Place: Egypt

Spring 2018: The Dogged Chase of the Actual After the Ideal

Confronting the most immediate limits on human experience while resisting the arbitrary, narrow scope imposed by the commercial book market.

On 19 February 2018, responding to a pitch from Alessandro Raveggi—editor of Italy’s first bilingual literary magazine, The Florentine Literary Review—I arrange for Newsletter Editor Maxx Hillery to run in our Fortnightly Airmail the first of Raveggi’s two-part conversation with John Freeman on the occasion of Freeman’s Italian debut. “I do not feel American literary journals are doing a very good job of curating the best of our present moment,” the former editor of Granta says. “I think an American or American-based literary journal faces two ethical challenges right now, both of them related to aesthetics: 1) to try to redefine the cultural world as not being American-centric, and 2) to reveal America for what it is and has always been, but is just more apparently so now. Attacking these challenges means catching up with the best writers from around the world.” This brings me back thirteen years to the moment I stood up and posed a question to a panel of New York editors: “I am a Singaporean writing about Singapore; would my work be of interest to American publishers?” The immediate response: “Have your characters come to the US.” I end up submitting a story about Chinese diaspora in New York to a literary journal; the rejection letter that comes back reads: “Too much very culturally-specific backstory…that western readers would find compelling.” I remember a third encounter, this time with a literary agent who has read my work before our one-on-one meeting; she articulates very memorably why my fiction won’t be a hit: “A writer expresses his intelligence through plot.” But I like T. S. Eliot’s quote better: “Plot is the bone you throw the dog while you go in and rob the house.” Sometimes, in founding Asymptote, I wonder whether I was in fact revolting against all these things that all these well-meaning people have tried to tell me. But if the magazine isn’t a hit, at least I’ll have one fan in John Freeman: he very coincidentally writes me just as I’m composing this preface to say “how important what it is you do there has been for me and for a lot of us who itch to read away from the mundane.” Here to introduce our Spring 2018 issue and the Korean Fiction Feature I edited is Interviews Editor Henry Knight.

The Spring 2018 issue is one of Asymptote’s most asymptotic. Its pages are bound together by the familiar themes of futility and compromise and populated by people running up against the invisible but all too real limits imposed on them by the mysterious contours of the self, the precarious obligations of kinship, and the arbitrary structures of power undergirding society. Orphans, émigrés, postwar castaways, and second-generation immigrants all struggle to make sense of asymptotes of personal relationship (how close can we get to one another?), teleology (to fulfilling our desires?), epistemology (to knowing ourselves?), language (to legibility?), and narrative (to completion?). The issue, if it is about anything, is about how people situate themselves in the lacunae that shrink and expand as one approaches only for the other to recede. READ MORE…

Spring 2016: Going Places

You [write] to orchestrate what it is about the world that hurts you.

92,400 words—if an Asymptote issue could be held in your hands, it would be a book with 92,400 words and 368 pages (based on the typical range of 250-300 words a page). And it would be a free book, since, to catalyze the transmission of world literature, we don’t charge for access and hope it always remains that way. That’s 92,400 words that have to be solicited, considered, selected, edited, uploaded, formatted to both our house style and the satisfaction of contributors, and then fact-checked and proofread by four to six pairs of eyes. Out of the 44 articles that these 92,400 words constitute, eight might require extensive footwork for rights, ten commissioned from scratch, and as many as 18 illustrated by a guest artist. Then newly appointed chief executive assistant Theophilus Kwek obtains this figure of 92,400 (for the English text alone) “by copying the entire [Winter 2016] issue into a word document, and rounding off to the nearest 100 for footnotes [he] may have missed.” The occasion for this? We have been invited to submit an application to a grant administered by Singapore’s National Arts Council (NAC), and one of the requested data is wordcount. How this comes about after five years of no official contact between Asymptote and NAC goes like this: In February 2016, back in Singapore to visit with family over Chinese New Year, I send out a batch of solicitations. One is addressed to Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who played a major role in facilitating the June 2018 Kim-Trump summit, the costs of which (twelve million USD) the Singaporean government willingly absorbed. On 14 February, 2016, I receive a call at 8 a.m. by someone from Balakrishnan’s office encouraging me to take up the matter with NAC instead. I mutter something about NAC being unsupportive, and put the phone down quite quickly. The next day, someone more senior—an actual spokesperson from the Ministry—calls. Charmed by her diplomacy, I agree to “allow [myself] to be approached.” On February 16, an email entitled “funding for Asymptote,” pops up in my inbox. Negotiation takes a protracted seven months, during the course of which my case is rotated between four different officers, and in the process of which hopes are raised only to be dashed—with even the acting director of NAC’s literary arts sector development admitting to me that they had changed their mind (i.e., that it is not a matter of one officer’s stance being discontinuous with another). The long and short of it is that funding is allotted to Singaporean writers and translators of Singaporean work only; support for literary editors only extends as far as sponsoring workshops or mentorships. This was NAC’s policy in 2011 (and one I was well aware of); if it hadn’t changed, why make contact? She sends me off with a one-time grant to the tune of 8,800 USD, tied to publication of Singaporean content on Asymptote platforms in the fourth quarter of 2016. In April, at the invitation of AmazonCrossing and with partial support from the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK, I speak at a London Book Fair panel on “Discovering Stories from Asia, Africa, and Turkey”; despite the geographical reach of the subject matter, I am the only person of color represented on the panel. Unlike, say, an all-male panel, this goes unremarked, underscoring a troubling diversity problem in publishing that I’ve tried to counter with my own magazine by appointing section editors from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Here to introduce the Spring 2016 edition—that I launched from the couch of my college friend Vanessa’s apartment in Brixton, London—is Visual editor Eva Heisler:

Revisiting the Spring 2016 issue, I am struck by how far-ranging and innovative the work is—and how moving. Through the inspired efforts of Asymptote’s translators, I am transported across cultures and geopolitical contexts as I gain access to poems, stories, drama, creative nonfiction, and criticism originally written in Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Filipino, Nahuatl, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, and Thai, to name just a few of the languages represented in this issue.

As editor of Asymptote’s visual section, I am interested in featuring artists who explore issues of text, narrative, linguistic identity, translation, or voice. One work that explores language as shifty, always on the move, is Bad Language, a collaboration between translator Laura Marris and video artist Matt Kenyon. The video, which documents Marris’s process of translating a poem by Paol Keineg, presents the poem as a moving entity animated by possibilities, the page rippling with adjustments and substitutions. This “moving translation” is particularly suited to Keineg’s French since the writer, who was raised in Brittany, often integrates Breton vocabulary. As Marris explains, “I wanted to translate in a way that could accommodate shifting linguistic loyalties, rather than delivering one authoritative version.” READ MORE…

Winter 2016: Gifts

Set against the highest quality control standards, Asymptote weighs equally the stumbling, daring hunches of experimentation.

Daniel Hahn’s Ask a Translator column, in which he fields questions about his craft posed by Asymptote readers, kicks off at the blog. What should have been a happy occasion (our fifth anniversary, celebrated in New York, London, Hong Kong, Ottawa, Chicago, and Belgrade) is marred somewhat by a quarrel with one of our partner institutions. I should first note that the success of the past year (2015) has been a true double-edged sword: although it has bestowed greater visibility (which has in turn brought us partnerships with hitherto-undreamt-of international reach—all the better, I suppose, to catalyse the transmission of literature), our own team members are more coveted by other organizations as a result. Since these are paying organizations (either non-profits with institutional backing or for-profit companies with commercial viability), Asymptote can’t compete. With success also comes assumption that our coffers are being filled to the brim by sponsors and we should be spreading the wealth around. Yet, we are essentially still going it alone; I’m still working full-time without pay and channelling funds raised into web development costs, translation contests, and marketing the work that we’ve been entrusted with. Someone from a partner organization turns down an invitation to moderate our New York event for fear of being interpreted as endorsing our policy of not paying contributors; he demands that we start doing so. Should implies can, but the reality isn’t so. Still, it’s wonderful that translators have such a fierce advocate in this person; I wish editors at publications like ours also had organizations and movements behind them too. Here to introduce the Winter 2016 issue is Assistant Editor Lindsay Semel.

I was recruited as one of Asymptote’s Educational Arm Assistants in January of 2016, just around the time this issue launched. What I want to share now is a story about my first weeks with the journal and my reckoning with the Winter 2016 issue that is ultimately a defense of inefficiency and the impostor syndrome.

Even two-and-a-half years later, I still know this issue more intimately than any other, because when I came aboard as a recent undergrad (it’s not atypical for Asymptote team members to be a bit green) I felt I’d been given two unique gifts. The first, bafflingly, was the complete confidence of our editor-in-chief, Lee Yew Leong. As far as the Educational Arm was concerned, I was free to take on whatever naïve dreams I could imagine—as long as the final product met the standards of the journal. My first spicy taste of impostor syndrome—now a familiar one when negotiating Asymptote assignments—came from the simple fact that I wasn’t a teacher. I could identify with Yann Martel when he said in his interview: READ MORE…

Summer 2013: What a Tentative, Unruly Enterprise Language Is

How miraculous it is when a translator is able to express someone else’s thoughts—it is already so difficult to express your own.

We have organized four IndieGoGo campaigns in all our eight years now, and each of the last three times, it’s sucked so much life force from us that we have, on one occasion, even had to skip an issue (there is no Spring 2015 edition) to recover from it. For some reason, however, it does not take long at all after our first campaign to hit our stride again. A sampling of what we were up to immediately after April 2013, apart from sending ‘thank you’s and perks to 231 supporters: We (1) launched our first-ever translation contest; (2) organized a massive translation project that saw translations into eighteen additional languages of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s brilliant send-up of racial profiling; (3) revamped our website to include a map (thus allowing readers to access our content by geographical region); (4) nominated ourselves for a TED Prize (albeit in vain) and, last but not certainly not least; (5) held our largest recruitment drive ever. The rapid expansion takes a toll: my inbox is invaded daily by check-ins. Fortunately, around this time, we migrate to Trello for issue production work. To give you a sense of how much back and forths are required for just one article (say, Can Xue’s interview conducted by Dylan Suher and Joan Hua, as recounted by Dylan below): Trello records 84 comments by 12 team members spanning the period of May 28 to July 15. Here is Robyn Creswell of The Paris Review on the Summer 2013 issue: “It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality.

The Summer 2013 issue of Asymptote is a fine illustration of the principle that translation is just a special subset of the general problem of communication: the problem of trying to relate your experience to someone else, of trying to put something “in other words,” of trying to put something into words in the first place. This principle comes across most clearly in Naoki Higashida’s attempts to relate his experience as an autistic person, and in the visual section’s pieces on asemic writing and Ghada Amer’s use of Arabic script. All three remind us what a tentative, unruly enterprise language is. The shapes shackled into service by the Phoenicians millennia ago long to return to the wilds of visuality; when tasked with expressing the plentitude of the autistic mind, simple words seem as crude a tool as a chert axe.

The problem of referentiality epitomized by these pieces runs throughout this entire issue. The way Banaphool’s “Nawab Sahib” (translated by Arunava Sinha) seems to exist just outside the bounds of reality, its repetitive structure, and its surprising twists all suggest a fable (or a joke), but the moral to which it points remains sublimely hazy. E.C. Belli, translating Pierre Peuchmaurd, repeats the word “glimmer” again and again in a mantra of irreducible images: “The glimmers of lakes, of iron, of girls”; “The glimmers of otters inside their prey.” The insistence of the repetition pounds significance into a non-entity of a word. READ MORE…

Fall 2011: The Pleasure of Literary Engagement

Featuring Lydia Davis’ first translation from the Dutch, an excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Dubravka Ugrešić on Croatian novelists

Miraculously, word spreads. Asymptote is selected as The Center for Fiction’s international journal of the month for September 2011. Publishers Weekly features us in a writeup. We are a Paris Review staff pick: apparently, poetry editor Robyn Creswell has been “poking around in Asymptote” and has especially enjoyed the (very) short story by Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Adonis’s “Ambiguity,” translated by Elliott Colla, and an essay about riddles by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, translated by Shushan Avagyan(!)” Literary heavyweights Jane Hirshfield and John Kinsella, whom I don’t know personally, write to offer blurbs in support. I discover that Parul Sehgal, an award-winning literary critic I admire, has a Singaporean connection. Had she been based in Singapore, would her talent in literary criticism have been recognized? Would it even have flourished in the first place? This inspires me to move to Taiwan for the lower cost of living. Here to introduce the first issue that I edited out of Taipei (and that also features my translations of Jing Xianghai and Belinda Chang) is contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang. 

As I re-read the interview I conducted with Motoyuki Shibata for the Fall 2011 issue of Asymptote, I am catapulted at once to the terror of that late summer afternoon at the University of Tokyo. Why on earth had I insisted that we speak in Japanese? I was armed with notes, even a few jaunty segues, but I knew my adopted tongue could abandon me at any moment, just as it had abandoned me six months before at a disastrous interview for prospective Ph.D. students.

What prevented disaster that day was hearing Professor Shibata talk about the “pleasure” of literary engagement and translation. Translators tend to fall prey to all kinds of pesky anxieties: of influence, of equivalence, of legitimacy etc. Even now, years after that conversation, I still find the principles of pleasure and humour not only useful defences against said anxieties, but also indispensable qualities of a successful translation. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt.

Welcome back for a fresh batch of literary news, featuring the most exciting developments from Slovakia, Brazil, and Egypt. 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Slovakia:

Hot on the heels of the prolonged Night of Literature, held from 16 to 18 May in sixteen towns and cities across Slovakia, the fifth annual independent book festival, BRaK, took place between 17 and 20 May in the capital, Bratislava. In keeping with the festival’s traditional focus on the visual side of books, the programme included bookbinding, typesetting and comic writing workshops, activities for children, and exhibitions of works by veteran Czech illustrator, poster and animation artist Jiří Šalamoun, as well as French illustrators Laurent Moreau and Anne-Margot Ramstein. The last two also held illustration masterclasses, while the German Reinhard Kleist launched the Slovak translation of his graphic novel Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, accompanied by a local band.

READ MORE…

Section Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Spring 2018 issue!

The brand new Spring 2018 issue of Asymptote Journal is almost one week old and we are still enjoying this diverse set of writing. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections. 

The phrase “Once upon an animal” has been circulating in me for ​months, ever since I first read Brent Armendinger’s translations of the Argentine poet Néstor Perlongher. The familiar fairy tale opening​, ​”Once upon a . . .” asks ​one ​to think of a moment, distant, in time, when such and such happened—happened miraculously or cruelly and from which ​one might take (dis)comfort or knowledge of some, perhaps universal, human frailty or courage. But Perlongher/Armendinger replace “time” with “animal”—a body. Against time, in its very absence, we’re asked to look at this body, which is in anguish, now. Perhaps now too is in anguish.

I can’t read Spanish, but the translation suggests ​a poetry of ​complex syntactical structures and lexical shock:

Once upon an animal fugitive and fossil, but its felonies
betrayed the same sense of petals
in whose gums it stank, tangled, the anguish
impaled, like a young invader

​A feat of translation, no doubt. ​Armendinger writes that “this intensely embodied and unapologetically queer language” is what drew him to Perlongher, and now we too are drawn in.

Perlongher was a founder of the Frente de Liberación Homosexual Argentino, agitated against the military dictatorship, and, as an anthropologist, wrote about sex workers, and gay and transgender subcultures. All this—writing, work, and play—w​as perhaps​ yet another​ way of saying: “Be still, death:”​; “in the steam of that / eruption: ruptured play, rose / the lamé.”

—Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor

READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup lands us in Romania, Moldova, India and Egypt.

Prizes, events, book publications, festivals—whatever you can think of, our Weekly Dispatches have you covered from one end of the world to the other. This week our editors are focusing on the most exciting news from India, Romania and Moldova, and Egypt. 

Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from India: 

When everything is sponsored by a multinational company, from football to governments, literature is no different. India’s richest literary award was announced this March by JCB group. An annual prize money of INR twenty-five lakhs (USD 38,400) for a fiction book could have only come from a company manufacturing construction equipment.

(The DSC Prize, which was the most generous literary award in the country till its prize money was reduced from USD 50,000 to USD 25,000 in 2017, is also funded by a company specializing in infrastructure.)

READ MORE…

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.

READ MORE…

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.

READ MORE…

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.

READ MORE…

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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#3arabizi: Arabic in the Internet Era

While the classical/dialectal debate rages, crowdsourced Arabic transliteration rises from the Internet, spreading among the multinational youth.

A language is alive—it’s a breathing, blooming entity that metamorphoses as worlds turn. Often, we turn to the literary when charting these changes, but language goes where the people are. Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Morocco, Hodna Nuernberg,  writes about the changes that the Internet—blogs, texting, social media—is catalyzing in transliterated versions of spoken Arabic around the world. 

According to the United Nation’s 2016 Measuring the Information Society Report, approximately 47 percent of the world’s population are internet users, and nearly 3.6 billion people are expected to rely on messaging apps as a primary means of communication by 2018. Thanks in no small part to the pervasiveness of computer-mediated communication, we are reading and writing more than ever—in fact, Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University and principal investigator for the Stanford Study of Writing, speaks of a literacy revolution in which “life writing” (in the form of texts, tweets, emails, status updates, or blogs) accounts for a massive 38 percent of the average Stanford student’s written production.

For many of us, the distance between our spoken language and its written form is small enough as to seem nonexistent, so converting our speech into print is a fairly straightforward process. But this isn’t always the case.

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Zeinab Hefny’s A Pillow for Your Love: Confronting the Shiite-Sunni Conflict

Hefny boldly punctures Saudi biases with a taboo-shattering love story.

This is the second in our series of essays highlighting women writers from Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia who have never been translated into English before. One of Asymptote’s core goals is to provide a platform for work from regions generally underrepresented in translation. Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have long been marginalized in the realm of translations from Arabic to English. The contributors have chosen to focus on women writers because they face greater hardships in getting published. The latest essay focuses on the firebrand Saudi writer, Zeinab Hefny.

A dominant conflict in Arab society is the one between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam. This conflict has led to extreme violence against the Shiites, from political marginalization in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, genocide by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to confiscation of property, captivity of women and bombing by ISIS. Recently, a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia struck Shiite targets in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the region, that left hundreds dead and wounded. Despite these atrocities, very few Arab writers have discussed the Shiites’ daily suffering and the violation of their political rights.

However, one who has stood up to condemn this racist sectarianism is the Sunni Saudi writer Zeinab Hefny. She plays an important role as an activist-writer who touches on multiple Saudi taboos—social, sexual, and religious—from the Shiite-Sunni issue to women’s rights.

Zefny’s novel, A Pillow for Your Love (2011), is a worthy addition to the canon of dauntless Arab literature attempting to expose the cultural, political, social and religious crises in Arab society that few Arab writers have confronted out of fear of prosecution. In the novel, Hefny discusses religious anathemas in the Arab community. She highlights the plight of the Shiite sect in the predominantly Sunni Saudi society. READ MORE…