Posts by Layla Benitez-James

Creating What One Cannot Find: In Conversation with Deborah Ekoka

Cervantes called Sevilla “the chess board” because there were as many blacks as there were whites.

Today on the blog, podcast editor Layla Benitez-James draws us into the vibrant but seldom-discussed community of Black writers in Spain. In this essay-interview hybrid, she introduces us to two booksellers working to amplify the voices and and experiences of black Spanish writers.

In the past year, I have interviewed three of the panelists from the 2018 Tampa AWP panel sponsored by ALTA, “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness,” for the Asymptote podcast: Lawrence Schimel, John Keene and, Aaron Coleman. My last interview with Coleman gave me a quote which has been rewritten at the beginning of each new journal I’ve started since December as it got at something that I have often felt but never expressed so well: literary translation is a tool to make more vivid the relationships between Afro-descendent people in the Americas and around the world.

I was reminded of the first time I read Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Of course, nothing overlapped with my life exactly, but there was this kind of constant shock and pleasure at recognizing pieces of my identity described by people from places I had never been, a sense of belonging and kinship.

Beyond dictionaries and historical reference works, in my latest projects I have relied heavily on community to understand the context of the text. I moved to Spain in 2014 to work on translation and improve my Spanish. I had fallen in love with the practice after a translation workshop at the University of Houston and started translating the work of Madrid-born and based poet Óscar Curieses. After a teaching placement in the city of Murcia flung me much farther south than I had originally planned, I began to find incredible Murcian poets, like Cristina Morano, Bea Mirales, José Daniel Espejo, and José Óscar López, whose work I wanted to bring into English.

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Asymptote Podcast: That Which is Found and Gained through Translation

Translation as bridge and compulsion

Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James reports back from the Unamuno Poetry Festival in Madrid with an excerpt from a panel she moderated, titled “TransAtlantic: Translation as Bridge and Compulsion.” She also explores the dynamic lecture on translation given by Jorge Vessel, poet and translator of Desperate Literature: A Bilingual Anthology—a book highlighting, rather than what is lost, that which is found and gained through the art of translation. Join us for all the happy accidents that can spring forth from this wonderful and sometimes eccentric practice, and get inspired in your own experiments with language.

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Friendship, solidarity, and freedom: this week, our editors present literary news under the banner of liberation.

Borders fade into the background during literary festivals and book fairs in Spain, El Salvador, and Kosovo this week as our editors report on an increasing resolve to disregard distance in honouring literature, gathering readers, publishers, and writers from around the world. Madrid glows with a rich festival of poetry, history is made in El Salvador as its first multilingual online literary publication is unveiled, and Kosovo pays tribute to women artists and writers in its capital. 

Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, reporting from Spain 

A rowdy concert, out-of-control house party, or public protest are what come to mind when I think about the police showing up to a gathering in Madrid. However, it was a poetry reading whose audience had spilled out onto the street in front of bookshop Desperate Literature which brought them to give a warning on a warm Tuesday night on May 28.

Over the past two years, I have become involved with the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid, first by doing some introductions for the more or less monthly reading series, and eventually becoming their Director of Literary Outreach as we began to make plans to launch Madrid’s first ever anglophone poetry festival. A grassroots and volunteer outfit from the beginning, the series started by accident on March 27, 2012 when poet and Episcopal priest, Spencer Reece, held what was intended to be a “one-off” reading on the patio of the Catedral del Redentor for Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco. In partnership with bookseller and co-founder/co-manager of Desperate Literature Terry Craven, and scholar Elizabeth Moe, Reece was unaware that the series would eventually evolve into the packed and vibrant Unamuno Poetry Festival. In the end, the week of May 27 through June 1, 2019 would see eighty readings spread across five venues, including a lecture series hosted in the historic Residencia de Estudiantes, where Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dalí, and Luis Buñuel all lived and studied. Taking place in the mornings, these panels counted poet Mark Doty, Laura García-Lorca (niece of Federico García- Lorca), and local Madrid native poet Óscar Curieses among their ranks, alongside many others. 

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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 Front Lines of World Literature

Join us in Spain, Brazil, and South Africa this week as we take you on a literary escapade.

The tides of cultural change are reflected in the literary festivals of Spain, Brazil, and South Africa this week as our editors point us to the increased awareness of both past misrepresentation and the lack of representation altogether. As more dismal political news from around the world rolls in, such instances of rectification and progress from the cultural sphere are a source of light and comfort.

Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, reporting from Spain 

April might be the cruellest month for some glum, English poets, but in Spain, spring has arrived and ushered in a blossoming book fair season. Alicante has just wrapped up its 2019 Feria del Libre with a refreshing theme of Mujeres de Palabra, celebrated from March 28 to April 7. The long week was packed full of readings, signings, booths, and workshops. This year, many activities were aimed at younger readers.

Among many great Spanish writers was a personal favourite, Murcian writer Miguel-Ángel Hernández, whose 2013 novel Intento de Escapada (Anagrama) was translated into English by Rhett McNeil (Hispabooks, 2016) as Escape Attempt and was also translated into German, French, and Italian. Compared to both Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, Hernández’s El dolor de los demás (Anagrama, 2018), which he was signing at the fair, is now high on the reading list.

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Asymptote Podcast: Infinite Text

"I'm constantly trying to disrupt what I think I know."

During Madrid’s Year of Lorca, which commemorates the centenary of the poet’s arrival to the city, podcast editor Layla Benitez-James speaks with Rebecca Seiferle, whose brilliant essay on Lorca translations appears in Into English. A multi-award winning poet and noted translator of César Vallejo and other Spanish language poets, Seiferle is deeply passionate about teaching and served as the poet laureate of Tucson, Arizona between 2012 and 2016. On this edition of the podcast, she discusses how her translation practice has woven its way through her own writing and teaching, and reminds us of the importance of interrogating each and every word to get at the very heart and origin of a text’s language.

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Asymptote Podcast: International Blacknesses

Poet and comparatist Aaron Coleman on translation as a tool for making vivid the relationships between Afro-descendants around the world

“I felt myself in translation all the time.”

Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James sits down via Google Hangouts with poet and translator Aaron Coleman in this third and final installment of interviews inspired by John Keene’s essay Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness. In October’s conversation with Keene and our previous podcast with Lawrence Schimel, we explored the more radical social possibilities of translation. Our discussion continues with Coleman, a Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the 2017 Philip K. Jansen Memorial Fellowship, awarded to outstanding translators of color. He joins us to talk about his studies in international Blacknesses, interpreting on the red carpet at the MTV Music Awards in Madrid, and playing basketball in Extremadura. Tune in for this and much, much more!

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Asymptote Podcast: Blackness Revisited

2018 MacArthur Genius John Keene on how translation underlies all artistic pursuit

“All art, all artistic production, entails the base of this word translation, a carrying over…”

In this latest edition of the Asymptote Podcast, we sit down with translator and writer John Keene on the heels of the tremendous news of his MacArthur Genius Award. Author of Annotations and Counternarratives, Keene was longlisted for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award for his translation from the Portuguese of Hilda Hilst’s Letters from a Seducer. But it was his essay Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness which inspired a panel at the most recent AWP Conference as well as our June podcast, so we wanted to get insight straight from the source. Join us as we talk about how translation carries over into a writer’s creative life, how English still holds powerful sway over writers working in other languages, and much much more! Listen to our latest podcast now!

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Asymptote Podcast: Cultivating Multilingual Spaces

What does it take to create a multilingual space? Layla Benitez-James explores this question with a dispatch from Alicante, Spain.

In honor of Asymptote‘s Summer 2018 edition, which marks our milestone 30th issue and includes a dazzling Multilingual Writing Feature, Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James explores what it takes to create multilingual spaces by taking a visit to the IV Encuentro Internacional de Artistas de la Kasbah in Alicante, Spain. This festival, now in its fourth year, brings together over twenty artists from around the world in an effort to foster greater cultural exchange and artistic friendship. There, she chats with Colombian artist Manuel Antonio Velandia Mora about his work, as well as founders Nourdine Tabbai and Natalia Molinos about the event’s origins. READ MORE…

Asymptote Podcast: Translating Blackness

Listen in on a conversation with the eloquent Lawrence Schimel on translating blackness, female authors, and more!

In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, we explore the identities of translators and authors via an interview with translator Lawrence Schimel whose groundbreaking translation from the Spanish of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda was recently reviewed on the Asymptote blog. (Obono is the first female author from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English.) Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James, returning from her sabbatical, sits down with Schimel in Madrid to discuss the challenges of translating this novel in the light of John Keene’s essay, “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness.” We also delve into Schimel’s work at the helm of A Midsummer Night’s Press, the challenge of getting more female authors translated into English, and how to advocate for a more inclusive global literature.

Produced by:
Layla Benitez-James Featuring: Lawrence Schimel Music: Studio Mali – Wake Up – “It’s Africa Calling” by IntraHealth International. Creative Commons licenses can be found at http://freemusicarchive.org/. Some changes were made to these tracks. Photograph: Nieves Guerra

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Hot off the press—your handy guide to all the literary happenings in the UK, Spain, Argentina, and Peru!

We’re in the second half of the year and summer—or winter, depending on where you are located—is full of literary activities. From the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist and the release of a new book by a beloved Spanish poet to Argentinian bookselling events, Asymptote editors are telling it all!

Executive Assistant Cassie Lawrence reporting from the UK:

Two days ago, the Man Booker Prize longlist was released, comprising a list of literary heavyweights and two debut novelists. The most hyped title, perhaps—and the most expected one—is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s first work of fiction in two decadesChosen from 144 submissions, the longlist has 13 titles, often referred to as the “Man Booker Dozen.” Other authors on the longlist include Zadie Smith, Mohsin Hamid, Ali Smith and Colson Whitehead.

On Monday, July 17, the London Book Fair (LBF) recorded a webcast on “Creativity, Crafts and Careers in Literary Translation.” Three panelists—translator Frank Wynne, agent Rebecca Carter and consultant and editor Bill Swainson—joined acclaimed journalist, Rosie Goldsmith to speak on the opportunities and challenges in getting world literature translated. The webcast followed from a successful programme at LBF’s Literary Translation Centre last spring, and was funded by Arts Council England.

In other news, two-times Booker-winning publisher One World have paid a six-figure sum for a YA trilogy from US actor Jason Segel, reports The Bookseller. The first title, Otherworld, is due to be released on October 31 this year, and will center on a virtual reality game with dark consequences. Segal, known for his roles in films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man has written the trilogy with his writing partner, Kirsten Miller. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly ride around the literary universe!

This week we will bring you up to speed on what’s happening in Central America, Morocco, and Spain. José brings us the latest news from the world of independent bookstores and publishing houses that are a treat for bibliophiles in Central America. Layla too has updates about exciting literary festivals and meets in Spain which bring book lovers together. Jessie shares some sad news from Morocco which however, on an optimistic note, reminds us of the universal reach of literature. 

José García, a cultural journalist from Guatemala, covers Central America for us this week:

On June 20 in San José, Costa Rica, Uruk Editores released Bernabé Berrocal’s second novel Archosaurio (Archosaur). Fellow Costa Rican writers like Aquileo J. Echeverría Prize winner Warren Ulloa and philologist Manuela Álvarez Escobar have called Archosaurio disturbing and captivating.

In late 2016 los tres editores publishing house announced its creation in Costa Rica. On June 21 they revealed their first title, Vamos a tocar el agua (Let’s Go Touch the Water) by Luis Chaves, a celebrated author of eleven books, whose work has been translated into German and is considered one of the leading figures of contemporary in Costa Rican poetry. los tres editores is yet to announced the publication date of Chaves’s book.

Additionally, the renowned Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon and Guggenheim fellow—whose work has been translated into several language including English, French, and Italian—on June 22  presented his novels Pan y Cerveza (Bread and Beer) and Saturno (Saturn). These novels were originally published by Alfaguara in 2003 as a single book titled Esto no es una pipa, Saturno (This is not a pipe, Saturno), and are now separate, as the author originally intended them to be. Pan y Cerveza and Saturno were published thanks to the work of Guatemalan bookstore SOPHOS and Spanish publishing house Jekyll & Jill. Eduardo has also a new book entitled Duelo (Duel) coming out later this year.

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Asymptote Podcast

The Translator's Craft

In this week’s all new Asymptote podcast we’re getting crafty! We’ll be hearing from translator Roland Glasser about how he uses technology in his work, as well as getting sage advice from Susanna Basso who is featured in our new Spring Issue. We’ve also got a special dispatch from poet Suzannah V. Evans from the StAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews, where she sat down with writers and artists Aurélia Lassaque and Tessa Berring to get the scoop on their translation workshop. Get ready to untangle a lot of French feelings: fear, dread, horror, terror, and finding out how marigolds inspire very different moods in standard French versus Occitan—and what exactly all this has to do with a giant fish.

Podcast Editor and Host: Layla Benitez-James

Audio Editor: Mirza Puric

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Brazil, Singapore, the Czech Republic, and Spain!

We have a busy schedule this week, Readers, so pack light and wear comfy shoes! First stop is Brazil, where we’ll board book-selling buses and more. Then we’re off to Singapore to check out a nation-wide, month-long poetry project before visiting a new cultural hub in the Czech Republic. And final destination: the vibrant literary scene in Spain! 

Maíra Mendes Galvão, Editor-at-Large for Brazil, gives us the latest:

Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll passed away at age 70 on March 29 in his house in Porto Alegre, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. Noll stood out among his contemporaries in the 1980s for his language-driven writing at a time when Brazilian literature favored narrative and plot. His novels Quiet Creature in the Corner and Hotel Atlântico were translated into English by Adam Morris, and Harmada was translated by David Treece.

Rizoma Livros is an itinerant bookstore on a bus that tours the city of São Paulo, Brazil, offering books by independent publishers such as n-1 and elefante. It will be parked in front of Middle-Eastern food restaurant Al Janiah, owned by Palestinian refugees and Brazilian friends, in the Bixiga neighborhood of São Paulo until the end of April.

Another book bus is touring the Northeast State of Ceará as part of the project “Ceará Leitor” [Ceará Reader], aimed at encouraging the population of smaller towns such as Baturité, Aquiraz, Maracanaú and Horizonte to read more by offering discounted books by publishing houses from Ceará. The will also donate book baskets to the visited municipalities’ book collections for public and school libraries, and offer an orientation on how to start book clubs. Organized by the Viva Brasil institute and the Ceará Book Chamber, with the support of SEBRAE, the Secretariat of Culture of the State of Ceará, and the Government of the State of Ceará, the project hopes to open up, for as many people as possible, the possibility of acquiring the habit of reading as a form of entertainment and education.

The Brazilian Academy of Letters has elected writer and diplomat João Almino as a new member, taking up its 22nd Chair, previously occupied by the recently deceased physician and academic Ivo Pitanguy. Some of Almino’s fiction work has been translated into English, French, Spanish and Italian, and he’s also written non-fiction books about historical and political philosophy.

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