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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Fall 2019

Our blog editors pick their favorite pieces from the Fall 2019 issue!

Another issue, another record broken: Asymptote’s Fall 2019 issue features work from an unprecedented thirty-six countries. Looking for a point of entry? Consider our blog editors your guides. Their selections here, which range from Korean poetry to Russian drama, will set you off on the right foot. 

“Why do I think October is beautiful? / It is not, is not beautiful.” So goes a poem by the late Bill Berkson. It is not—as we know when the grey settles and looks to stay—a particularly delightful month, but if all the poems featuring October attests to something, it is that this time, its late and sedate arrival, is one that enamors poets. So it is that a vein of poetics runs through our Fall 2019 issue, and the poetry section itself is one of tremendous artistry and vitality. From the stoic and enduring lines of Osip Mandelstam to a brilliant translation of Sun Tzu-Ping’s strikingly visual language, Asymptote has once again gathered the great poets from far reaches. 

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Literary awards and festivals abound in this week's news from Argentina, Sweden, and the UK.

This week our reporters bring you news of Sweden’s reaction to last week’s Nobel Prize in Literature announcement by the Swedish Academy, the FILBA international festival in Buenos Aires, as well as the surprise of the Booker Prize winner(s!) in the UK.

Eva Wissting, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Sweden

Since the announcement of the 2018 and 2019 Laureates of the Nobel Prize in Literature last week, the subsequent debate shows no sign of receding. Before the announcement, literary Nobel Prize discussions within Sweden focused on whether awarding a 2018 prize was good for the world of literature or bad because it would smooth over the Swedish Academy’s connection to misconducts.

After the announcement of Polish Olga Tokarczuk (“Flights”) and Austrian Peter Handke as the two most recent literary Nobel Prize Laureates, however, the pros and cons of announcing a 2018 laureate has waned in the shadow of the controversial choice of Handke. The disagreement in Sweden centers on whether Handke’s political standpoint is misunderstood—if he has simply been naive and used by others, if he is an apologist of war crimes—or if awarding Handke is correct on solely literary merits and that disregarding politics is possible. READ MORE…

Our Fall 2019 Issue Is Here!

Featuring Radka Denemarková, Sylvia Molloy, Monchoachi, and a Spotlight on International Microfiction

Welcome to our spectacular Fall 2019 edition gathering never-before-published work from a record-breaking 36 countries, including, for the first time, Azerbaijan via our spotlight on International Microfiction. Uncontained, this issue’s theme, may refer to escape either from literal prisons—the setting of some of these pieces—or from other acts of containment: A pair of texts by Czech author Radka Denemarková and Hong Kong essayist Stuart Lee tackle the timely subject of Chinese authoritarianism. In “The Container,” Thomas Boberg performs the literary equivalent of “unboxing” so popular on YouTube these days, itemizing a list of things in a container shipped from Denmark to the Gambia—all in a withering critique of global capitalism.

The container lends itself to several metaphors but none as poignant or as on point as—you guessed it, dear Asymptote reader—the container of language itself, as suggested by London-based photographer Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee’s brilliant cover highlighting the symbolism of the humble rice grain. This commodity has, like language, been exported, exchanged, enhanced, and expressed in various forms from its various origins across the planet. Even when a state attempts to erase language, resistance remains possible, as poet Fabián Severo—the only Uruguayan writing in Portunhol, the language of the country’s frontier with Brazil—demonstrates: “This language of mine sticks out its tongue at the / dictionary,” he sings, “dances a cumbia on top of the maps / and from the school tunic and bow tie / makes a kite / that flies / loose and free through the sky.” In one of Argentine writer Sylvia Molloy’s many profound riffs on the bilingual condition, Molloy claims that “one must always be bilingual from one language, the heimlich one, if only for a moment, since heim or home can change.” READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

On Terezín, censorship in Iran, thrilling new Uzbek titles, and the long-awaited Nobel Prize for Literature announcement.

This week is an exciting one in the world of literature, and our editors are bringing you dispatches from the ground. Xiao Yue Shan discusses the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. Julia Sherwood reports on a march from Prague to Terezín, a concentration camp established by the Nazis during their occupation of the Czech Republic. Poupeh Missaghi gives an account of literary podcasts in Iran, as well as the government’s role in quality control and censorship. Filip Noubel brings us an introduction of several new titles from the established authors of Uzbekistan. 

Xiao Yue Shan, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting on the Nobel Prize for Literature

The long-awaited Nobel Prize in Literature announcement of 2019 was prefaced by the usual barrage of news and predictionssome cynical, some vaguely hopeful, and most of which hedged their bets on women writers and/or authors who did not write predominantly in English. After the controversy of last year’s award (or the lack thereof), it followed a natural trajectory that our current politics lead us to search for brilliant literary representation that breaches the limits of our accepted canon of well-celebrated white men, and the Swedish Academy had seemed eager to prove themselves to be advocates for social progress, as they once again took on the role of alighting the flames of literary luminaries that will forever be enshrined as embodiments of success in the world of letters.

In a case of half-fulfillment, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature went to Asymptote contributor Olga Tokarczuk, and the 2019 Prize was awarded to the prolific Austrian writer Peter Handke. The latter aroused quite the maelstrom of negative responses, even with most still acknowledging his significant contributions and his fearlessly bold oeuvre, while the former is being hailed as a well-deserving, original, feminist voice, standing in the exact spot of where the spotlight should be shone.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Catch up on this week’s latest news in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Romanian authors around the world.

This week, our reporters tell us about the literary response to the demonstrations in Hong Kong and the translation of protest poetry by The Bauhinia Project, book fairs in Vietnam, as well as guiding us through the many Romanian writers performing at the largest Central European literary festival, the Author’s Reading Month festival. 

Jacqueline Leung, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong

The extradition bill demonstrations in Hong Kong have been ongoing for four months and show no signs of stopping. There has been countless speculation over the city’s standing as a financial and trading center, but what has happened for certain is the plethora of art created in response to the movement. In an interview on the subject of contemporary art, a museum curator placed her bets: “The greatest art is going to be produced in Hong Kong.”

The same could be said for its literature. Since June, Hong Kong’s literary scene has actively documented current happenings through poetry, fiction, and criticism. Numerous local literary magazines, including Fleur des lettres, Voice & Verse, and Formless, are running issues dedicated to the protests, and the activity is not restricted to within the city’s borders. In particular, there is an initiative to translate protest poetry from Hong Kong for an international audience. In July, The Bauhinia Project was launched by an anonymous Hong Kong poet in Berkeley, California. Named after the city’s flower emblem, the project gathers poetry submissions and testimonials in text or audio from anonymous sources. The submissions are then translated into English and made into postcards. So far, the postcards have been displayed in a series of exhibitions held in Germany as well as different cities in California. The Bauhinia Project is also curating events on the extradition bill movement. On September 25, a panel discussion on misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the protests abroad were held at Moe’s Books in San Francisco and featured six speakers, among them Hong Kong poet Wawa, previously interviewed on Asymptote on her medium-pure poetry, and writer Henry Wei Leung.

I will also moderate a discussion on civil society and literature between writer Hon Lai Chu, who spoke about politics and literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this year, and playwright Yan Pat To, whose latest play, Happily Ever After Nuclear Explosion, premiered in German at Munich’s Residenz Theater and subsequently in Cantonese at Tai Kwun, an arts and heritage site in Hong Kong, and South Korea’s Asia Playwright Festival. The event is part of Goethe-Institut Hong Kong’s wider series on civil society and art, which previously covered independent films, LGBT, and moving images. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Our wide-ranging literary dispatches this week cover protests, translations, and debuts.

This week’s dispatches report on a four-day literature festival in Italian-speaking Bellinzona in Switzerland, a new podcast dedicated exclusively to Guatemalan and Central American literature, as well as news of the arrest of journalist Hajar Raissouni in Morocco and a theatre group resisting such censorship and freedom of the press violation with a performance of Don Quixote.

Anna Aresi, Copy Editor, reporting from Switzerland

An interest in mapping (often the result of conquests and colonization) and remapping—rethinking what was erased and systematically left out in the mapping process—is at the core of Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli’s latest novel. In Lost Children Archive, mapping is related to sound: “Focusing on sound forced me to hear as opposed to seeing, it forced me into a different rhythm. You cannot consume sound immediately,” she explains, “when focusing on sound, you have to sit with it, let it unfold.” It is within this rhythm, she adds, that English emerged as the language that was conducive to the writing of this novel, which she had begun writing in both English and Spanish simultaneously.

Luiselli reflects on this and other aspects of her writing in an intense conversation with Italian writer Claudia Durastanti, in the intimate setting of Bellinzona’s social theater. 

Every year, Bellinzona—the capital of Swiss Italophone Canton Ticino—hosts Babel Festival, a four-day event entirely dedicated to literature and translation. This year’s fourteenth edition, entitled “You will not speak my language,” explored the limits and boundaries of language and literature, as well as languages that are “imagined, invented, despised, censored, regional, silent, visual, and enigmatic.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week, news of trans literature in Argentina, an inaugural book fair in Patagonia, and awards season in India.

Our editors report on literature’s integral role in political resistance and in supporting underrepresented voices, as feminist and trans theory workshops are organized in Buenos Aires and fuegino literature is promoted in Patagonia. In India, our reporter leads us through the awards season successes, celebrating many translated titles.

Allison Braden, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina

Last month, a primary election that predicted a decisive win for the opposition in Argentina’s upcoming presidential elections sent the economy into convulsions, and the peso’s precipitous drop in value made headlines around the world. Amid the debate around the country’s future, the candidates have been conspicuously quiet on an issue important to many Argentine women: abortion, which remains illegal in most cases. But where the politicians are silent, Argentina’s women are not. Anfibia, a digital magazine of literary journalism launched by the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, is offering a workshop to challenge dominant ways of knowing and to provide women with tools to narrate experiences of violence. Also in this year’s lineup is a four-part workshop and practicum on trans theory, which seeks to answer whether it’s possible to develop a collaborative theory of the trans experience to guide, not only personal creativity, but also policy. Trans literature has won acclaim in Argentina recently. Rising literary star and trans writer Camila Sosa Villada, for example, unites literature and performance. According to a recent profile, “Camila is poetry onstage and puts her body on paper” (my translation). Her book Las malas was showcased at this year’s Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires, the largest book fair in Latin America. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

In Romania and Albania this week, literature abounds.

Any occasion to celebrate language is a happy one, as demonstrated in this week’s dispatches from Romania and Albania. With events honoring Romanian Language Day and an emphasis on Albanian literature in Italy, the forces propelling the continuation and evolution of literary language are well and alive. Read on for the news, reported from the ground by our committed editors.

Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor, reporting from Romania

Romanian Language Day has officially been celebrated on August 31 since 2011. This year, I had the privilege of being in Romania to observe this holiday, more specifically to find myself in Cluj-Napoca, a city with a powerful literary scene thanks to its academic and historical tradition. The event dedicated to this occasion (held one day before, on August 30) was held in an interwar casino revamped into an art gallery in Cluj’s central park, and the general public ranged from the city’s literary elite to a group of kids in baseball caps.

Horia Bădescu, one of the representative literary figures of the 1960s (available in English and French translation) and historian and writer Ovidiu Pecican spoke on the history, significance, evolution, and particularities of the Romanian language, while professor of journalism and writer Ilie Rad and translator Gabriela Lungu (who has translated books like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, among many others, from Italian to Romanian) discussed the originality, richness, and their own intimate perceptions of the Romanian language.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Follow our editors through France, Japan, and Vietnam as they bring a selection of literary news of the week.

This week, our editors are bringing you news from France, Japan, and Vietnam. After quiet summers in the literary world for many countries, September brings the literary scene back to life. In France, the anticipation is building ahead of the most prestigious literary prizes being awarded. In Japan, a new edition of a historic quarterly is uniting Japanese and Korean literature through a shared feminist voice. And in Vietnam, the launch of a new anthology, as well as events held by prestigious translators, celebrate the ties that are created through translation.

Sarah Moore, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from France

September in France marks the rentrée littéraire, with hundreds of new titles published before the big award season starts in November. The prix Fémina, prix Renaudot, prix Interallié, prix Médicis, and the prix de l’Académie française will all be contested, as well as the prestigious prix Goncourt.

Amongst the French titles announced for the rentrée, Amélie Nothomb’s Soif (Albin Michel, 21 August) is highly anticipated, although not at all unexpected—an incredibly prolific author, she has consistently featured in the rentrée littéraire every year since the publication of her debut novel, Hygiène de l’assassin, in 1992 (Hygiene and the Assassin, Europa Editions, 2010). With a narrative that takes the voice of Jesus during the final hours of his life, Soif is sure to be as audacious, controversial, and successful as ever for Nothomb.

Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel, La Mer à l’envers (P.O.L, 2019), examines the migration crisis, narrating an encounter between a Parisian woman and a young refugee, rescued from a capsized boat. Many of Darrieussecq’s novels have already been translated into English, including her first novel Pig Tales (Faber & Faber, 2003), and, most recently, The Baby (Text Publishing, 2019). An interview with her translator, Penny Hueston, for Asymptote can be read here and an extract of her translation of Men was part of Asymptote‘s Translation Tuesday series for The Guardian.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

From Olga Tokarczuk to Ana María Rodas, read on for the latest in global literature!

As Italo Calvino said; “Literature is like an eye that can perceive beyond the chromatic scale to which Politics is sensitive.” This week, our editors are spanning Poland and Central America this week to bring you news of literature festivals, celebrations, and renowned writers bringing international regard to their home countries, but also, reports of literature in acts of reclamation, restoration, and freedom. To reinstate humanity into issues that seem beyond individual control is a necessary use of language, and around the world, writers are taking up the responsibility.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Poland

In every corner of Poland, book lovers had a literary festival to choose from this summer. The Borderland Foundation, an international centre for dialogue in Sejny on the Polish/Lithuanian border, hosted a programme of discussions, workshops, and concerts from June through August, with guests including Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, who discussed The Road to Unfreedom with the centre’s director, Krzysztof Czyżewski (photos here). In July, the Non-Fiction festival in Kraków featured acclaimed non-fiction writers of the likes of Małgorzata Rejmer as well as rising new stars of literary reportage, such as Katarzyna Puzyńska, who has made a successful switch from best-selling crime to non-fiction, publishing two books of interviews with Polish policemen. Sopot Literacki, a literary festival in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, showcased literature from the UK from August 15 to 18, featuring, among others, novelist Sarah Perry, illustrator and comic book author Katie Green, and Reni Eddo-Lodge talking about her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, as well as a debate among literary scholars on the current readings of the Frankenstein myth. And in the final week of August, Sopot’s sister city Gdynia renames itself the City of the Word, staging a literary festival focusing on Polish writers before the September 1 announcement of the 2019 Gdynia Literature Prize.

Jacek Dehnel, one of the authors appearing at the Gdynia festival this week, presented his latest book, Ale z naszymi umarłymi (But Together With Our Dead), a viciously funny and chilling apocalyptic satire in which Polish zombies go on the rampage and take over the world. The novel is appearing at a time in which rabid anti-LGBT propaganda, spread by the ruling PiS party in the run-up to the general election this coming October, is receiving vocal support from the Catholic Church, which has compared the LGBT movement to a ‘plague’, and a conservative weekly, Gazeta Polska, recently went so far as to print “LGBT-free zone” stickers. This summer saw a record number of Gay Pride parades held in twenty-three cities across the country in defiance of the hate campaign, and while most of the parades went off peacefully, march participants in Białystok, in the east of the country, came under violent attack from far-right protesters. Dehnel, who travelled to Białystok from his home town of Warsaw to address the crowd and has vividly captured the events in this harrowing report, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week’s literary news from Brazil, Texas, and Kashmir.

Our reporters take us to literary festivals in Brazil, to celebrations of Women in Translation month in Austin, Texas, and to Kashmir, where the voices of writers and journalists are revealing the urgency and importance of communication, free speech, and speaking out against injustice.

Daniel Persia, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil

Identity, colonialism, and immigration were among the main topics discussed at the 7th edition of Litercultura (August 12-16), a week-long literary festival in Curitiba, Brazil. In conversation on this year’s theme, “Borders,” Italian writer and journalist Igiaba Scego explored her own family’s trajectory, tracing her parents’s migration from Somalia to Italy in the wake of Siad Barre’s coup d’état in 1969. Her novel Beyond Babylonrecently released by Two Lines Press, in a stunning English translation by Aaron Robertson—is a multigenerational story that explores the brutal dictatorship in Somalia and the challenges and discrimination still faced by Afro-descendants in Italy today. Scego seemed particularly at home with her Brazilian audience, perhaps because this was not her first time in Brazil; three of her books have been translated into Portuguese, and she was a headliner at the International Literary Festival of Paraty (Flip) in 2018. Other participants at this year’s Litercultura included Patrícia Campos Mello (Brazil), Leonardo Padura (Cuba), Bernardo Carvalho (Brazil), and Juan Cárdenas (Colombia).

While Scego was closing out Litercultura in Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba, the 13th International Book Biennial of Ceará was just getting started, over 2,000 miles away in the northeastern capital of Fortaleza. Under the theme “Cities and Books,” this year’s fair (August 16-25) will unite some of Brazil’s most cherished writers, including Maria Valéria Rezende and Raduan Nassar. The goal of the Biennial is to create space for artistic and literary exhibitions while engaging the wider public in conversations around books, literature, and literacy. In ten full days of programming, the Biennial will welcome over sixty authors, including international writers such as Mia Couto (Mozambique) and former Asymptote contributor Abdellah Taïa (Morocco). Over the past two years, the fair has averaged approximately fifty-five thousand visitors per day, including children, young adult, and adult readers.

Together, Litercultura and the Biennial of Ceará remind us of the sheer size of Brazil, a country that continues to discover new talent within and beyond its borders.   READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Follow our editors through Italy, the UK, and Shanghai as they bring a selection of literary news of the week.

Prizes, festivals, and book fairs! This week, our editors bring us news about Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Strega, Mantua’s Festivalletteratura, Edinburgh’s vibrant International Book Festival, and Shanghai’s vast international Book Fair. At the heart of all these dispatches is the wonderful ability of cities to draw huge numbers of people together to celebrate a year in literature. 

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Italy

In early June, Antonio Scurati won the 2019 Premio Strega, Italy’s most important literary prize, for his book M. Il figlio del secolo (M. Child of the Century). Scurati’s book is the epitome of ponderous tome: at more than eight hundred pages it is the first of what will be three volumes that novelize the life of Benito Mussolini, with this first title covering Mussolino’s rise to power. The book has been hugely popular with the Italian public, selling some one hundred and twenty thousand copies before it snatched the prize and has even given rise to some interesting debates with some critics calling into question whether Scurati’s book can actually be considered fiction at all, rather than a straightforward biography. What is particularly interesting is the fact that last year’s winner was also a novelized biography set in 1930s Europe: Helena Janeczek’s The Girl with the Leica (translated by Ann Goldstein) traces the final years of Gerda Taro, a German-Jewish war photographer, who bore witness to the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazism.

Looking forward, if you happen to find yourself in northern Italy between September 4 and 8, it might be worth popping by the small city of Mantua in Lombardy which hosts one of the biggest literary festivals in the country: Festivalletteratura. The line-up of guests could put the Edinburgh literary festival to shame, with a very international cast of writers and themes. Margaret Atwood will be popping by, as will Ali Smith, Valeria Luiselli and Elif Shafak. The festival will explore the contradictions of current American society with the help of Colson Whitehead and Meg Wolitzer among others, and academics like Amin Maalouf and Simon Schama will be hosting talks and debates around the future of the European Union. Other interesting events will be centered around modern Albanian and even Italian literature, science and the environment. You can check a full guide of the guests and events here. READ MORE…

What’s New with the Crew? (Aug 2019)

We've been keeping busy!

What do Asymptote staff get up to when they’re not busy advocating for world literature? Answer: Quite a lot! For those interested in joining our team, please note that we have just completed the first phase of our recruitment drive and will conclude the second and final phase by the end of the month. It’s not too late to send in an application!

Communications Manager Alexander Dickow published two poems in Plume, in English and French versions.

Assistant editor Andreea Iulia Scridon‘s poem, Glossa, a re-writing of Mihai Eminescu’s Romanian poem of the same name, has been published by WildCourt.

Copy Editor Anna Aresi‘s Italian translation of Ewa Chrusciel’s Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn, 2014) was released in May by Edizioni Ensemble. 

Chris Tanasescu (aka MARGENTO, editor-at-large for Romania and Moldova) has been featured in a Romanian poetry anthology in Italian translation, Sette poeti rumeni (Seven Romanian Poets) edited by Matteo Veronesi.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Follow our editors through Lebanon, Hong Kong, and France as they bring a selection of literary news of the week.

From the town nestled in the peaks of Lebanon, to the recent surge in Hong Kong streets, to the crystal waters of the Occitanie coast, our three literary destinations of the week bring forth an array of Lebanese love stories, reimaginings of home, and the rich culture of Mediterranean poetry. In the words of the great Sufi poet Yunus Emre, “If I told you about a land of love, friend, would you follow me and come?”

Ruba Abughaida, Editor-at-Large, reporting for Lebanon

The mountain town of Bsharri in Lebanon should see an increase in tourism following the Lebanese debut of a musical adapted from Gibran Khalil Gibran’s Broken Wings, published in 1912. Born in Bsharri in 1883, Gibran’s book The Prophet, published in the United States in 1923, is still one of the best-selling books of all time after ninety-six years and 189 consecutive print runs. Showing at Beit El Din Palace, a nineteenth century palace which hosts the annual Beiteddine festival, the musical tells of a tragic love story which takes place during the turn of the century in Beirut.

Closer to sea level, an evening of poetry in Beirut celebrated Lebanese poet Hasan Abdulla.  Born in Southern Lebanon, Abdulla was inspired by its natural beauty, and infused his poetry with observations of nature. His work, spanning over forty years, has been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian. 

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