiapas, René Morales joins the ranks of well-known and critically acclaimed writers such as David Cruz from Costa Rica, Maurice Echeverría from Guatemala, and the Garífuna poet, Wingston González, featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 Issue.

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