Asymptote’s new Fall issue is replete with spectacular writing. See what our section editors have to say about the pieces closest to their hearts:
As writer-readers, we’ve all been there before. Who of us hasn’t been faced with that writer whose words have made us stay up late into the night; or start the book over as soon as we’re done; or after finally savoring that last word, weep—for all the words already written and that would never to be yours. The feeling is unmistakeable, physical. In her essay, “Animal in Outline,” Mireia Vidal-Conte describes this gut feeling after finishing El porxo de les mirades (The Porch of the Gazes) by Miquel de Palol: “What are we doing? I thought. What are we writing? What have we read, what have we failed to read, before sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper? What does and doesn’t deserve readers?” There are the books that make you never want to stop writing, and the books that never make you want to write another word (in the best way possible, of course). Vidal-Conte reminds writers again that none of us is without context—for better or for worse. Her essay is smart, playful, honest, and a must-read from this issue.
—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor
This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.
Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa:
South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.
In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.
A quick zip through the literary world with Asymptote! Today we are visiting Iran, Brazil, and South Africa. Literary festivals, new books, and a lot more await you.
Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, fills you up on what’s been happening in Iran:
The Persian translation of Oriana Fallaci’s Nothing and Amen finding its way into Iran’s bestsellers list almost fifty years after the first publication of the translation. The book was translated in 1971 by Lili Golestan, translator and prominent Iranian art gallery owner in Tehran, and since then has had more than a dozen editions published. The most recent round of sales is related to Golestan giving a TEDx talk in Tehran a few weeks ago about her life in which she spoke of how that book was the first she ever translated and how its publication and becoming a bestseller has changed her life.
In other exciting news from Iran, the Tehran Book Garden opened its doors to the public recently. Advertised as “the largest bookstore in the world,” the space is more of a cultural complex consisting of cinemas, cultural centers, art galleries, a children’s library, science and game halls, and more. One of the key goals of the complex is to cater to families and provide the youth with a space for literary, cultural, scientific, educational, and entertainment activities. The complex is considered a significant cultural investment for the the Iranian capital of more than twelve million residents and it has since its opening become a popular destination with people of different ages and interests.
Finally, a piece of news related to translation from Iran that is amusing but also quite disturbing. It relates to the simultaneous interpretation into Persian of President Trump’s speech in the recent U.N. General Assembly broadcasted live on Iranian state-run TV (IRIB). The interpreter mistranslated several of his sentences about Iran and during some others he remained silent and completely refrained from translating. When the act was denounced by many, the interpreter published a video (aired by the IRIB news channel and available on @shahrvand_paper’s twitter account) in which he explained that he did not want to voice the antagonistic words of Trump against his country and people. This video started another round of responses. Under the tweeted video, many users reminded him of the ethics of the profession and the role of translators/interpreters, while others used the occasion to discuss the issue of censorship and the problematic performance of IRIB in general.
Happy Monday, Asymptote readers! We kick off the new week with two literary dispatches from South Africa and Germany.
Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs attended the launch of the latest Ons Klyntji issue in Cape Town:
Alice Inggs outside the Book Lounge
“What is Ons Klyntji?” is a question often asked of its editors. The answer? Complicated: the unconventional pocketbook anthology has been through several incarnations throughout its 120-year history. First published in 1896 as the first ever Afrikaans-language publication, it has transformed into a modern literary zine, currently under the editorship of Toast Coetzer, Erns Grundling, and Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs, featuring predominantly English and Afrikaans poetry and prose, but also multilingual pieces, translations, and works by graphic designers and fine artists.
Over the years, Ons Klyntji has published a number of celebrated South African writers, including Rian Malan (My Traitor’s Heart), Breyten Breytenbach (Confessions of an Albino Terrorist), and musician-author Koos Kombuis (who also edited Ons Klyntji in the 1990s). Recent editions have featured work by established poets Nathan Trantraal (Chokers en Survivors) and Moses Mtileni (ed. Ntsena Loko Mpfula A Yo Sewula); writer Jaco van Schalkwyk (The Alibi Club), and controversial artist Anton Kannemeyer (Bitterkomix), as well as a new generation of poets like Sindi Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), Genna Gardini (Matric Rage), and Rosa Lyster (Modern Rasputin).
Editor of Ons Klyntji, Erns Grundling
Since 2015, Ons Klyntji has hosted an annual event at the Book Lounge, an independent bookstore in Cape Town. The event acts as a platform for writers featured in Ons Klyntji to share their work with a live audience, as well as a way of promoting the zine to readers and future contributors. The event also helps to underscore the main aim of Ons Klyntji: to encourage South African writers to write—be they eminent authors, emerging poets or even teenagers penning their first, awkward verse.
Catch up with latest book festivals, translation awards, and advances in the fight against free speech restrictions with the Asymptote team this week. Editor-at-Large for Hong Kong Charlie Ng reports on the a new PEN branch, while Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek sends us the scoop on graffiti-poetry and more from Singapore. Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs knows the best new publications coming out of South Africa and Nigeria and takes us along on the lit festival circuit.
Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan calls in the news from Hong Kong:
PEN Hong Kong was re-established this September. The official launch of the organisation was held on 13 November to introduce its mission, work, and founding members to the community of writers, journalists, translators, publishers, and those interested in writing or concerned with free expression in Hong Kong. The re-launch at this timely moment is aimed at addressing the restraints on freedom of speech in Hong Kong in face of tightening political control from the Chinese Government, seen in such incidents as the disappearance of five members of a Hong Kong bookstore that sold publications critical of Chinese leaders. Additionally, Beijing’s interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law has led to the disqualification of two newly elected pro-democratic Legislative Councillors.
Besides featuring the launch of PEN Hong Kong, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this year put together a broad range of activities for all literary lovers. Hong Kong-born, Chinese-British poet and winner of the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize Sarah Howe read from her poetry collection Loop of Jade and gave a lecture at the University of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, renowned Chinese Misty poet Bei Dao also gave a poetry reading in the Festival. The two panels, ‘Lost and Found in Translation I and II‘, shed light on the significance of translation for poetry, fiction, and cultural exchange.
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In this episode, we crack a window into the creative impulses behind the multilingual writing in our Summer issue. There, Spanish and German, French and Arabic, Romanian, Sanskrit and Afrikaans all find their way woven in with English in poems and a story you don’t want to miss. Here, in this latest installment of the podcast, Omar Berrada and Klara du Plessis allow us a deeper understanding of how their linguistic backgrounds and travels shaped their current writing; while Greg Nissan uncovers other origins for his multilingual creations. So how does a translator go about translating a text already leaping across languages? And what does it take to write in the multilingual mode; does it create its own form, its own genre? What makes a writer feel driven and compelled to step outside the bounds of one language without leaving it entirely? To help us continue down this rabbit hole, Asymptote editor-at-large for Romania and Moldova, MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu), uncovers more about his process of translating Șerban Foarță’s poem “Buttérflyçion” for the Summer issue. We’ll explore radical nomadism, emotional chunks of language and more. This is the Asymptote podcast.
Podcast Editor and Host: Layla Benitez-James
Audio Editor: Mirza Puric
The past two Mondays here at the Asymptote Blog, we’ve brought you highlights from the July 2016 issue, THE DIVE. This week we’re back with Ellen Jones, editor of the vibrant and provocative multilingual writing section.
The Asymptote July issue special feature on multilingual writing is the second of its kind. The more than two hundred pieces of original poetry and fiction received in response to last year’s call for submissions—many, many more than we were able to publish—opened our eyes to the wealth of new writers who are experimenting with language mixing, and persuaded us that it was necessary to run the feature again.
What I love most about this work is its variety. There are seven contributions, from writers as far afield as Peru, South Africa, and India that, between them, incorporate English, German, Spanish, French, Romanian, Sanskrit, Afrikaans, Italian, Nahuatl, and Arabic. But more importantly, they also make use of the spaces in between these languages: unique cross-lingual sound combinations and associations, and spoken varieties that are thriving but have yet to be documented. There is some poetry, some prose. Some written by well-established literary figures and some by poets who are only just finding their voices. Some pieces for readers of only English, others best left to the true polyglots among us.
Denis Hirson is a South African poet living in Paris. He is the author of six books, exploring the memory of South Africa under Apartheid. Hirson is a translator of Breyten Breytenbach and the editor of two anthologies of South African poetry: The Lava of This Land: South African Poetry 1960-1996, (Northwestern Press, US; Actes sud, France, 1997), and its recently published companion, In the Heat of Shadows: South African Poetry 1996-2013 (Deep South, 2014). Hannah LeClair’s conversation with Denis begins with a discussion of his role as the editor of these anthologies, and delves into the many facets of his work, from his early translations of Breytenbach, to his readings and performances in concert with long-time collaborators Sonia Emanuel and saxophonist Steve Potts, to his own writing, which frequently crosses the border between poetry and prose.
Hannah LeClair: In the Heat of Shadows is a companion to The Lava of This Land, the first anthology of South African poetry you edited. And it first appeared in French, under the title Pas de blessure, pas d’histoire, in the wake of a festival organized by the Biennale international des poètes en Val de Marne in 2013. Can you talk about your work on this project? What was it like to bring together a multi-lingual collection of poets in this context?
Denis Hirson: It was in irresistible invitation. I was asked to help choose the poets who were going to come and participate in the Festival—I should add that this took place in the context of a larger event which the French term “une saison”— a season of cultural exchange with other countries— in this case, South Africa. The first part of the Saison took place in 2012, with South Africa hosting French cultural events, and the second part of the exchange took place in France, in 2013. Pas de blessure, pas d’histoire was an anthology produced as a result of the festival, and included the work of the fourteen South African poets initially invited to participate, along with fourteen others. It was strange to put together this anthology in French before bringing it out in English; I did that a year later, changing the content slightly. I should add that the publisher was Deep South in Grahamstown, South Africa – the press run by my friend Robert Berold, who was one of the poets invited to Paris at that time.
In Wilma Stockenström’s novel, Expedition to the Baobab Tree, we meet a woman who has no language of her own. Captured as a young girl and sold into slavery, she can identify neither with the fractured “worker’s language” of her fellow slaves nor the Afrikaans imposed on her by her owners, instead becoming alienated from both groups. Since the languages we speak provide us with internalized values and systems of categorization to understand and locate ourselves within the world, Stockenström’s protagonist’s lack leaves her disoriented and struggling to construct an identity. She discards the constraints of human language, culture, and systems of categorization; unraveling her conditioning as a slave, she improvises a language of her own, a vocabulary masterfully crafted in Stockenström’s prose and expertly preserved in Coetzee’s translation. Yet having internalized her worth as determined by her usefulness to her masters, she finds her solitude in the wilderness unbearable, the maddening isolation finally driving her to suicide. READ MORE…