Language: Arabic

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Morocco, Hong Kong, and the United States.

We are back with the latest from around the world! This week we hear about Morocco, Hong Kong, and the United States. Enjoy!

Hodna Nuernberg, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco

Some seven hundred exhibitors from Morocco and around the world descended on Casablanca for the Salon international de l’edition et du livre, which took place from February 9-18. Half open-air souk (rumor had it that one of the ambulatory vendors went so far as to offer women’s panties for sale!), half oasis of high culture, the book fair counted over 125,000 titles from forty-five different countries. Egypt, this year’s guest of honor, accounted for nearly fifteen percent of the titles on offer alone, and managed to ruffle more than a few feathers when an Egyptian publisher was allegedly caught displaying a book (A Brief History of Africa) whose cover featured a map of the continent depicting a “mutilated” Morocco—the disputed territory of the Western Sahara appearing as an independent nation under the Polisario flag. The presence of the book was firmly denied by the Ministry of Culture.


In Review: Banthology, edited by Sarah Cleave

Good stories help us to make sense of the world.

In January 2017, independent British publisher Comma Press announced that in 2018 they would only be publishing authors from ‘banned nations’. This was a response to President Trump’s directive to block entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for ninety days. Whilst continuing to generate hate and divide people, Trump’s announcement did give rise to some positive news. Organisations around the world stood up to fight for the rights of the citizens of these countries. In a show of solidarity, Asymptote’s Spring 2017 issue featured writing from authors in many of the countries affected. And now, a new title from Comma Press, Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations, has just been published in this spirit.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Global literary news for global readers.

We’re back this week with important news and exciting new developments from the world of literature. Our Editors-at-Large in Mexico and Tunisia share the latest prizes, events and details relating to writers based within these regions. Tune in for more global updates next week! 

Sergio Sarano, Spanish Social Media Manager, reporting from Mexico: 

Jorge Volpi, one of Mexico’s most well-known authors, has won the very prestigious Alfagura Novel Prize for 2018. Alfagura is one of the most renowned publishing houses in the Spanish-speaking world, and the prize has previously gone to writers such as Elena Poniatowska (also the recipient of a Cervantes Prize), Laura Restrepo, and Andrés Neuman. The award consists of the publication of the novel and a very hefty sum of money: US$175,000, making it one of the richest prizes for fiction in the world. Una novela criminal (A Criminal Novel) is a non-fiction novel in the vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; it takes up the notorious case of Israel Vallarta and Florence Cassez, a Mexican man and French woman accused of belonging to a kidnapping gang. The media eagerly covered the case, and it strained Mexican-French relations. Everyone in Mexico knows how the trial ended, but I’m sure the novel will be quickly translated into English—readers will be able to dig into this sordid story that weaves corruption, scandal, and diplomacy.

The Mexican literary community deeply mourned the death of Nicanor Parra, the Chilean antipoet. Numerous writers and poets voiced their debt to Parra and remembered his visits to Mexico in several media outlets. Honestly, very few Latin American writers can claim to have read his 1954 classic Poems and Antipoems and not wanting to become an antipoet. One of them was especially legendary: the time he went to Guadalajara to receive the first Juan Rulfo Prize (now called FIL Prize) back in 1991. There, Parra delivered his famous “Mai Mai Peñi” speech, in which he honored Juan Rulfo but at the same time ridiculed literary awards. One of its famous stanzas says: “The ideal speech / Is the one that doesn’t say a thing / Even though it seems like it says it all.” You can find “Mai Mai Peñi” and other classic mock-speeches in After-Dinner Declarations, translated by Dave Oliphant.


2018: A Year of Reading Adventurously

In 2018, I’ll be making an effort to trace my inheritance as an Anglophone, Southeast Asian poet of faith and colour.

After the recently concluded blog series in which we looked back on 2017’s literary discoveries, we bring you our New Year’s reading resolutions.

Chris Power, Assistant Editor:

I work in French and German, so I’ll start with my French literary resolutions: I’m reading Marx et la poupée (Marx and the Doll) by Maryam Madjidi with my friend and former French professor, the psychoanalytic literary theorist Jerry Aline Flieger. Excerpts of the novel of course appear in our current issue. If it isn’t my favorite work we’ve published, then it stands out for being the one that overwhelmed my critical faculties. I couldn’t write about it in the disinterested manner that I prefer. Instead I wrote a confused, gushing blurb listing my favorite scenes and describing how it brought tears to my eyes. An emphatic “yes” was all I could muster. Next on my list is Réparer le monde (Repair the World) by Alexandre Gefen, to which Laurent Demanze dedicated a beautiful essay in Diacritik in late November. I’m looking forward not only to an insightful survey of contemporary French literature, but also to a provocative anti-theoretical turn in the history of literary theory, namely a theory of the utility of literature (to repair the world) which cites pragmatist philosophers like John Dewey. Gefen introduces this theory enticingly through a reading of Barthes in his lecture “A quoi bon ? Les pouvoirs de la littérature (La tentation de l’écriture)” / “What’s the use? The powers of literature (the temptation of writing)” which is available online, but I must admit that I’m reminded of a Baudelaire quote dear to me: “Être un homme utile m’a toujours paru quelque chose de bien hideux.” (“To be a useful man has always appeared to me to be particularly hideous.”) In 2018 I’ll also continue exploring the work of Sarah Kofman, who seems to me to be a diamond in the rough of historical amnesia and a potential dissertation topic. She’s exactly the kind of Nietzschean, Parisian philosopher-poet of the 1960s who worked at the intersection of philosophy and art that we’ve grown so comfortable labelling a “theorist,” but she hasn’t (yet) acquired the cult following of her dissertation advisor Gilles Deleuze or colleague Jacques Derrida.


Asymptote Podcast: Favorite Readings of 2017

Start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year.

One of the most unique features of Asymptote is that, with almost every piece published, a reading in the original language is published along with it. So start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year. Hear work read by Swedish author Ida Börjel, leading Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut, rising French author Maryam Madjidi, and Syrian poet Omar Youssef Souleimane. Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle puts each piece in context, including a special interview with Hamut’s translator, Joshua Freeman.


Music used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

My 2017: Poupeh Missaghi

We, as writers and translators, cannot afford the luxury of separating ourselves from the sociopolitical contexts of our work.

Today, we hear from Editor-at-Large for Iran, Poupeh Missaghi, who played an instrumental role in assembling our Spring 2017 issue’s Banned Countries’ Literature Showcase, even translating one of the pieces herself. Not unexpectedly, she reminds us of the need to be politically engaged, whether as readers, writers, or translators.  

I want to focus on a few timely, essential titles that remind us all that politics infiltrates every layer of our existence.

I started my year reading Finks, a book by Guernica cofounder Joel Whitney about “How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers.” The book reveals the ugly side of the literary world during the Cold War, by delving into the blurred lines between literature, journalism, and “the needs of the state; between aesthetics” and “political requirements” of the times. In the present political climate, I found it an important reminder that literature cannot truly separate itself from politics and money; and that we, as writers and translators, cannot afford the luxury of separating ourselves from the sociopolitical contexts of our work and need to strive to continuously raise awareness—both our own and others’—about such contexts.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week, our editors bring you the literary news from Egypt, Poland, and the UK.

Solidly into the hustle and bustle of December, we are back with more updates from around the world. Omar El Adl shares the latest in film and academia from Egypt. We learn about the happenings on the Polish literary scene from Julia Sherwood. Finally, Cassie Lawrence updates us on recent literary prizes and a new publisher in the UK.

Omar El Adl, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Egypt:

The Townhouse Gallery is hosting an event titled Mise.en.scène on the representation of women and the main female characters in author Ehsan Abdel Qudoos’s work, through the screening of films based on his writings. The event took place over two days, December 5 and 6. The first day featured a screening of Henry Barakat’s Thin Thread, followed by a conversation with women’s rights advocate Doaa Abdelaal. On the second day, there was a screening of I Am Free by Salah Abu Seif, followed by a conversation with Arabic literature professor Samia Mehrez, moderated by Nour El Safoury.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly report on the latest in the world of literature.

We’re back for another exciting week of prizes, festivals and news about authors and events happening in the world of literature. Editors-at-Large on the ground in Nicaragua, Brazil and Egypt give us a run-down of the most important literary announcements from their regions. Watch this space for more news every Friday! 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Nicaragua:

Nicaragua hasn’t stopped celebrating its writers this week.

In perhaps the most important literary news from around the world, Nicaraguan writer, journalist, and politician Sergio Ramirez was announced as the latest recipient of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, awarded annually to honor the lifetime achievement of a writer in the Spanish language. Awarded since 1976, previous recipients include Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, María Zambrano, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Elena Poniatowska. Sergio became the first Central American writer to receive this distinction.

While the Cervantes Prize was still yet to be announced, the Nicaraguan poet Claribel Alegría got the prestigious Reina Sofía Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry. During the ceremony, Claribel received $49,000 and the publication of an anthology of her life’s work entitled Aunque dure un instante. 93-year old Claribel follows Sophia de Mello Breyner, Nicanor Parra, Antonio Gamoneda, and Ernesto Cardenal.

In Guatemala, F&G Editores just reissued and presented one of the most important poetry books in Guatemalan history, Vamos patria a caminar by the revolutionary poet Otto René Castillo. The book was originally published in 1965. One year later, in the early years of the Guatemalan armed conflict, Otto René returned to Guatemala after years of exile to join the guerrilla forces. In 1967 Otto René was captured, interrogated, tortured, and burned alive. To this day, Otto René Castillo remains one of the most important poets of Guatemala. His work has been praised by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Roque Dalton, up to the newest generations of Central American poets. You can read some of his poems here.

On a final note, the Guatemalan children’s book publishing house Amanuense has released its new website after completing their move to South America. Amanuense is also finalizing the details of their participation in this year’s FIL (the Guadalajara International Book Fair), and they are days away from releasing Balam, Lluvia y la casa, the latest book of one of their champion writers, Julio Serrano Echeverría.


Jill Schoolman Honored at the Glamorous WWB Gala

Young people are being told that America comes first. I think we are here tonight because we believe otherwise and because we read otherwise.

The annual Words Without Borders gala celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature on November 1, named for the first chair of the board, Jim Ottaway. This year, the award honored Jill Schoolman, publisher of Archipelago Books. Archipelago has been a stalwart of the small but dedicated cohort of advocates for international literature in the U.S. since Jill founded the house in 2003—the same year Words Without Borders was created. In her humble, sincere acceptance speech, she told the room full of publishers, writers, translators, educators, and philanthropists, “I’ve felt a special kinship with WWB from the beginning. We created ourselves around the same time for many of the same reasons… Books that Archipelago publishes allow us to lose ourselves in other cultures and explore other worlds. It is our extraordinary translators who guide us through those worlds. We are extremely lucky to be working with such talented translators who are able to make books come alive for us, in both language and spirit. This wonderful award also belongs to them, too.”


Section Editors’ Highlights: Fall 2017

Our editors choose their favourites from this issue.

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


Zainab Hefny: A Bold Saudi Writer in a Conservative Society

Saudi women writers’ texts are revolutionary because they had no choice but the pen to disclose their suffering.

Despite the dominant conservative society of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi creative scene is considered the most daring in the Arab region. Indeed, many Saudi writers are courageous enough to confront the power of a patriarchal, religious culture; however, some have paid the price for their opinions, bold visions, and enlightened thoughts. For instance, liberal journalist and novelist Dr. Turki Al Hamad was known for his hard line against the Wahhabi order of the Minister of the Interior, following a complaint filed by religious authorities in December 2012 because of his tweets that were considered offensive to the divine, Islam, and the Prophet Muhammad. One such tweet states, “A new Nazi view of the world the Arab world calls Islamism. But this time of Nazism is over, and the sun will shine again” (1). Even more recently, the Saudi writer Raif Badawi has been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment and floggings as punishment for using writing to express and expose the need for societal change. On January 9, 2015, Badawi was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators in front of a Jeddah mosque, the first in a series of one thousand lashes to be carried out over twenty weeks (2).


Translation Tuesday: To a Girl Sleeping in the Street by Nazik al-Mala’ika

"people are a mask, artificial and fake, their sweet, gentle exteriors hide burning hate"

Though best known as the pioneer of “free verse” in Arabic, Nazik al-Mala’ika was in fact a fervent defender of Arabic meter, both in her poetry and in her criticism. Indeed, her theory of free verse was not very “free” at all, but rather took the undulating metrical feet of classical Arabic verse as the basis for a new prosodic system. Where classical poetry is governed by fixed line lengths and strict monorhyme, al-Mala’ika’s prosody allowed modern poets to vary the number of feet in each line and weave their rhymes as they saw fit. “Meter is the soul that electrifies literary material and transforms it into poetry,” she wrote in the critical text Issues in Contemporary Poetry. “Indeed, images and feelings do not become poetic, in the true sense, until they are touched by the fingers of music and the pulse of meter beats in their veins.”

To honor al-Mala’ika’s belief in meter’s vitality—the way it can anchor meaning in the body, transforming ordinary speech into a form of incantation—I have rendered her metered, rhymed Arabic verse into English metrical forms that reproduce, in some form, the music of the Arabic. Where al-Mala’ika uses the mutadarik or “continuous” meter in Arabic, for example, I use anapestic hexameter, English’s answer to Arabic’s most galloping verse form. Al-Mala’ika’s poetry, with its balance between tradition and innovation, ultimately teaches us not to deal so violently with the past, but rather to tread lightly in poetry’s ancient footsteps. My hope is that my English renderings of her verse might begin to do precisely this.   

— Emily Drumsta

To A Girl Sleeping In The Street

In Karrada at night, wind and rain before dawn,
when the dark is a roof or a drape never drawn,

when the night’s at its peak and the dark’s full of rain,
and the wet silence roils like a fierce hurricane,

the lament of the wind fills the deserted street,
the arcades groan in pain, and the lamps softly weep.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Traveling the world, one book at a time!

Your weekly shot of global literary news is here! Today we travel to Austria, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Morocco to find out about the latest prizes, performances and literary festivals. 

Contributor Flora Brandl reporting from Austria: 

In the southern state of Styria, the oldest Austrian festival for contemporary art, Steirischer Herbst (Styrian Autumn), recently opened with a powerful speech by the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas. Styrian-born, Haas is one of the most renowned figures of the international New Music scene and currently teaches at Columbia University.

In his opening speech, Haas reflected on the dynamics of the remnants of Nazism and the burgeoning avant-garde art scene in Styria. While Nazism was always at the forefront of fighting so-called “degenerate art”—“for they knew: art is dangerous for them”—it also provided fertile grounds for a creative form of resistance: “We [artists] were spurred by the pain and the rage and the grief,” Haas recounted. He ended with an invocation that the role of artists today is to “spread the virus of humanitarianism” in the wake of a worldwide rise of fundamentalism. A political speech with a very personal note, the entire speech can be read in the original German here.

Fittingly, a symposium entitled Hoffnung als Provokation (Hope as Provocation) will explore the resistive potential of hope in response to nationalism and authoritarian political systems—how can hope go beyond its connotations of passivity? One of the invited guest speakers is Aslı Erdoğan, a female Turkish writer who was recently imprisoned for her connections to a Kurdish newspaper. The city of Graz has granted her permanent asylum, and the festival organisers hope she will be permitted to leave Turkey and attend the symposium on September 28.

Ending with another Styrian-born contemporary Austrian artist, experimental documentary filmmaker Michael Glawogger once described the task of a filmmaker as to “drift with no direction except one’s own curiosity and intuition.” In 2014, during a shooting in Liberia for his documentary Untitled, Glawogger tragically died of malaria. The film, which was completed by his long-term collaborator Monika Willi, will be shown at the BFI London Film Festival on October 11 and 13.

Editor-at-Large for Guatemala, José García, on events in Central America:  

Recently the committee of the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature announced its latest recipient: the writer, literary critic, and journalist Francisco Alejandro Méndez. Author of over ten books, Francisco joins Mario Monteforte Toledo, Augusto Monterroso, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and many others who have received Guatemala’s most prestigious literary recognition. Francisco will receive the award on October 19, the birth anniversary of Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias. The ceremony will also serve as part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Asturias’ Nobel Prize win.

Last week Guatemala’s National Symphonic dedicated a show to Miguel Ángel with music written by Joaquín Orellana, Igor de Gandarias, and Sergio Reyes Mendoza, and visual interventions by the photographer and visual artist Daniel Hernández Salazar. Among Asturia’s most famous works are El Señor Presidente, and Men of Maize. Miguel Angel Asturias was the second Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and remains the only Central American to do so.

Additionally, F&G Editores recently released Valeria Cerezo’s debut novel La Flor Oscura, which was shortlisted for this year’s BAM Letras Novel National Prize. Cerezo’s story The Cage, translated into English by David Unger, was recently featured on Asymptote Translation Tuesday. The Cage is part of Valeria’s short story collection La muerte de Darling that also got shortlisted for the 2016 edition of the BAM Letras National Prize, in the short story category.

Finally, in Costa Rica, Uruk Editores released Neblina Púrpura, the latest novel of the Aquileo J. Echeverría National Short Story Prize winner, Vernor Muñoz. Neblina Púrpura revolves around the golden era of rock music in Costa Rica.

Hodna Nuernberg, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco:

In September 2014, Morocco and Algeria celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the closing of the 1,600 kilometer-long land border by building twin walls; in September 2017, the inaugural Maghrebi Book Fair, Lettres du Maghreb, took place in Oujda, a city of about half a million some fifteen kilometers west of the walls. 200-odd intellectuals, for the most part from the Greater Maghreb, but also representing Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, gathered for four days of roundtable discussions, readings, and workshops, united by co-organizer Abdelkader Retnani’s rallying cry: “For us, the future is Maghrebi!” Here’s hoping that the festival’s symbolic opening of borders translates into a real rapprochement.

Morocco’s rentrée littéraire, the new publishing season, has been in full swing, with a regional book fair in Sidi Kacem featuring a strong showing of local publishing houses and writers from September 19 to 24, and the promise of a 40-author-strong literary extravaganza organized by Nadia Essalmi at Salé’s Quai des créateurs on October 7.

Meanwhile, we’re all on tenterhooks awaiting the November announcement of the 2017 laureate of the prestigious Prix Renaudot—two Moroccan authors are in the running: Mahi Binebine for his novel Le Fou du Roi (The King’s Jester), and Leïla Slimani for her essay collection Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc (Sex and Lies: Sex Lives in Morocco).


Read more dispatches:

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.