Dispatches

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

Here we are again with literary updates from around the world. This week we bring you news on cultural responses to the earthquakes in Mexico and the latest on indigenous writers via Editors-At-Large for Mexico Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn. UK-based Executive Director Cassie Lawrence brings us up to speed on the latest from the UK, including recent prizes and publications. Finally, Editors-At-Large for Taiwan, Julia Chien and Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, discuss the latest poetry and film initiatives in Taiwan.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-At-Large, Mexico:

This week on Thursday, October 12, the 17th Annual Book Fair opened in México City’s Zócalo (main square downtown), and will run through October 22. As reported by Mexico’s Cultural Secretary, under the hashtag #CulturaSolidaria, the event will explore the role that the arts and culture play in rebuilding a city devastated by the September 19 earthquake that took over two hundred lives and left parts of the city in ruins.

As per an October 12 news release, as part of the Fair’s festivities Tu’un Savi (Mixtec) poet Nadia López García will be officially awarded the 2017 Cenzontle Prize in indigenous literatures for her poetry collection Ñu’u vixo/Tierra mojada. The panel awarding the prize was composed of some of the most prominent writers and intellectuals from indigenous movements in Mexico, Zapotec Irma Pineda, Mixe Yásnaya Aguila, and Mazateco Juan Gregorio Regino.

On October 20 at the Corazón de Jade, Museo Jardin in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, Maya and Zoque writers will be presenting their new multilingual poetry anthology entitled Ts’unun, los sueños del colibrí. Featuring work in three Maya languages (Ch’ol, Tseltal, and Tsotsil) and Zoque, from writers such as Mikel Ruiz, Canario de la Cruz, Lyz Sáenz, and Antonio Guzman, the anthology brings together some of the young voices prevalent in indigenous literatures from Chiapas.

Tsotsil Maya poet and playwright Ruperta Bautista Vásquez has travelled to the United States to give a talk entitled “Voicing the Silences: Indigenous Language, Poetry and Decolonization,” at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota on October 23. This is a rare opportunity for US audiences to hear and meet one of contemporary Maya literature’s most important voices for equality and social justice.

Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant, UK:

The shortlist for The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation has been announced. The shortlisted titles are: Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, Swallow Summer by Larissa Boehning, Clementine Loves Red by Krystyna Boglar, The Coast Road by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg and Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. The winner of the £1,000 will be awarded at a ceremony on November 15.

Come February 2018, Bloomsbury are planning to launch a new publishing enterprise, Bloomsbury China, according to The Bookseller. Headed up by Richard Charkin, the enterprise will focus exclusively on books about China for Chinese readers, seeking both fiction and non-fiction in the English language. Charkin says: “The purpose of Bloomsbury China is to work with Chinese publishers and authors, and indeed Western authors, to publish books in English with the intention of improving the West’s understanding of China and helping China reach out and communicate with the rest of the world.” The first publication will be The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu.

Origin, the fifth Robert Langdon title from Dan Brown, reached the six-figure selling mark within one week of its release. The only other title to do so this year (so far) is David Walliams’s World Book Day title Blob. Another exciting book release is Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage. After a seventeen-year wait readers will be able to re-immerse themselves in the world of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The launch was celebrated with events in Oxford, Cardiff, and the London Literature Festival, amongst others.

The Royal Society of Literature last month launched their Literature Matters programme. The campaign aims to highlight the importance of literature and will be supported by four strands: an online hub, an events programme, an award, and a supporter circle. The events programme has already seen talks such as “Stand with Salman” on the anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses, and “Why Race Matters” with writer Reni Eddo-Lodge. Upcoming speakers include Eimear McBride, Philip Pullman and Shami Chakrabarti.

Julia Chien and Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editors-At-Large for Taiwan:

This month is a busy time for poetry enthusiasts in Taiwan. The 17th annual Taipei Poetry Festival, hosted by the Taipei City Hall, took place earlier this month and featured poets in residence Taiwanese-American poet Kelly Tsai, Nigerian poet Efe Paul Azino, Hong Kong poet Chung Kwok-keung, Japanese poet Hirata Toshiko, and Vietnamese poet Dang Than. The theme this year was “Eyes & Lights” and considered poets as interpreters of zeitgeists. Following the Taipei Poetry Festival is the 2017 Asian Poetry Festival, hosted by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, which will take place from October 20 to October 23 in Qi-Dong Poetry Salon. Qi-Dong Poetry Salon is a quaint, dark wooden structure built around the 20’s during Taiwan’s Japanese colonial period as a housing project for bureaucrats. It was renovated in 2014 and is currently the home base of a three-year project from the MoC to revive the nation’s poetry scene. This project, called “The Revival of Poetry” (詩的復興), includes weekly salons and talks related to poetry, as well as poetry festivals. This year, the theme of the festival is Asia, and poets are invited from East Asia and Southeast Asia to engage in cross-border dialogues. Featured poets include Nagae Yuki from Japan, Hyejung Huh from Korea, Tang Siu-wa and Cao Shuying from Hong Kong, He Ling Sheng from Macao, Bernice Chauly from Malaysia, Rewat Panpipat from Thailand, Sunlie Thomas Alexander from Indonesia, and Ly Hoang Ly from Vietnam.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first Taiwanese film ever made. To commemorate, the Taiwan Film Institute has been putting relentless efforts into digitally restoring a series of classic Taiwanese films with the support from the Ministry of Culture. Throughout the entire month of October, this series of digitally restored Taiwanese film classics has been making its debut screenings around Europe, including in the UK, Slovenia, Poland, Finland, and Germany. Under the supervision of SOAS’s Center of Taiwan Studies, “Taiwan’s Lost Commercial Cinema: Recovered and Restored” aims to bring the audience on the continent an unprecedented and reminiscent review of the “taiyu pian.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

Here we are with this week’s news on exciting developments in the world of literature! Our Editor-At-Large for Singapore, Tse Hao Guang, updates us on new translation initiatives and experimental literary events. Sarah Moses, our Editor-At-Large for Argentina and Uruguay, fills us in on recent literary festivals and on an event honoring everyone’s favorite cartoon cynic. Finally, Tomás Cohen, our Editor-At-Large for Chile, tells us about some exciting new publications appearing in the region.

Tse Hao Guang, Editor-At-Large, with the latest updates from Singapore: 

In the spirit of experimentation, stalwart independent bookstore Booksactually devised a Book Prescription Day (Sep 30) in conjunction with #BuySingLit, inviting the public to meet seven authors one-on-one as they administered literary balm to all manner of ailments. Literary nonprofit Sing Lit Station put on a zany, rave-reviewed, pro-wrestling-meets-spoken-word spectacle Sing Lit Body Slam (October 6-7), selling out on opening night. Sing Lit Station also announced the 2018 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry, awarding the best poems published by SEA-affiliated journals to a combined tune of SGD$2500 (USD$1800). Finally, Singapore played host to the 2nd Asian Women Writers’ Festival (September 29-30), with Singaporean novelists Balli Kaur Jaswal and Nuraliah Norasid speaking alongside other writers from the UK, the Philippines, Pakistan, and India.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

We’re back with another week full of exciting, new developments in the world of literature! Our Editor-At-Large for Australia, Tiffany Tsao, updates us with a fresh report of prizes and publications and the inauguration of an exciting new festival. Julia Sherwood, Editor-At-Large for Slovakia, is filling us in on the latest exciting news in neighbouring Poland, involving prizes, authors and translators. Last but not least, our Editor-At-Large for Indonesia, Valent Mustamin, serves up a full platter of festivals, publications and awards. 

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-At-Large, with the latest updates from Australia: 

Congratulations to Josephine Wilson, author of the novel Extinctions, for winning the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. The results were announced early last month.

Felicitations also to Stephanie Guest (former Asymptote Australia Editor-at-Large) and Kate Riggs on the publication of their piece “An Architecture of Early Motherhood (and Independence)” in The Lifted Brow’s September issue. The piece received the The Lifted Brow and non/fiction Lab Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction (announced at the end of August) and was lauded by the judges for its “determined fidelity to the banality and logistics of early motherhood—states of radical and ongoing beholden-ness—juxtaposed against reflections from an autonomous life in the margins.”

The shortlist for this year’s Richell Prize for Emerging Writers was announced earlier this week. The five finalist entries are: Michelle Barraclough’s “As I Am”; Sam Coley’s “State Highway One”; Julie Keys’ “Triptych”; Miranda Debljakovich’s “Waiting for the Sun”; and Karen Wyld’s “Where the Fruit Falls.” The prize was launched in 2015 as a joint initiative by the Emerging Writers Festival and the Guardian Australia. The winner will be announced November 1.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Music, art and linguistics have been knocking on literature's door around the world this week. Asymptote members bring you the scoop.

Literature is interdisciplinary by nature, and the world showed us how this week. From visual art exhibitions and a reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Hong Kong to a music festival infiltrated by writers in Slovakia and a commemoration of the late sociolinguist Jesús Tuson in Catalan, there is much to catch up on the literary world’s doings this week.

Hong Kong Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan brings us up to speed:

Themed “Fictional Happiness,” the third edition of Hong Kong Literary Season ran from June to late August. The annual event is organised by one of the most important Hong Kong literary organisations, the House of Hong Kong literature. This year the event featured an opening talk by Hong Kong novelist Dung Kai-cheung and Taiwanese writer Luo Yijun, a writing competition, an interdisciplinary visual arts exhibition, and a series of talks, workshops and film screenings. Five visual artists were invited to create installations inspired by five important works of Hong Kong fiction in response to the exhibition title, “Fictional Reality: Literature, Visual Arts, and the Remaking of Hong Kong History.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration has been a hot trend in the Hong Kong literary scene recently. Led and curated by visual artist Angela Su, Dark Fluid: a Science Fiction Experiment, is the latest collection of sci-fi short stories written by seven Hong Kong artists and writers. The book launch on September 2 took place at the base of Hong Kong arts organisation, “Things that Can Happen,” in Sham Shui Po. The experimental project was initiated as an artistic effort to reflect on recent social turmoils through scientific imagination and dystopian visions. The book launch also presented a dramatic audio adaptation of one of the stories, “Epidemic Investigation,” from the collection.

On September 6, PEN Hong Kong hosted a bilingual reading session (Cantonese and English) as part of the International Literature Festival Berlin (ILB) at Art and Culture Outreach (ACO) in Wan Chai. About twelve Hong Kong writers, journalists, and academics participated in “The Worldwide Reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” by reading excerpts of their choice from works that deal with issues of human rights.

Amid the literary and artistic attention to Hong Kong social issues and history, local literary magazine, Fleur de Lettre, will take readers on a literary sketching day-trip in Ma On Shan on September 9. During the event named “August and On Shan,” participants will visit a former iron mine in Ma On Shan to imagine its industrial past through folk tales and historical relics. READ MORE…

Youmein Festival: Creating Art in the Liminal Space Between Tradition and Imitation

“Is a society made up of endless imitations that become canonized as tradition? Or do traditions change through borrowing from other cultures?"

Diverse languages and artistic disciplines intersected at the Youmein Festival in Tangier where artists and writers from Morocco, Algeria, Spain, and France created pieces to reflect the interplay between tradition(s), taqalid, تقاليد, and imitation, taqlid, تقليد.. Asymptote’s Tunisia Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman and writer Alexander Jusdanis report from Tangier. 

For the past three years, Youmein (“Two Days” in Arabic) has brought together diverse artists in the city of Tangier to create art installations based on a central theme over a 48-hour period.

The festival is run by Zakaria Alilech, a translator and cultural events coordinator at the American Language Center (ALC) Tangier, George Bajalia, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Columbia University, and Tom Casserly, a production manager at Barbara Whitman Productions. They’re quick to emphasize their hands-off approach. “We’re not curators,” says Alilech. Instead, they see themselves as facilitators, providing artists the initial inspiration, space and support to realize their ideas. The trio stressed that Youmein is less about the final product and more about the process of making art.

They intend the festival to be an opportunity for the artists and audience to discover Tangier through the lens of each year’s theme. While strolling through the city’s streets, historically a meeting point for peoples from around the Mediterranean and beyond, it is not uncommon to hear any combination of Rifiya, Darija, Spanish, French, English, and Italian. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that language has played an essential role in selecting the theme of the Youmein festival from its inception.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Probably the best source of global literary news available.

It’s the official start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the South―the beginning of a new season where minor plans and promises are made that we desperately try to be faithful to. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the temperature that changes. Nonetheless, here at Asymptote we’ll always fulfill our promise of bringing you the latest news from around the globe, just in time for the weekend, with this week’s reports from Argentina, Romania and Moldova, and Taiwan. 

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, brings us the news from Argentina:

August in Argentina was a month for reading. Buenos Aires celebrated Jorge Luis Borges’ birthday on August 24 by organizing a walking tour tracing Borges’ most notable haunts. The 24th is also the country’s annual Día del Lector, commemorating the renowned writer.

On August 23, the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) hosted a conversation between North American policy analyst David Rieff, and Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela on the topic of collective memory. Valenzuela is known for her novels that recall state violence, written during and after Argentina’s brutal last military dictatorship. The topic of historical memory is especially relevant right now as the Argentine public protests the alleged disappearance of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, who went missing at a protest in Patagonia on August 1.

In the midst of September’s Bienalsur, a major visual art biennale, literary events still abound in Buenos Aires: one upcoming highlight is the celebration of Latin American women writers, El silencio interrumpido, to be hosted at MALBA on September 6. The free event includes speakers such as Argentine novelist Reina Roffé and poet Tamara Kamenszain, as well as Cuban critic José Quiroga.

Such literary events are not limited to the city of Buenos Aires proper. The province of Buenos Aires partnered with cities Lanús and Quilmes on August 26 to host Un día de libros, a wide-ranging event series featuring everything from free lectures on literature to the release of Diez lugares contados, an anthology of stories about life in the province. Between September 18-23, FIDEO (Festival Intergaláctico de Escritores (Oficial)) will take place in San Miguel de Tucumán in northern Argentina. The festival, organized by cultural organization EsCuchara with support from the National University of Tucumán, is a free, open, and experimental space for writers to meet.

Finally, readers across the country celebrate a new translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s diaries into Spanish. Gombrowicz, who lived in Argentina from 1939-1963, had significant influence on 20th century Argentine literature. Translators Bozena Zaboklicka and Francesc Miravtilles’ rendering of Diario make the author’s personal insights available to the Spanish-speaking world.

MARGENTO, Editor-At-Large, gives us the latest from Romania and Moldova:

The second edition of the Gellu Naum Festival, co-organized by the Romanian Literature Museum and Gellu Naum Foundation on August 4-5, has as its MCs the poet and Naum critical authority Simona Popescu and French-Romanian poet and translator Sebastian Reichmann, and feature over twenty poets (from big names such as Emil Brumaru and Angela Marinescu to rising stars like Asymptote past contributors Emilian Galaicu-Păun and Radu Vancu, and Elena Vlădăreanu) reading to the jazz music performed live by pianist Mircea Tiberian. Naum (1915 – 2001), is an outstanding representative of European surrealism.

Poet and translator Paul Vinicius, this year’s winner of Le Prix du Public du Salon du Livre des Balkans, has announced a forthcoming critical anthology of English-language poetry edited and translated by himself, excerpts of which he has already published in major literary venues, while also editing the collected works of Vintilă Ivănceanu, a foremost representative of the oneiric poetry school who spent most of his life in political exile. Vinicius has also recently started an independent writers association in opposition to the central one (led by Nicolae Manolescu) dating back to communist times and marred by nepotism and abuse.

Iulia Militaru is the Romanian poet invited to read and perform at the Brussels Poetry Festival whose 4th international edition scheduled for Sept 8-10 has as a theme the work of surrealist painter René Magritte and his “La Trahison des Images.” Militaru is also currently writing a series of articles to Arta on censorship in/as literature interspersed with and commenting on illustrative “pop-up pastorals” from past Asymptote (journal and blog) contributor Jennifer Scappettone’s latest collection The Republic of Exit 43.

Claudiu Komartin and his editorial team have launched the 19th issue of Poesis International, the longest running international poetry journal in Romania to date, showcasing Danish, Bulgarian, American (Frank Bidart), Albanian, French, Hebrew, Argentinian (Alejandra Pizarnik)—and much more—poetry in translation alongside Romanian literature in a bulky 236-page issue.

In Moldova, the editors of Metaliteratura journal, Aliona Grati and Nina Corcinschi have just launched an impressive and much awaited Literary Theory Dictionary.

Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Taiwan:

Taipei has been welcoming international athletes for the  2017 Summer Universiade since mid-August. The opening ceremony performances featured multifaceted Taiwanese cultures including the aboriginal ones, and the event has attracted more attention from around the globe to the island.

The Taiwanese writer Shu-Hau Liao (廖淑華), whose novellas and essays won several literary awards, published her first collection of novellas, Cotton Milkbush (《唐棉》) in early summer, with the funding from the National Culture and Arts Foundation. From her own life experiences in a small town in Yunlin County of central Taiwan, Cotton Milkbush is a representative of Taiwan’s “town literature” (小鎮文學), in which the writer vividly depicts daily lives of the town people, dialect spoken by these people, as well as the landscapes and architectures of the small town. In a realistic tone, Liao puts more emphasis on her female characters and has carried forward the legacy of Taiwanese town literature.

One of the oldest literary magazines in Taiwan, Wenhsun (《文訊》), has published an excerpt of the novelist Li Yongping’s unfinished wuxia novel, A New Picture of the Swordswoman (《新俠女圖》) in its August issue. The renowned Malaysian-born novelist, professor, and translator, who has lived in Taiwan for decades and retired here, has been composing his first wuxia novel in illness. Wenhsun decided to pay their tribute to the writer with its first-ever double covers, one of which has been dedicated to Li’s long-awaited wuxia novel.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in—the hottest news in the literary world from the corners of the globe!

Who said being an armchair traveller is no fun? It’s Friday, which means it’s time for a literary trip around the world with Asymptote! From a digital archive of poetry and innovations in Afrikaans literature to Brazilian literary festivals and summertime opera in Austria—our correspondents have lots to fill you in on!

Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs reports from South Africa:

Badilisha Poetry X-change—an online archive and collective of African poets—has announced a tour aiming to document poets who write and perform their work in languages indigenous to South Africa. A previous tour in 2015 visited cities in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa, and recorded material from 186 poets, of which 100 are featured on the Badilisha website. Tour dates will be announced imminently on social media.

Another literary event to look forward to is the Open Book Festival (September 6 to 10, Cape Town). The program list covers topics ranging from small publishers to sci-fi, writing urban spaces, the politics of tertiary institutions, and activating queer spaces in Africa. Top local writers speaking at the event include Achmat Dangor (Bitter Fruit), Etienne van Heerden (30 Nagte in Amsterdam), SJ Naudé (The Alphabet of Birds), Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor), Gabeba Baderoon (A Hundred Silences) and Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), as well as award-winning translator Michiel Heyns and playwright Nadia Davids. 2016 Man Booker winner Paul Beatty (The Sellout) will also participate, along with Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83), European Union Prize winner Carl Frode Tiller, Nigerian author Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy) and 2017 Caine Prize winner Bushra al-Fadil.

Nthikeng Mohele has been awarded the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English for Pleasure, his fourth novel, while Mohale Mashigo picked up the debut prize for The Yearning. Previous UJ Prize winners include Zakes Mda in 2015 and Ivan Vladislavić in 2011.

Three new publications are making waves in Afrikaans publishing. Acclaimed novelist Eben Venter’s Groen Soos Die Hemel Daarbo (soon to be published in translation) explores modern sexuality and identity. It is the author’s first offering since Wolf, Wolf (2013, translated by Michiel Heyns). Radbraak, a debut poetry collection by Tjieng Tjang Tjerries author Jolyn Phillips, presents a new approach to writing Afrikaans, while Fourie Botha’s second (at times surreal) collection, Krap Uit Die See, addresses masculinity, using the sea as metaphor, and medium—that is, a channel between states of being.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

You can't end the week without being up to date with the latest in the world of literature!

Need another reason to welcome the weekend? We heard you! We’ve got literary scoop from three continents—literary prizes, festivals, and much besides to help you travel the world through books (is there really a better way?) 

From Singapore comes a dispatch from Editor-at-Large, Theophilus Kwek:

Celebrations were in order last month as graphic novelist Sonny Liew became the first Singaporean to win—not one, but three—Eisner Awards for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, originally published by Epigram in 2015 and later released in the US by Pantheon. The volume, which narrates an alternative political history of Singapore through the life and work of a fictional Singaporean artist, also received the most nominations in this year’s awards, which were presented at Comic-Con International in San Diego on July 22. The National Arts Council (NAC), which had previously drawn criticism for withdrawing Liew’s publishing grant on the grounds of ‘sensitive content’, came under fire once again for its brief (and some argued, half-hearted) congratulatory remarks on Facebook which did not mention the title of the winning work. Liew’s forthcoming projects include a take on the story of Singapore WWII heroine Elizabeth Choy.

Just a week after Liew’s win, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, responded to a parliamentary question over another NAC grant decision, this time concerning a novel by Asymptote contributor Jeremy Tiang, State of Emergency—also published by Epigram this year. According to Fu, funding was withdrawn from Tiang’s novel, which traces the lives of several fictional political activists and detainees, because its content had “deviated from the original proposal”—a statement which immediately drew mixed responses from Singapore’s literary community. At around the same time, fellow novelist Rachel Heng joined the ranks of Singaporean authors gaining recognition abroad as her forthcoming dystopian title, Suicide Club, was picked up by both Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and Henry Holt & Co. in the US.

Finally, on the eve of National Day (August 9) just this week, twenty-four writers and poets from Singapore presented a marathon 4-hour reading at BooksActually, which also runs an independent publishing arm, Math Paper Press. In addition to the literary delights on offer, the bookstore also served up another spicy and flavourful local favourite—fried chicken wings.

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When There’s No Wind, the Sounds of the Past are Audible Over the Danube

On opposite banks of the Danube in Hungary and Slovakia, separated peoples find a way to talk in many languages across the ancient river.

Today we profile a unique literary gathering, AquaPhone Festival, that takes place on both banks of the Danube. It not only features literature from Hungary and Slovakia but also acts as a cultural bridge between the nations that have been isolated from each other’s shared histories by totalitarian rule. It serves as a powerful symbol against the rising tide of xenophobia, as a conversation with Karol Frühauf reveals. 

it could be done by us just shouting
just talking to each other over the water
and not by me going over to you by boat
you going angling? I’d shout into the wind
and your voice would echo across the water
no! I’m going angling! oh, right! I’d shout
all right I thought you’re going angling

— From ‘Modalities of Crossing’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

From the southwestern part of the Danubian Hills, poetry drifts above the waves of the Danube. Lines of verse bounce from one side of the river to the other, hard on each other’s tails yet in accord, dissolving in the air.

lehetne az is hogy csak kiabálunk
hogy csak beszélgetünk a víz fölött
és nem megyek át hozzád ladikon
horgászni mész? kiáltanám a szélbe
és hangod visszaringna a vizen
nem! horgászni megyek! ja! kiabálnám
ja jól van azt hittem horgászni mész!

— From ‘az átkelés módozatai’ by Dániel Varró

Someone is reciting poetry. It takes a while for the words, carried by sound waves, to cross the river. This is how poetry behaves when a poem is recited aloud above a river. The author of this year’s poem, “Modalities of Crossing,” is the wonderful Hungarian poet and children’s writer, Dániel Varró.

dá sa aj tak že si len zakričíme
len si nad vodou pohovoríme
a neprejdem za tebou cez lávku
ideš na rybačku? volal by som do vetra
a tvoj hlas by sa na vode prihojdal
nie! idem na rybačku! aha! volal by som
aha dobre myslel som že na rybačku!

— From ‘možnosti prepravy’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian into Slovak by Eva Andrejčáková

Varró’s poem is read out in several languages: first in Hungarian (the poet’s native tongue), then in Slovak, and finally in German. You have to wait patiently for the lines to reach you from the far shore before you can send your version back by the same route. The extraordinary dialogue is accompanied by live cello, saxophone, and clarinet. There is no wind, the June sunshine is reflected in the water, bathing the majestic domes of the basilica in the distance in its soft light. This is what the AquaPhone festival is like.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The international literary news you won't find anywhere else.

It’s Friday and we’re back with the latest news from our Editors-at-Large, providing us with their personal roundups of the most exciting literary developments in their region. We kick off with Jessie Stoolman in Morocco, where there’s never a shortage of intriguing events and publications; Julia Sherwood in Slovakia takes us on a tour of the various cross-cultural literary encounters that have been occurring recently in the Czech Republic; and finally, Omar El Adl gives us some insight into the latest talks, discussions and publications that are taking place right now in Egypt. 

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco: 

July was filled with literary events throughout Morocco, starting with a conversation between two Moroccan Prix Concourt winners, Leila Slimani and Tahar Ben Jelloun, at the Minzah Hotel, where they discussed “Comment écrire et publier un livre?” (“How to write and publish a book”) Another star Moroccan author (and painter), Mahi Benibine, whose novel Horses of God, inspired by the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, was made into a critically-acclaimed film, presented his newest novel Le fou du roi at Librairie les insolites in Tangier.

Speaking of new publications from major Moroccan authors, Dar Toubkal’s newly released publication of the poet Mohammed Bennis’ الأعمال النثرية (Works of Prose) was just reviewed in Al-Hayat.

Still staying within the Tangier region, the Galerie Delacoix hosted artists, academics, and students for the الجسد الإجتماعي والمحيط الحضري (Espace urbain & corps social) program and internal working week. Among the participants was Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque du Tanger, Yto Berrada. Given continued action from the Al-Hoceima-based protest movement (حراك الريف), the geographer William Kurtz’s talk on “La Globalisation de la Région Tangier Al-Hoceima et son impact sur les inégalites sociales et spatiales” (“Globalization of the Tangier Al-Hoceima Region and its impact on social and spatial inequalities”) was particularly timely.

If that was not enough activity in Tangier, Librairie des Colonnes hosted Zahra Al-Khamleshi, who presented her most recent work, الحدود في شمال المغرب: آمال وآلام النساء الحمالات (Borders in Northern Morocco: Hope and Suffering of Women Porters) on the women who carry products between Ceuta (a Spanish enclave/colony in northern Morocco) and Morocco.

Moving further south, in Casablanca, Kabareh Cheikhats was back again. Their travelling show aims to shed light on the history of Cheikhats, who are often mischaracterized as exotic dancers. Historically, Cheikhats throughout the Maghreb were skilled poets, improvising verses on such controversial topics as resistance to colonization, which they sang and set to music at community gatherings.

Lastly, check out the “Lilipad” project, started by young Moroccan activist Sara Arsalane, which aims to collect books and distribute them to underserved schools throughout Morocco.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with all the latest news from the Czech Republic: 

On August 4, as we go to press, Czech poet and literary historian Petr Hruška and Georgian poet and musician Erekle Deisadze are reading from their works in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Their performance brings to a close a 31-day long marathon tour of five cities, comprising Authors’ Reading Month (Měsíc autorského čtení or MAČ 2017), Central Europe’s largest literary festival. The readings, by two or more authors each day, are broadcast live and the recordings are available online. The festival’s founder Petr Minařík, whose publishing house Větrné mlýny is based in the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, has given a wide berth to capital cities, instead locating the festival in four other cities of similar size: Ostrava near the Polish border, Wrocław on the other side of the border in Poland, Košice in eastern Slovakia and, more recently, Lviv in Ukraine.

The guest country of this year’s festival, which kicked off in Brno on 1st July, is Georgia. This country in the Caucasus is fast becoming a trendy tourist destination, yet its literary riches are not all that well known in Central Europe. Thirty-one Georgian writers joined the tour, accompanied by acclaimed Czech authors, among them Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivan Binar, Marek Šindelka, Martin Reiner, Michal Viewegh and Jáchym Topol (whose 1995 novel Angel Station, just out from Dalkey Archive Press in Alex Zucker’s English translation, was reviewed by James Hopkin in last week’s Times Literary Supplement). A traditionally strong Slovak contingent was represented by poets Peter Repka and Ivan Štrpka, and fiction writers Balla, Monika Kompaníková, Ondrej Štefánik, Michal Havran, and Silvester Lavrík. Several Ukrainian and Polish writers and poets also took part in some of the readings.

One of the Polish festival participants, Zośka Papużanka, arrived in Brno fresh from another appearance, in Prague, with Czech writer Ivana Myšková. The two women read from their works at the (A)VOID Floating Gallery, a boat moored on the Vltava Riverbank, which serves as an art gallery and a venue for music, theatre and literary readings. Other writers reading there this summer include Ben Aaronovitch and Czech horror story writer Miloš Urban. The gallery provided a more than fitting venue for the launch of a bilingual Czech and English anthology, A Giant Barrel of Rotgut, that “celebrates the Vltava as a river of slain crocodiles, viziers and rotgut.” If that sounds intriguing, you can find out more in this interview with poet Sylva Fischerová on Radio Prague.

And, finally, emerging translators from the Czech (and Slovak) will be interested to hear that Underpass.co, an online journal for modern literature in translation, is seeking submissions specifically from these two languages. The journal aims to offer English-speaking readers a window into new countries, neighbourhoods, cultures, perspectives, and they are especially interested in stories with a strong sense of place.

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, giving us the latest scoop from Egypt: 

Alia Mossallam presented a talk on August 3 in the Townhouse gallery in Downtown Cairo. The talk featured her text RAWI which deals with motherhood, writing, and revolutionary politics, according to Mada Masr. Mossallam has collected oral history testimonies in Nubia, Alexandria and Port Said, has been involved in alternative pedagogical structures in Cairo, and her dissertation focused on a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories and songs by people behind the 1952 revolution. The text was created as part of a long form essay workshop held in Cairo by 60pages, which describes itself as an international network of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, based in Berlin. Other texts produced for 60pages include Arab Porn by Youssef Rakha (which will be published as a book featuring Rakha’s photography by Matthes and Seitz Berlin), Migrating the Feminine by Nora Amin and a forthcoming text by Amr Ezzat. The talk was held in Arabic, with a reading of the text in English.

Youssef Rakha is also to write a column as the central character from his Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Mustafa Çorbacı, according to his bimonthly newsletter. Rakha describes this development on his newsletter as follows:

“First, that mad newspaperman Mustafa Çorbacı has resolved to write a column. You may be familiar with Çorbacı from a certain, overrated Book of the Sultan’s Seal. In hopeless pursuit of the same meme, he has named his ephemeral effusions, “Postmuslim.” Raising vaguely relevant questions only to leave them grossly un-dealt with would not be untypical. But if mildly psychotic speculation on being in Cairo today holds some promise of amusement, do humour the unfortunate lunatic by reading and sharing his 400 words.”

According to Rakha, the column will appear printed in Al-Ahram Weekly as well as on this site every Friday starting from July 7.

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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…

Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2017

From an essay investigating a literary hoax to new art responding to Trump's xenophobia, our editors share their favorites from the new issue!

Asymptote’s glorious Summer issue is chockablock with gems. Some of our section editors share their highlights:

“To assert that Tove Jansson’s invention of the Moomin world may be partially rooted in ancient lore is, for this writer, to fear performing an act of sacrilege,” confesses Stephanie Sauer in her essay on renowned Finnish author-artist, Tove Jansson. This confession is the crux of Sauer’s questionings. Journey with Sauer from the moment the Moomins were conceived, to its unlikely, subversive evolution. Hold tighter still as she dives into Jansson’s personal life, her questions of war, artistry, womanhood, and sexuality, and the fearless, unconventional course she cut through history.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

This issue features excerpts from two plays that deal with aspects of “disappearance” and surveillance. In Blanca Doménech’s The Sickness of Stone, translated from the Spanish by William Gregory, we take a look at a cold, dark world where random pieces of text read from discarded books become a kind of key to unlocking society’s ills or sickness. Gregory’s eloquent, tart translation finds the humor, bite and despair in this fascinating play.

In Hanit Guli’s Orshinatranslated from the Hebrew by Yaron Regev, a father must decide how he will disappear from his family’s life and what he will or will not tell them. An odd, compassionate family drama, Regev’s translation of Guli’s one-act is evocative and clear.

—Caridad Svich, Drama Editor

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Join us for a spin across the literary world!

Another week full of exciting news! Paul and Kelsey bring us up to speed on what’s happening in Mexico and Guatemala. We also have José García providing us with all the updates about Central American literary festivals you could wish for. Finally, we are delighted to welcome aboard our new team-members, Valent and Norman, who share news from Indonesia. 

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodbury, Editors-at-Large for Mexico, report:

In conjunction with partners such as the Forum of Indigenous Binational Organizations (FIOB) and the Indigenous Community Leadership (CIELO), the LA Public Library in California, US, recently announced that it will host the second annual Indigenous Literature Conference on July 29 and 30. As stated on Facebook, the conference’s “first day will be dedicated to the indigenous literature from (the Mexican state of) Oaxaca,” with “the second (being) broader in scope.” Among those slated to participate are the Oakland, California-based Zapotec writer and artist Lamberto Roque Hernández, Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo, and Me’phaa poet Hubert Matiuwaa, whose Xtámbaa was recently reviewed here in Asymptote.

On July 14 in Guatemala, K’iche’/Kaqchikel Maya poet Rosa Chávez announced the publication of a new poetry fanzine entitled AB YA YA LA. Limited to 40 in number, each copy is unique and contains different details.

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2017

The blog team's top picks from the Summer Issue!

Juxtapositions are rife in Intan Paramaditha’s enchanting story, “Visiting a Haunted House,” translated from the Indonesian by Stephen Epstein. To me it read almost like an incantation, the words constantly looping memory upon the story’s present. As a granddaughter visits her dead grandmother’s house, she paints a pointillist picture of her grandmother’s life, whose colors soon run into her own. A broken red lipstick, a cloudy mirror, vanished smells of Gudang Garam cigarettes—the world spins, and so do familial memories, ancestral souvenirs, and time.

The granddaughter is an eternal migrant, “dashing around in bus terminals and airports with a backpack.” She remembers how her grandmother had always wanted to go abroad but contented herself with the thrill of riding a minibus to market while dressed in a flowery cotton dress. The story is ostensibly a simple tale of returning to an ancestral home. But the narrator’s voice soon bifurcates like a snake’s tongue, each sentence describing the grandmother and the granddaughter both. When speaking of a kuntilanak, “a woman no longer here, in our world, but not ‘over there’ either,” is she describing the ghost, or herself?

READ MORE…