Language: Tseltal

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

Never miss a world literature update again.

We are back with literary news you simply cannot miss! This week we will take you to Romania where MARGENTO will help you discover the intricate networks of performance art. Also reporting from Europe is Fiona Le Brun who discusses the eclectic list of recent French literary prize winners, while subtly underlining the theme of migration that cuts across the various literary events. Far away from Mexico, Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn will highlight the increasingly important role of translation in its contemporary cultural landscape. 

Editor-at-Large from Romania and Moldova, MARGENTO, provides us with an insider’s view of the exciting world of Romanian artistic experimentation:

The Bucharest International Poetry Festival featured last month an impressive line-up of international writers and performers, among whom were Christian Bök from Canada, LaTasha Nevada Diggs from the US, Steven Fowler of the worldwide prolific Enemies Project, Max Höfler (the tireless organizer of the yearly Text-World—World-Text Symposium in Graz, Austria), the multilingual performance vocalist Maja Jantar of Belgium, the Bucharest-based American poet and translator Tara Skurtu, and many more, alongside local poets such as Claudiu Komartin and Razvan Tupa.  Organized by London-based Romanian poet and curator Simona Nastac, this annual event has grown more and more visible and central in a country where the tradition of performance poetry going at least as far back as Tristan Tzara’s DADA seems to be thriving more than ever, with festivals thrown from Craiova in the south to Brasov and Sibiu in Transylvania to Cluj and Iasi up north (some of them performance-driven events, other more standard literary ones with a strong reading or performance section).

Petrila is a one-of-a-kind venue among all of the above, both in Romanian and international terms.  The derelict milltown riddled with condemned coal mines and shutdown falling-apart factories has been transformed over the last two decades by visual artist, political caricaturist, and curator Ion Barbu into a mecca of non-conformist festivals (initially thrown in his own backyard), eclectic or scandalous arts events, and improbable post-communist absurdist or faux-kitsch museums (including one that has resonantly revived the memory of once-censored outstanding dissident writer I.D. Sirbu).  A competitor—or rather concurrent event—has been the CUCA Festival organized over the past couple of years in Cartisoara, up in the mountains of Sibiu County, where cutting-edge and indie performances and installations converge with Romanian traditional architecture restoration work done by international volunteers.  A long-feature documentary titled Planet Petrila casting Ion Barbu in the lead role and portraying his eclectic personality and work against the background of the (post)communist history of his hometown has recently been widely praised and awarded at the international film festival TIFF.

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Translator Sean Sell on Contemporary Indigenous Literature in Mexico

Political concerns are in the back of my mind, and when translating I try to keep them back there. I hope the works can speak for themselves.

During the past thirty years indigenous literatures in Spanish and indigenous languages have slowly emerged onto the literary scenes of many Latin American countries. Despite what many refer to as a literary renaissance, these literatures garner scant attention beyond the region, and many masterworks of contemporary indigenous letters remain unavailable in English translation. A graduate student at the University of California-Davis, Sean Sell recently published an excellent translation of Maya literature from the Mexican state of Chiapas with the University of Oklahoma Press. We caught up with Sell to discuss his work, that of the authors he translates, and his role as a conduit of indigenous writing in English.

Paul Worley & Kelsey Woodburn (W&W): What led you to an interest in Mayan languages and literatures?

Sean Sell (SS): Credit the Zapatistas, I suppose. Their uprising captured my attention as it did with so many others, so in 2000 when I was looking to visit Mexico and work on my Spanish, I got involved with the organization Escuelas para Chiapas or Schools for Chiapas. I figured I could improve my Spanish and support this intriguing project at the same time.  Schools for Chiapas is based, at least on this side of the border, in San Diego, where I’ve lived most of my life. They regularly organize trips to Zapatista territory. Our group helped prepare a site for school construction in one of the communities. But the trips are as much about cultural exchange as they are about any particular project.

It was on this trip that I first learned of indigenous languages like Tsotsil and Tseltal. Organizers told us that many of the Zapatistas we would meet did not speak Spanish, and for those who did it was probably their second language.

Years later I was getting a master’s at San Diego State University, and I took a class called Mexican Sociolinguistics.  I thought it would be about Mexican variations and regionalisms in Spanish, but it was all about indigenous languages—their history, their variety, their different levels of health today. Estimates of how many indigenous languages remain in Mexico range from 68 (the number with government recognition) to almost 300, with some disagreement as to when languages are distinct rather than different dialects of the same one. It was fascinating to learn about this, as each language represents a particular cultural world.  I drew from my experience in Chiapas for the class.

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