The NEA announced the recipients of this year’s translation fellowships yesterday, and, as always, there’s a number of interesting projects being supported. You can read about all of them here, and listed below are some of the ones that caught my eye:
Central Square, NY
To support the translation of experimental plays by German playwright Dea Loher. The writer and producer of 20 plays, Loher’s subject matter ranges from small-town life to international events as she explores themes of race, love, violence, and family. Though Loher is one of Germany’s most celebrated playwrights with plays translated into 27 languages, her work is virtually unknown in the United States.
To support the translation of Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger’s collection of short fiction, Bad Words. In these 22 prose pieces, normative reality is taken apart and reconstructed to create a language that uses only the “second best words,” as the title proclaims. Linguistically experimental and thematically absurd, Aichinger’s body of work has garnered more than 20 literary prizes and is vastly underrepresented in English. This translation will be the first to focus on her work from the 1960s.
Sylvia Lichun Lin
To support the translation from Chinese of The Lost Garden, a novel by Taiwanese author Li Ang. Exploring the interconnected themes of politics and gender, the novel chronicles a Taiwanese gentry family from the early days of the Nationalist government’s rule under Chiang Kai-shek to the present. Published in 1990, only three years after the lifting of martial law, The Lost Garden was the first novel to successfully portray a fictional account of the White Terror Era. Ang is considered one of the most prolific, daring, and innovative writers in the contemporary Chinese-language literary community.
To support a new translation from Urdu of Paigham Afaqui’s first novel, The House. Since its publication in 1989, Afaqui’s account of a young female landlord, Neera, and her predatory tenant, Kumar, has been a staple on reading lists in schools and universities across India. Literature in Urdu is particularly patriarchal, and Neera’s story draws a sharp contrast to that tradition and to the stereotypical roles placed on women in Indian society. In addition to writing and founding the Indian Academy of fiction, Afaqui is deputy commissioner of the Delhi Police.
To support the translation from Spanish of three works of contemporary fiction by Daniel Sada. Born in Mexico in 1953, Sada died in the fall of 2011 only hours after being awarded Mexico’s most prestigious literary honor, the National Prize for Arts and Sciences for Literature. His writing is infused with a passion for experimental storytelling, but the most pervasive theme in his work is language itself, specifically the viability and limitations of the Spanish language in contemporary Mexican culture.
To support the translation from Spanish of short fiction by contemporary Salvadoran author Claudia Hernández. These four short story collections, published from 2001-07, explore the brutal impact of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war and focus indirectly on the themes of displacement, desensitization, and fear. Garnering international praise, Hernández was the first Central American artist to win the Juan Rulfo Prize for short stories. In 2004, she was awarded the prestigious Anna Seghers prize, an annual award given to young authors in Germany and Latin America.
To support the translation of an anthology of short fiction by young Vietnamese writers, New Voices from Vietnam. All 19 authors included in this project are under the age of 35, and their work represents a culture and aesthetic that differs radically from previous generations of Vietnamese writers, reflecting stories from a vibrant culture racing through changes wrought by rapid modernization and globalization. There is a lack of contemporary Vietnamese prose represented in English, and this project offers an unprecedented collection.
Congrats to everyone!
I suspect most people reading this blog are familiar with Ira Silverberg already, either from his days at Serpent’s Tail, his role at CLMP, his stylish dressing and giving of great quote, or his time as an agent at Sterling Lord Literalistic. And I’m sure most everyone knows that he was recently named as the new literature director at the NEA. Regardless (or irregardless), the NEA posted an interview with Ira that’s definitely worth checking out:
NEA: What do you hope to accomplish while you’re at the NEA?
SILVERBERG: My goal is make sure our grantees in literary publishing—the non-profit presses and journals—are set up for the new digital age. There is a great deal of technical assistance needed to be a good publisher these days. Many of our grantees have grown up more as curators of great art—but getting it out in a difficult and changing publishing environment is a new part of the challenge. I hope that’s where the literature department can make a difference in the next few years.
NEA: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career to date?
SILVERBERG: Seeing the first copy of a book I’ve edited or represented as an agent always provokes a feeling of great pride. Working with great writers for so many years still provides a great thrill. What could be better than helping get their words out into the world? Having three clients—Adam Haslett, Christopher Sorrentino, and René Steinke—nominated for the National Book Award in fiction has been a thrill; seeing former child soldier Ishmael Beah hit number one on The New York Times bestseller list was one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in my life; and helping to secure publication in The New Yorker for clients like Gabe Hudson, David Bezmozgis, and Sam Lipsyte always makes me feel triumphant.
This is just fantastic news all around. I really like Ira, and I think he’ll be great for the NEA. Well done.
Washington, DC—The National Endowment for the Arts welcomes Ira Silverberg as its new director of literature on December 5, 2011. Silverberg brings 26 years of experience in book publishing and literary professions to the NEA. He has been a literary agent, editor, director of his own public relations firm, and a frequent guest speaker and panelist at literary events and organizations.
“I’m delighted to welcome Ira Silverberg to the National Endowment for the Arts,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “Ira brings a wealth and variety of expertise that will be of great value to the agency. The NEA’s already robust literary portfolio will benefit further from Ira’s skills and connections to both the national and international literary communities.”
As the director of literature, Silverberg will be responsible for managing a staff of four, assembling the application review panels that recommend NEA grants to organizations as well as fellowships to individual creative writers and translators. He will manage the grantmaking process with recipients including small presses, literary magazines, and national literary centers as well as oversee NEA initiatives such as The Big Read.
“I’m excited to take my experience in the private sector of publishing to serve the not-for-profit sector,” said Silverberg. “As the digitization of the book industry creates a new publishing ecosystem, we want grantees to be strong and ready for the challenge of this brave new world. It’s an exciting time in the literature field and I look forward to leading the charge at NEA’s Literature Office.”
Most recently Silverberg was a literary agent and director of foreign rights with Sterling Lord Literistic (SLL) in New York City. As an agent with SLL since January 2008, he managed a client list of award-winning fiction and nonfiction authors including Adam Haslett and Wayne Koestenbaum, placing works with U.S. and foreign publishers, executing contracts, and implementing digital strategies for new and backlist books. As director of foreign rights, he represented SLL’s full list to the foreign market, creating all marketing materials and digital strategies and negotiating contracts.
From September 1998 to December 2008, Silverberg was with Donadio and Olsen also as a literary agent and director of foreign rights. Previous to Donadio and Olsen, he served as editor-in-chief with Grove Press, and U.S. publisher and co-editorial director for Serpent’s Tail, a British publishing company that he brought to the U.S.
Silverberg’s experience in public relations spans 11 years, including five years as director of public relations for Grove Press and Grove/Weidenfeld, and more than six years leading his own public relations firm Ira Silverberg Communications.
Silverberg has served on the boards of PEN American Center, the Portable Lower East Side, The Gregory Kolovakos Award for AIDS Writing, and the Accompanied Literary Society. He has also been a panelist with the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Wallace Fund, and the Mellon Foundation.
Silverberg replaces Jon Parrish Peede who left the agency in September 2011 to pursue his own writing.
Continuing in our day of prize announcements, this morning the NEA released info on this year’s Translation Fellowships. The NEA awarded $200,000 in grant money to 16 translators—many of whom I know personally—for a wide range of projects.
This is always one of the most exciting announcements of the granting season [sic—I don’t know if two awards constitute a “season” but still] for me, since it’s exciting to see so many excellent translators and good friends receive these rather generous awards (recipients receive either $12,500 or $25,000), and there’s always at least 3 or 4 projects that I’d like to publish, or at least read.
Here’s the full list of winners and descriptions of their projects. Bios of the translators can be found here.
I only found out about this recently, but I’m really impressed with Art Works, the blog of the National Endowment for the Arts. Great way to highlight works of art, artists, and artistic organizations—and the interviews are remarkably perceptive.
The most recent addition is this interview with translator Charlotte Mandell, which focuses on her translation of Mathias Enard’s Zone, the somewhat infamous 517-page, one-sentence novel that we’ll be bringing out in December. (And which will be excerpted in the next issue of N+1.) Zone is absolutely amazing (see this excerpt), and Charlotte’s translation (which was awarded a NEA Translation Fellowship) is equally brilliant.
Anyway, here are a few excerpts from the interview:
NEA: Zone offers a unique challenge with its one-sentence format. Why did you decide to take on this translation?
MANDELL: There’s nothing else like it out there! Especially not in French. One of my favorite novels is Joyce’s Ulysses, and Zone reminds me a little of that, and a little of another of my favorites, Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, with some Apollinaire and Burroughs and Pound thrown in for good measure. Translating a 500-page sentence combines the creativity of translating poetry with the challenge of translating difficult prose. Zone is narrated on a train, and it has the rhythmic, slightly lulling feeling of being on a train, but it also has a sense of urgency and inevitability in French that I wanted to recreate in English. I loved the continuity and flow of the text, and I really loved the experience of translating it—I was always mid-sentence, no matter where I stopped for the day! I never read ahead when I translate, so I was always wondering what was going to happen next in the story. Translating Zone was one of the most enjoyable translation experiences I’ve ever had. [. . .]
NEA: How is the work of the translator and the writer similar; how is it different?
MANDELL: That’s such a good question! No one has ever asked me that before. All translators have to be writers, since we’re basically re-creating the text in another language, and in order for it to be convincing and authentic-sounding the translator has to be a good writer. Conversely, all writers are really translators too, since they’re translating their thoughts and ideas into words on the page. While I think it’s true that all texts lose something in the translation, I think they also gain something in being rendered in a different language: take Baudelaire’s translations of Poe, for instance, which sound so much better in French than the original poems, or Beckett’s translations of his own work, which are masterpieces of English.
Translating is different from writing in that the translator has the text already ready to hand; our task is to recreate that same text in our own language, just as the writer’s task was to create that text in his/her own language. The translator’s challenge is to make sure the translation never sounds like “translationese”—like something that has been translated from another language. It should sound as original and new in the translation as it did in the original.
Complete descriptions of all sixteen funded projects can be found here, but in addition to the projects E.J. mentioned—Charlotte Mandell’s translation of Mathias Enard’s Zone and Martha Tennent’s translation of Merce Rodoreda’s stories—below are a few of the others that caught my eye (with all descriptions from the NEA website unless noted):
And here’s the list of all the other recipients:
Diane Arnson Svarlien
Tina A. Kover
Congratulations to everyone—this is a great group of translators and a great group of projects.
I’ve written before about how excellent the books/art coverage is at Bloomberg.com, and how much this surprises me. (It shouldn’t, I know.) Still, when I came across this editorial by Jeremy Gerard about the new NEA chairman Rocco Landesman, I assumed it would be some sort of anti-arts funding diatribe . . . but no!
[Landesman] told the Times that he has a new slogan for the agency: “Art Works.” The phrase, he said, is “something muscular that says, We matter.” As in: We matter “as an economic driver,” the Times explained.
Those words make Landesman seem less like a game-changer than someone versed in a tired and dubious argument that goes like this: The arts should be funded because they generate income by providing jobs and supporting ancillary businesses, as when people attending concerts or Broadway shows hire babysitters, go out to dinner, park in garages and so forth.
If that’s the criterion for funding, however, the NEA should just support the Broadway producers and movie studios that employ the most people and sell the most tickets. They “work” on an economic level. Even there, however, it’s a flawed argument, because the numbers will never match those of businesses — legal, financial, service — that also provide customers for garages and restaurants, and in much greater numbers.
Market-driven culture is all well and good, but it’s not what John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had in mind when they laid the groundwork for a federal agency dedicated to the arts. They supported creativity that isn’t beholden to a bottom line. Not every artist will be Isaac Stern or Meryl Streep or Jennifer Bartlett, but for each one who makes it into the mainstream, a hundred more are struggling to move the form forward, creating a cultural identity. The payoff for encouraging them will rarely be measurable in economic terms.
So here’s a different strategy for the arts endowment. Take a leaf from the Broadway producers’ playbook. Create a public-private alliance to fund the NEA so it can really begin making the arts central to the lives of all Americans. Commercial producers pay publicly subsidized companies to get new shows on their feet before taking the plunge on Broadway. Such commingling used to be verboten; now it’s business-as-usual.
I say, do it on a grand scale. Just three commercial cultural industries — Hollywood studios, the recording industry and Broadway — together generate $20 billion in domestic sales annually, according to their trade associations. A minimally invasive tax of one-half of 1 percent would instantly add $100 million to the NEA’s coffers. [. . .]
Drop the motto, Rocco. Art matters, period.
I’m not sure how well something like this would work (although I am sure that every one of those industries would complain about such a tax, as would numerous Republican congresspeople), but it’s an interesting idea worth exploring. And any proposal that wants to make “arts central to the lives of all Americas” is cool with me.
From the NY Times article after he was confirmed:
But in his first sit-down interview since his nomination by President Obama, Mr. Landesman’s comments suggested that he may nevertheless raise hackles on Capitol Hill after he is sworn in in the next few days. Speaking recently in his office above the St. James Theater on West 44th Street, where Tony Awards abut baseball trophies — testament to his prowess as a producer and as a pitcher in the Broadway Show League — Mr. Landesman, 62, made clear that he has little patience for the disdain with which some politicians still seem to view the endowment, more than a decade after the culture wars that nearly destroyed it.
He was particularly angered, he said, by parts of the debate over whether to include $50 million for the agency in the federal stimulus bill, citing the comment by Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in February, that arts money did not belong in the bill. That kind of thinking suggests that “artists don’t have kids to send to college,” Mr. Landesman said, “or food to put on the table, or medical bills to pay.”
In American politics generally, he added: “The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay.”
And while he praised the way recent endowment chairmen have carefully rebuilt the agency’s political standing, Mr. Landesman — who is known more as an independent entrepreneur than as a diplomatic company man — said he was not planning to follow too closely in their footsteps. While Dana Gioia, his immediate predecessor, made a point of spreading endowment funds to every Congressional district, for example, Mr. Landesman said he expected to focus on financing the best art, regardless of location.
“I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” he said, referring to two of Chicago’s most prominent theater companies. “There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit.”
“And frankly,” he added, “there are some institutions on the precipice that should go over it. We might be overbuilt in some cases.”
Oh, Peoria. Poor, poor Peoria. First you can’t even get a heartless corporate giant to name your minor league stadium and then you get picked on in the New York Times. The world is not just.
But seriously, this guy sounds like he’s going to screw with the status quo, which will make a lot of people nervous, may well backfire, or could help out the organizations that most need it. (cough Open Letter produces high quality art cough) Regardless, sounds like arts orgs are going to be in for a bit of a ride . . . and arts reporters should have some good material for the next few years.
Here are some of the other salient points from the article:
Mr. Landesman does believe that the agency should be “perceived as being everywhere,” he said. “But I don’t know that we have to be everywhere if the only reason for supporting an institution is its geography.”
On the subject of the endowment’s budget, too, Mr. Landesman did not hold back. Though he would not put a dollar figure on his own fiscal goals, he called the current appropriation of $155 million “pathetic” and “embarrassing.” And he seemed to imply dissatisfaction with increases proposed by Congress and by the president, which both fall short of the agency’s 1992 budget of $176 million.
I can think of a few other four-letter words for the size of the NEA budget, most of which end with “Republican.”
As for grants to individual artists — which were eliminated in 1996 after years of complaints from conservative legislators about the financing of controversial art — Mr. Landesman said he would reinstate them “tomorrow” if it were up to him. (It’s up to Congress.)
And most interesting:
He was less clear about the details of this ambitious agenda, though he talked about starting a program that he called “Our Town,” which would provide home equity loans and rent subsidies for living and working spaces to encourage artists to move to downtown areas.
“When you bring artists into a town, it changes the character, attracts economic development, makes it more attractive to live in and renews the economics of that town,” he said. “There are ways to draw artists into the center of things that will attract other people.”
As someone about to move to a decayed downtown, I’m all for this. Maybe he can find some funding (I think a million or so will do it) to buy all of downtown Detroit and make it into a artist utopia . . .
U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, joined by 50 fellow congressional Republicans, has fired off a scathing letter to the head of a federal arts agency, expressing outrage that taxpayer money went to groups that produce “objectionable and obscene movies, plays and exhibitions.”
Moreover, the Ocala Republican and the other GOP signers also demanded that the National Endowment for the Arts, or NEA, explain how some of the millions of dollars in stimulus money it received wound up in the pockets of these groups. The government, Stearns added, should get the money back immediately.
The NEA made more than 600 direct grants totaling almost $30 million to myriad recipients – including dance troupes, opera and acting companies, museums, symphonies, literary groups and local governments with arts programs – across the country.
is a moron represents portions of Marion, Alachua and surrounding counties, cited some examples of this “obscene” art that will most definitely impact his constituency . . . which I (probably wrongly) assume is aged and not that into San Francisco theater:
Frameline film house in San Francisco, which received $50,000. The group’s films include “Thundercrack,” which was described as “the world’s only underground kinky porno horror film, complete with four men, three women and a gorilla.”
CounterPulse, another San Francisco group that reaped $25,000. The dance company, according to Stearns’ letter, used the grant to fund a weekly production called “Perverts Put Out,” characterized as a “pansexual performance series” that invites people to join their fellow “pervs for some explicit fun.”
Jess/Curtis Gravity Inc., another dance group from San Francisco that also got $25,000. Stearns highlighted one of their productions called the Symmetry Project, which entailed “nude couples, including children, (that) are mounted on each other in various poses.”
There’s never a good response to people like this. The fact that $100,000 total went to three productions that Stearns will never see pales in comparison to the what, trillions (is googles a value?) of dollars spent on our various wars which actually do impact peoples lives without their consent.
And that’s what really has me pissed about this particular NEA attack. These productions serve a very specific audience. Hell, most artistic endeavors funded by the government are for a rather limited group of self-selected people. It’s not like “Perverts Put Out” is going to replace fucking Dora the Explorer on Nick Jr. or anything.
So Mr. Stearns: Let the Perverts have their fun and get back to focusing on horse breeding, or whatever it is your constituency actually cares about.
And Fox News—who kicked this all off by contacting Stearns for a comment—why don’t you go lose a few hundred more million dollars and put yourself out of business.
The National Endowment for the Arts just announced some of the highlights from its 2008 “Survey of Public Participation in the Arts,” and the results, well, aren’t very encouraging. Here are just some of the gloomy findings:
There are persistent patterns of decline in participation for most art forms. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. adults – or an estimated 78 million – attended an art museum or an arts performance in the 2008 survey period, compared with about 40 percent in 1982, 1992, and 2002.
Aging audiences are a long-term trend. Performing arts attendees are increasingly older than the average U.S. adult (45). The aging of the baby boom generation does not appear to account for the overall increase in age.
Audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before. In 1982, jazz concerts drew the youngest adult audience (median age 29). In the 2008 survey, the median age of jazz concert-goers was 46 – a 17-year increase. Since 1982, young adult (18-24) attendance rates for jazz and classical music have declined the most, compared with other art forms.
College-educated audiences (including those with advanced degrees and certifications), have curbed their attendance in nearly all art forms.
The one bright spot (maybe not necessarily for a book publisher, but still, arts participation is arts participation) is the findings about the internet:
About 70 percent of U.S. adults went online for any purpose in 2008 survey, and of those adults, nearly 40 percent used the Internet to view, listen to, download, or post artworks or performances.
Thirty percent of adults who use the Internet, download, watch, or listen to music, theater, or dance performances online at least once a week. More than 20 percent of Internet-using adults view paintings, sculpture, or photography at least once a week.
At least the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior approved a bill setting the FY2010 NEA budget at $170 million—an increase of $15 million over the current budget. Of course, this is still $6 million lower than the 1992 high water mark of $176 million . . . which would actually be $270 million in 2009 dollars.
It still has to be approved by Congress, but Rocco Landesman has been appointed to serve as the next chairman of the NEA, a post most recently held by poet Dana Gioia.
I’m not much of a theatre-goer, so Landesman is new to me. Based on the info in the New York Times article, he sounds like a lot of fun:
Mr. Landesman, who would fill the post vacated by Dana Gioia, is expected to lobby hard for more arts money. But he is not famous for his skills as an administrator or diplomat. Rather, he is known for his energy, intellect and irreverent — and occasionally sharp-elbowed — candor.
In 2000, for example, he caused a stir by accusing nonprofit theaters of being too much like their commercial counterparts. And, as a producer of “The Producers,” Mr. Landesman created the controversial $480 premium ticket to combat scalpers.
And I love Tony Kushner’s over the top comment:
“It’s potentially the best news the arts community in the United States has had since the birth of Walt Whitman,” said the playwright Tony Kushner. “He’s an absolutely brilliant and brave and perfect choice for the job.”
Now let’s just hope that he keeps (or increases) the core funding for nonprofit publishing, audience development, and translation in place . . . Gioia created a lot of new literary initiatives that, although most didn’t directly fund publishers or writers, funneled a lot of endowment money into the “literature” category. I have to admit that I’m sort of worried about a discipline backlash, with literature money being redirected towards other arts . . . which is a chairman’s prerogative, but for the sake of nonprofit literature, hopefully the core funding available for presses like Open Letter remains unchanged. (This is probably a needless fear.)
As announced on the NEA site yesterday, Copper Canyon will receive $117,000 to support the translation, publication, and promotion, of a bilingual anthology of Chinese poets born after 1945.
This publication is part of the International Literary Exchanges, which started in 2006 and are a joint partnership between the NEA and a foreign government. In addition to this volume (which is due out in spring 2011), the General Administration of Press and Publication in China will publish a companion volume featuring contemporary U.S. poets.
In terms of Copper Canyon’s anthology:
[It] will be edited by award-winning poet and editor Qingping Wang, who also will write the introduction to the volume. The anthology will be co-translated by noted Chinese literature scholars and translators Howard Goldblatt and his wife, Sylvia Li-chun Lin, who jointly received the American Translators Association Translation of the Year award in 1999 for their translation of Notes of a Desolate Man by Taiwanese novelist Chu T’ienwen.
Congrats to Copper Canyon, and this should be an interesting publication. It’s a nice chunk of change, which ensures that the contributors and translators will be properly compensated, and that there will be plenty of money for marketing and promoting the anthology. I dream of getting something like this someday so that we can do all that we want to do for one of our books, without having to cut corners because of costs and budgets and whatever.
According to the site:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $50 million to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn. Forty percent of such funds will be distributed to State arts agencies and regional arts organizations and 60 percent of the funds will be competitively awarded to nonprofit organizations that meet the eligibility criteria being established for this program.
Individual organizations looking to apply have to act fast—the deadline is April 2nd. These grants are “for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts,” and the projects are limited to:
Salary support, full or partial, for one or more positions that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and that are in jeopardy or have been eliminated as a result of the current economic climate; and/or
Fees for previously engaged artists and/or contractual personnel to maintain or expand the period during which such persons would be engaged.
Full details on how to apply can be found here.
This past Monday, the National Endowment for the Arts released some promising findings about the reading habits of Americans, showing that for the first time in 25 years, the percentage of adults reading literature increased over the previous study. (Studies have been done five times since 1982, which is why this phrasing is somewhat peculiar.)
To be more specific about the increase, in 2002, 46.7% of adult Americans read a novel, play, poem, or short story over the past year. In the most recent study, that percentage has jumped to 50.2%.
As Motoko Rich points out in her NY Times article, a lot of people jumped on the last study for “criticizing the study for too narrowly defining reading by focusing on the literary side, and for not explicitly including reading that occurred online.”
In terms of this study, outgoing chairman Dana Gioia said “that Internet reading was included in the 2008 data, although the phrasing of the central question had not changed since 1982. But he said he did not think that more reading online was the primary reason for the increase in literary reading rates overall.”
Instead, he points to the popularity of Harry Potter, the Twilight series, and the like, along with the NEA’s own Big Read initiative, (headed by the ever-enthusiastic, David Kipen) as causes of this increase. (No mention of the role Open Letter books have played in increasing American readership, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight.)
Here are some specific findings from this new study:
The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.
Since 2002, reading has increased at the sharpest rate (+20 percent) among Hispanic Americans, Reading rates have increased among African Americans by 15 percent, and among Whites at an eight percent rate of increase.
Fiction (novels and short stories) accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers.
Reading poetry and drama continues to decline, especially poetry-reading among women.
Nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.
In a world of mergers, downsizing, and shitty sales, it’s nice to get some news that’s at least a little encouraging.
It can be tricky reviewing an anthology. Especially a general anthology that strives to introduce the literature of a particular country or region, since in an attempt to be all-encompassing, these anthologies can seem too diffuse, without anything linking the included pieces.
When I first picked up Sun, Stone, and Shadows I was pleasantly surprised by two things: the quality of the authors included (more below) and the way these stories were grouped into five distinct sections. These sections—“The Fantastic Unreal,” “Scenes from Mexican Reality,” “The Tangible Past,” “The Unexpected in Everyday, Urban Life,” and “Intimate Imagination”—are good guideposts for readers and useful for introducing some of the overarching themes and styles found in Mexican literature.
One of the other things that’s interesting about this book is that it’s published by the Fondo de Cultura Economica in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program and was also published in a Spanish version. As a result, this anthology will be the basis of two Big Read programs in the U.S. (both in Texas) and two programs in Mexico (including one in Ciudad Juarez, which, after reading 2666 totally freaks me out). According to the NEA press release this is in the tradition of the Big Read Russia and Big Read Egypt. Hopefully this aspect of the Big Read will continue to expand, both in terms of the countries involved, and in supporting Big Read events around the country that are based around these international titles.
In terms of the actual anthology, the authors included are a hit-list of some of the biggest names of Mexican literature: Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Salvador Elizondo, Juan Rulfo, Rosario Castellanos, Jorge Ibarguengoitia, Juan Garcia Ponce, Sergio Pitol, and Jose Emilio Pacheco, in addition to eleven more. It would’ve been nice to include some younger Mexican writers, but the editors decided to restrict this to writers born between 1887 and 1939, providing a decent range of material that fits nicely with the overall scope of the Big Read.
As someone who reads a lot of Latin American literature, I was already familiar with the work of most of these authors, although on several occasions, the stories included in this anthology were new to me. What I particularly appreciated about this book was that authors like Ibarguengoitia (who was published in that Avon mass market series of Latin American authors that came out in the 80s) and Elizondo (whose bizarre, yet captivating Farabeuf came out from Garland Press in the mid-eighties) are included here. Both are somewhat “risky” authors, whose work is pretty unconventional.
For instance, the Elizondo story included is “History According to Pao Cheng,” which is a metafictional piece in the vein of Cortazar’s “Continuity of Parks.” In “Pao Cheng,” a philosopher is sitting by the edge of a stream contemplating the flow of history and imagining life to come for several millennia, until he focuses on a particular moment, a particular city, and a particular man.
“The man is writing a story,” he said to himself. Pao Cheng read once again the words written on the pages. “The story’s title is History According to Pao Cheng, and it’s about a philosopher of ancient times who one day sat at the edge of a stream and began to ponder . . . Then I am but a memory of this man, and if this man should forget me, I shall die! . . .”
Another of my personal favorites is the absurd story “The Switchman” by Juan Jose Arreola—an author I wasn’t previously aware of but whom Jorge Luis Borges said “could have been born anywhere, and in any century.” “The Switchman” is about a strange train station and a man’s attempt to get to his destination.
“This part of the world is famous for its railroads, as you know. Up to now, we haven’t been able to work out all the details, but we’ve done wonders with the printing of timetables and the promotion of tickets. The railroad guidebooks criss-cross every populated area of the country; tickets are being sold to even the most insignificant and out-of-the-way whistle-stops. All we have to do now is to make the trains themselves conform to the indicated schedules—actually get the trains to their stations. That’s what people hereabouts are hoping for; meanwhile, we put up with the irregularities of the service, and our patriotism keeps us from any open display of annoyance.”
Overall, this is a solid anthology that will fit nicely into the Big Read program. I’m not sure if this book will be stocked in bookstores (hopefully it will be, but I’m not sure how FCE is distributed in the U.S.), but it is available through Amazon, and with a list price of $10, it’s a great bargain.
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