Place: Guatemala

In Conversation with Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez

We mustn’t be allowed to be jailed by our own countries.

Last October, the Spanish publishing house Alfaguara put out Ya nadie llora por mí, the most recent novel from the acclaimed Nicaraguan writer, Sergio Ramírez and sequel to his 2009 novel, El cielo llora por mí (The Sky Cries for Me). A couple of weeks later, the Spanish Ministry of Culture announced that Sergio was the winner of the 2017 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most important literary award for Spanish-language writers. Other laureates include Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Sergio is the first Central American writer to receive this distinction. He has published around thirty books, two of which have been translated into English: Divine Punishment (McPherson & Company) and the 1998 Alfaguara Prize winning novel Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea (Curbstone Books).

Three months later, Sergio and I—his umpteenth interviewer since November—got together at a fancy hotel on the misty mountains of Guatemala City, hours before he presented Ya nadie llora por mí in SOPHOS bookstore. I imagined all the questions Sergio had answered during the past few months. What does it feel like to have won it? Where were you when you got the news? Can you give us a preview of your acceptance speech? I should ask him about his favorite Guatemalan dish, I thought, to shake things up.

Sergio is kind but equally incisive, serene, and voracious. He speaks with care and potency about Central American literature, being a writer, and Centro América Cuenta. Hosted in Nicaragua, this is the biggest literary festival of the region that seeks to strengthen Central American writers and bring them closer to the rest of Ibero-America. Sergio, with a cup of coffee in his hand, is also critical of the contaminated reality of his country. A reality from which his work often comes to life.

In Ya nadie llora por mí (Nobody cries for me anymore) inspector Dolores Morales has been discharged from the National Police, and he now works as a private investigator. He mostly handles cases about adultery for clients with no money. Then the disappearance of a millionaire’s daughter takes him out of his routine. In Sergio’s latest novel we also get to see how corruption and abuse of power underlie the revolutionary discourse of contemporary Nicaragua.

“As a citizen, I desire a different reality,” he says. “As a writer, I take advantage of it.”

Sergio is arguably the most important Central American writer today.

José García Escobar (JGE): What was it like to revisit detective Dolores Morales for your latest book? Did you have the story for Ya nadie llora por mí first, and then realized you needed Dolores to tell it? Or was it the other way around?

Sergio Ramírez (SR): I came up with the story first. I wanted to write about Nicaragua today, and for this, I needed a character like Dolores: a detective and former guerrilla. Noir fiction, or novela negra, as we call it, gives me the opportunity to look at the events I’m writing about from afar. With this distance I can add humor, irony. Also, given his background, this character helped work around that distance. Dolores is often bound by his ethic, a type of ethic he picked up from his years as a guerrillero; he uses that critical thought and critical distance for his work, but at the same time he’s always at risk of getting contaminated by that environment. He observes the situations as he would have in the past and is that moral nostalgia and critical distance that allows my character to lead the book.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing you the latest in world literature news.

Never is there a dull period in the world of literature in translation, which is why we make it our personal mission to bring you the most exciting news and developments. This week our Editors-at-Large from Mexico, Central America, and Spain, plus a guest contributor from Lithuania, are keeping their fingers on the pulse! 

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

On February 21, numerous events throughout Mexico took place in celebration of the International Day of Mother Languages. In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, CELALI (the State Center for Indigenous Language and Art) held a poetry reading featuring Tseltal poet Antonio Guzmán Gómez, among others, and officially recognized Jacinto Arias, María Rosalía Jiménez Pérez, and Martín Gómez Rámirez for their work in developing and fortifying indigenous languages in the state.

Later in San Cristóbal, at the Museum of Popular Cultures, there was a poetry reading that brought together four of the Indigenous Mexican poetry’s most important voices: Mikeas Sánchez, Adriana López, Enriqueta Lúnez, and Juana Karen, representing Zoque, Tseltal, Tsotsil and Ch’ol languages, respectively. Sánchez, Lúnez, and Karen have all published in Pluralia Ediciones’s prestigious “Voces nuevas de raíz antigua” series.


Courage and Turmoil: the Story behind Nuevo Signo

This essay traces the history of one of the first and most important literary groups in Guatemala.

2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of Nuevo Signo, arguably the most influential literary group in Guatemala. Formed during a time when the country was ridden by war, writers didn’t have access to publishing houses and artists and political dissidents were targeted continuously to the point that many sought refuge in neighboring countries. The work done by the members of Nuevo Signo was nothing short of monumental.

In three years the group funded, edited, and published over ten books of poetry, including a “greatest hits” entitled Las Plumas de la Serpiente (The Serpent’s Feathers) that stirred the local art scene. The group disbanded in 1970, after the disappearance of one of its members, poet Roberto Obregón. Roberto is just one of the many writers disappeared during the internal war (1960—1996). Except for Obregón, Antonio Brañas—who died in 1988—and José Villatoro, all of the other members went on to receive the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature for their life’s work.

Last year, Luis Méndez Salinas and Carmen Lucía Alvarado from Catafixia Editorial rereleased Las Plumas de la Serpiente. With a cover designed by Odiseo del Silencio, this new edition of Las Plumas captures the intensity, sensitivity, poetic beauty, commitment, and ferocity of its authors. For this piece, the author spoke with former Nuevo Signo’s editor, Francisco Morales Santos and Luis and Carmen from Catafixia Editorial.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of the world's literary news brings us to Central America and Hong Kong.

You know the drill—time for another weekly update on literary happenings the world over. This week, we learn of the passing of several cherished Central American poets, as well as some recent developments in Hong Kong. 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America

Claribel Alegría, one of Central America’s most beloved poets, recently passed away at age ninety-three. Mere months after Alegría became the second Nicaraguan to receive the Reina Sofía Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry, only after Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel died last Thursday, January 25. Claribel is one of the cornerstones of Nicaraguan poetry and was the author of dozens of books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

Our team is always keen to keep you up to speed on the most recent prizes, festivals, and publications regarding the most important writers around the world. With this in mind,  we are excited to bring you the latest news from our editors-at-large in Mexico, Central America and Indonesia. Stay tuned for next week! 

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

The Tsotsil Maya poetry and book arts collective Snichimal Vayuchil held a book presentation for its latest publication, Uni tsebetik, on November 30 at the La Cosecha Bookstore in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. A collection of works by the group’s female members, the volume was introduced by the Tsotsil sculptor and multimedia artist Maruch Méndez and anthropologist Diane Rus. The event is part of a big month for the group, which includes the publication of their selected works translated into English, and a reading of works from Uni tsebetik at the Tomb of the Red Queen in the Maya archeological site of Palenque.

The same night, the State Center for Indigenous Languages, Arts, and Literature (CELALI) held a book presentation for its latest publication, Xch’ulel osil balamil, by poet and artist María Concepción Bautista Vázquez. The anthology Chiapas Maya Awakening contained her work in an English translation by Sean S. Sell, who was interviewed in Asymptote in April.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from Slovakia, the UK, Mexico and Guatemala.

This week brings us some exciting news from Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and Mexico, thanks to Editors-at-Large Julia Sherwood, Paul Worley, and Kelsey Woodburn as well as Senior Executive Assistant, Cassie Lawrence. Here’s to another week!

Julia Sherwood, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Slovakia:

Two festivals concluded the hectic literary festival season in Slovakia. LiKE 2017, a contemporary literature and multimedia festival was held in Košice, the eastern metropolis, running parallel with the 14th Žilina Literature Festival in the country’s north. The latter, held from September 28 to October 8 in the repurposed New Synagogue and entitled Fakt?Fakt! (Fictitious Truth or Truthful Fiction?), focused on the alarming spread of disinformation, pre-empting the decision by Collins Dictionary to declare “fake news” the official word of the year 2017. The programme featured student discussions, workshops on how to distinguish fact from fiction, as well as readings and meetings with literary critics and writers. Michal Hvorecký discussed his latest novel, Trol (The Troll), a dark dystopia set in the murky world of Russian fake news factories, which has acquired a frightening new relevance far exceeding what the author had anticipated when he set out to write his book a few years ago.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa: 

South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.

In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.


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:

The Cage by Valeria Cerezo

Finn didn’t respect anyone who had made his Grandma suffer, even if it had happened a long time ago.

A piece that will bring you face to face with the anxieties of childhood, with a dollop of the sticky sweetness of dulce de leche. It is a gorgeous treat that has been brought exclusively for Asymptote readers in translation by the Miguel Angel Asturias National Literature Prize for lifetime achievement winner, David Unger.

Finn is under the bed, perhaps the safest place in the world. The boy feels he has nothing to fear and yet, there he is, under the bed in the waning half-light. First he lies face down in back near the headboard. He finds a hair curler under the bed and spins it. He’s happy because sometimes the curler spins in a circle and other times it veers to the right or left.

There’s dust under the bed, a fine layer of dust. Finisberto imagines that his finger is a crayon and he draws the outline of a doll. He thinks it’s a good drawing. He turns on his back, counting the bed slats above him. He can hear someone calling his name from far off. It’s the calm voice of his grandmother, soft and sweet. “Fiiinnnn.” He likes the smell of his grandmother’s hands. Sometimes he grabs one of them and run it over his cheeks while watching television.

Her voice edges closer, dangerously close. Finn scrunches himself at the farthest corner under the bed and closes his eyes. He recognizes her steps on the carpet, the rhythm of her pace on the bare floor. He stifles his laughter. His grandma will think he’s lost; she’ll sit on the corner of the bed and shout out his name, pleading with God to make him appear. And then Finn will stick his hand out from under the fringes of the bedcover making believe it´s a cat´s claw hunting for his grandmother´s ankles.

This time, however, he has to be more imaginative: his grandmother already knows the cat-under-the-bed trick. This time he’ll pretend to be a spider climbing up her leg. Grandma will sit at the edge of the bed and call out to St. Kahn D. Cane, the patron of lost boys.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in literary news around the globe, all in one place.

If, like us, you can’t start the weekend without knowing what the literary world’s been up to this past week, we’ve got your back. We have dispatches from Central America, the United States and Indonesia with a real tasting board of talks, events and new publications. Wherever you’re based, we’re here to provide you with news that stays news. 

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

Today Costa Rica’s book fair, the twentieth Feria del Libro 2017, kicked off in San José. During its nine days, CR’s fair will offer concerts, book readings, release events, and seminars. This year’s Feria will have the participation of writers like Juan Villoro (Mexico), Carlos Fonseca (Costa Rica), Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Rita Dove (United States), Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador), and Mayra Santos-Febres (Puerto Rico), among others.

Some of the books to be presented or discussed during the fair are Larisa Quesada’s En Piel de Cuervos, Alfonso Chase’s Piélagos, Carlos Francisco Monge’s Nada de todo aquello, Isidora Chacón’s Yo Bruja, and Luis ChávesVamos a tocar el agua. Also, the renown Costa Rican writer Carlos Fonseca, famous for his first novel Coronel Lágrimas that was translated into English by Megan McDowell and published by Restless Books, will talk about his sophomore book, Museo Animal on September 2.

In Guatemala, the indie press Magna Terra continued the promotion of many of its titles released during this year’s Guatemalan Book Fair. On August 17 they officially presented Pablo Sigüenza Ramírez’s Ana es la luna y otros cuentos cotidianos. Also, they continue to push Pedro Pablo Palma’s Habana Hilton, about the most personal side of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, during his time in Guatemala and his early years in Cuba.

Fellow Guatemalan indie press, Catafixia Editorial recently finished a local tour that included their participation in FILGUA, the international poetry festival of Quetzaltenango FIPQ, and a quick visit to Comalapa, for the presentation of Oyonïk, by the twenty-two-year-old poet, Julio Cúmez. Additionally, Catafixia is preparing for their participation in the IV Encuentro de Pensamiento y Creación Joven en las Américas in Habana Cuba next month. And recently they announced the inclusion of writer, poet, and guerrilla leader Mario Payeras to their already impressive roster; they have yet to share which of Mario’s books they will republish.

Finally, Guatemalan writer, Eduardo Halfon, has a new book coming out August 28 titled Duelo (Libros Asteroide).


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Join us for a spin across the literary world!

Another week full of exciting news! Paul and Kelsey bring us up to speed on what’s happening in Mexico and Guatemala. We also have José García providing us with all the updates about Central American literary festivals you could wish for. Finally, we are delighted to welcome aboard our new team-members, Valent and Norman, who share news from Indonesia. 

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodbury, Editors-at-Large for Mexico, report:

In conjunction with partners such as the Forum of Indigenous Binational Organizations (FIOB) and the Indigenous Community Leadership (CIELO), the LA Public Library in California, US, recently announced that it will host the second annual Indigenous Literature Conference on July 29 and 30. As stated on Facebook, the conference’s “first day will be dedicated to the indigenous literature from (the Mexican state of) Oaxaca,” with “the second (being) broader in scope.” Among those slated to participate are the Oakland, California-based Zapotec writer and artist Lamberto Roque Hernández, Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo, and Me’phaa poet Hubert Matiuwaa, whose Xtámbaa was recently reviewed here in Asymptote.

On July 14 in Guatemala, K’iche’/Kaqchikel Maya poet Rosa Chávez announced the publication of a new poetry fanzine entitled AB YA YA LA. Limited to 40 in number, each copy is unique and contains different details.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A literary jaunt around the globe!

The literary world is having a buzzing summer—or winter, depending on your hemisphere. From literary festivals in Singapore, non-traditional methods of distributing poetry by indigenous poets in Mexico to daring theatre in Austria, there is a lot to discover his week. 

First stop—Singapore, with Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek:

Singapore’s literary scene is gearing up for its annual Poetry Festival held for the third time this year over the last weekend of July. The festival incorporates a full-day conference jointly organized by the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and PoetryWalls, a cultural non-profit. The winners of this year’s National Poetry Competition will also be announced on Saturday afternoon, kicking off a day and a half of readings, book launches and discussions featuring both new and established names— from Cultural Medallion-winner Edwin Thumboo to Pooja Nansi, recipient of the Young Artist Award for 2016. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly ride around the literary universe!

This week we will bring you up to speed on what’s happening in Central America, Morocco, and Spain. José brings us the latest news from the world of independent bookstores and publishing houses that are a treat for bibliophiles in Central America. Layla too has updates about exciting literary festivals and meets in Spain which bring book lovers together. Jessie shares some sad news from Morocco which however, on an optimistic note, reminds us of the universal reach of literature. 

José García, a cultural journalist from Guatemala, covers Central America for us this week:

On June 20 in San José, Costa Rica, Uruk Editores released Bernabé Berrocal’s second novel Archosaurio (Archosaur). Fellow Costa Rican writers like Aquileo J. Echeverría Prize winner Warren Ulloa and philologist Manuela Álvarez Escobar have called Archosaurio disturbing and captivating.

In late 2016 los tres editores publishing house announced its creation in Costa Rica. On June 21 they revealed their first title, Vamos a tocar el agua (Let’s Go Touch the Water) by Luis Chaves, a celebrated author of eleven books, whose work has been translated into German and is considered one of the leading figures of contemporary in Costa Rican poetry. los tres editores is yet to announced the publication date of Chaves’s book.

Additionally, the renowned Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon and Guggenheim fellow—whose work has been translated into several language including English, French, and Italian—on June 22  presented his novels Pan y Cerveza (Bread and Beer) and Saturno (Saturn). These novels were originally published by Alfaguara in 2003 as a single book titled Esto no es una pipa, Saturno (This is not a pipe, Saturno), and are now separate, as the author originally intended them to be. Pan y Cerveza and Saturno were published thanks to the work of Guatemalan bookstore SOPHOS and Spanish publishing house Jekyll & Jill. Eduardo has also a new book entitled Duelo (Duel) coming out later this year.


Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in! The latest literary scoop from Austria, Mexico, Guatemala and Canada

This week we bring you a generous helping of news from Flora Brandl, our contributor in Austria, reporting on the rich array of literary festivals and cultural events that took place in April and are coming up in May; Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, our Editors-at-Large Mexico, take a look at one Guatemalan Maya writer’s highly original work, but also record the brutal continuation of violence against journalists in Mexico just last month; last but not least, our very own grant writer Catherine Belshaw writes on the hope for greater diversity in Canada’s literary scenes.

Contributor Flora Brandl gives us the round-up from Austria:

Despite winter being rather stubborn (only last week there was still some snow), the Austrian literary and cultural scene has witnessed a so-called Frühlingserwachen, a spring awakening, with numerous events, publications and national and international festivals taking place across the country.

At the end of April, the Literasee Wortfestival was hosted in Bad Aussee, a rural community and historical literary getaway for writers such as Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. This year, six German and Austrian writers, including Franzobel, Walter Grond and Clemens Meyer, were featured during the three-day festival.

However, it is not only German-language art that is currently being showcased in Austria: the Festival Europa der Muttersprachen (Europe of Mother Tongues) invited Ukrainian filmmakers, photographers, musicians and writers—amongst whom was the highly celebrated author Jurij Andruchowytsch—to the Literaturhaus Salzburg. Earlier in April, more international artists and audiences had frequented the city for the Osterfestspiele, the Easter feature of the internationally renowned Salzburg festival for classical music and drama.