Liao Yiwu, author of The Corpse Walker and one of China’s “most exciting and most censored writers” is making his first U.S. appearance tomorrow night.
In and of itself, this is pretty cool—The Corpse Walker is a damn fine book, and he’s going to be appearing with Philip Gourevitch and Salman Rushdie—but the event has been made even more memorable since Liao Yiwu escaped from China to German this summer.
Here’s an email he sent out back in April:
Friends: I originally planned to leave for the United States on April 4 in order to make a publicity tour for my book God is Red which will be published in English translation by Harper Collins and for my book The Corpse Walker which was published by Random House. Unexpectedly, on March 28th, the police issued an order forbidding me to leave China. I had originally planned to travel to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington and other cities and to give lectures, readings and musical performances at Harvard, Yale and other universities as well as participate in the New York Literary Festival where I was to make a speech and perform, and to have a dialogue with writers from around the world on the theme “Contemporary Writer and Bearing Witness to History”. Now all this has been canceled. My new book is also going to be published in Australia. My plan to travel from the United States to Australia has also been canceled. Ever since my return from Germany last year, I have been closely monitored. The police have “invited me to drink tea” many times. My writing has been repeatedly interrupted. I have once again been forbidden to travel abroad for national security reasons. Over the last ten or so years I have strived to get the right to travel abroad 16 times. I succeeded once and failed 15 times. Thank you all for your concern for me over the years. Liao Yiwu
So if you’re in the NY area, you should definitely check this out. It’s taking place tomorrow, September 13th at 8pm at the Tishman Auditorium at the New School (66 W. 12th St., between 5th and 6th Aves). Tickets are $20 or $15 for PEN Members and students. More information—including a link to buy tickets—is available here.
The new issue of PEN America, PEN’s literary journal, came out during last week’s World Voices Festival. As always, it’s loaded with good stuff, including excerpts of Marcelo Figueras’s Kamatchka, Andrzej Sosnowski’s Lodgings, Herve Le Tellier’s erotic as hell The Sextine Chapel, and Quim Monzo’s Guadalajara. (BTW, the Monzo story, “Literature,” is absolutely amazing.)
Additionally, this issue contains a lot of pieces from the 48th Congress of International PEN, which took place back in 1986, and became the basis for this year’s Festival since it “explored how writers use their imagination naturally and gracefully to speak to one another across boundaries, and the way governments, too, are capable of using their vision to improve the world’s troubles.” Included in this issue are pieces by Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, John Barth, Salman Rushdie, Kobo Abe, Danilo Kis, Adam Zagajewski, Gunter Grass, Margaret Atwood, etc., etc. (Really looking forward to exploring all this.)
But the main reason I’m writing this post is to praise “The Good Books: A Forum.” Basically, this grew out of the idea that all the writers at the festival could bring a book they love and swap it with the Gideon Bible in the hotel where they were staying. (BTW, DO IT!!! This should become common practice among all.)
Instead, PEN put together this feature in which scads of authors recommended the one book they would bring to some sort of mythical “book swap.” The Book of Disquiet by Pessoa was recommended any dozen number of times, and Don Quixote got plugged a couple times. The whole list is interesting, but for obvious reasons, the one that caught my eye was Karen Russell’s The Ambassador:
Bragi Olafsson’s English language debut, The Ambassador, is the strange, hilarious, and brilliant story of Sturla Jon Jonsson, a building superintendent who also happens to be a venerated Icelandic poet. He’s on his way to Lithuania to represent his nation at a literary festival, opening the door for all kinds of scathingly funny insights into the “situation of the writer.” It’s a tricky book to paraphrase—boozy, literary Icelandic black comedy? Icelandic picaresque? No “elevator story” exists for it, according to the book’s publisher, the fabulous Open Letter. It’s unlike anything else out there, anda joy to read. Sturla gets into all sorts of jams over the course of this short, weird novel, from being accused of nicking his latest poetry collection from a dead cousin to losing his overcoat, the only piece of clothing with a high thread count that this starving artist has ever owned. Kafkaesque yuks and keen insight are brought to you by the badass genius translator Lytton Smith—one of my favorite poets and author of the acclaimed debut The All-Purpose Magical Tent—and he uses all his creativity and rigor here, as well as his deep knowledge of Icelandic culture. Sturla’s inimitable voice can now infuriate and delight an American crowd.
You can purchase your own copy of The Ambassador by clicking here, and you can get PEN America right here. (FYI: this post is so on top of things that the new issue isn’t even available for sale yet. But it should be up there momentarily.)
This is pretty last minute, but at 7pm tomorrow night (Tuesday) there’s an interesting PEN event going on at Cooper Union exploring violence in Mexico. AND because PEN loves YOU, they’re giving a special discount on tickets to Three Percent readers . . . (See details below.)
The State of Emergency: Censorship by Bullet in Mexico event will feature readings by Paul Auster, Calvin Baker, Don DeLillo, Laura Esquivel, Francine Prose, Jose Zamora, and poets Víctor Manuel Mendiola and Luis Miguel Aguilar. This will be followed by a conversation with Carmen Aristegui (CNN en Español), Rocio Gallegos (El Diario de Juárez), and José Luis Martínez (Milenio Diario); moderated by Julia Preston (The New York Times)
Because I’m actually in business class (Pricing Theory!) right now, I’m going to just copy PEN’s entire description:
At least eight journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2010 alone, and many more have been kidnapped, threatened, or disappeared. Still, in towns and cities throughout the country, journalists are daily defying Mexico’s “censorship by bullet” to expose critical truths. Renowned Mexican and American journalists and authors come together for an evening of readings and conversation to call attention to the silencing of Mexican journalists trying to investigate drug-related violence in their country, especially on the U.S./Mexico border.
What is the impact of soaring drug-related violence on freedom of expression and civil society in Mexico? Is the United States helping to promote or to counter the violence? What can human rights organizations and the international community do to confront criminal syndicates and other “non-state actors” that are operating with impunity in Mexico and around the world? Above all, what is it like to be a journalist in Mexico today, and what must be done to ensure that journalists can safely carry out their work?
Now for the Special Discount . . . General Admission tickets are $15, BUT if you buy these through the PEN site and use the special code “study,” your ticket will only be $7 . . . (I guess this post does sort of relate to business class . . . It would moreso if it involved “mixed bundling” or “market segmentation” or “margin contributions,” but whatever.)
This is pretty cool. Starting this month, PEN America is launching PEN Reads an online reading group allowing readers and authors to interact. And being PEN, they’re also going to include essays and commentary from prominent world authors, scholars, etc., etc.
The first book in the program is Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star (which is available from New Directions):
This haunting tale of love and pain, death and art, is widely viewed as the Brazilian author’s masterwork. Written shortly before her death, this slim novel boldly cracks open the riddles of daily existence and draws out glimmering bits of truth. Beautifully translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero, The Hour of the Star is a vivid reminder of the power of literature, and an affirmation of its ability to connect the seemingly disparate points of the human condition.
Lispector’s amazing, and I’m really looking forward to reading this and joining in the conversation . . . To get things started, PEN posted the opening section of the novel and an introductory essay by Colm Tóibín:
The Hour of the Star is like being brought backstage during the performance of a play and allowed odd glimpses of the actors and the audience, and further and more intense glimpses of the mechanics of the theatre—the scene and costume changes, the creation of artifice—with many interruptions by the backstage staff.
Nothing is stable in the text. The voice of the narrator moves from the darkest wondering about existence and God to almost comic wandering around his character—watching her, entering her mind, listening to her. He is filled with pity and sympathy for her case—her poverty, her innocence, how much she does not know and cannot imagine—but he is also alert to the the writing of fiction itself as an activity which demands tricks which he, the poor narrator, simply does not possess, or does not find useful. It is hard to decide who to feel more sorry for, Macabea or the narrator, the innocent victim of life, or the highly-self conscious victim of his own failure. The one who knows too little, or the one who knows too much.
The narrative moves from a set of broad strokes about character and scene, with throw-away moments and casual statements which sum up and analyse, to aphorisms about life and death and the mystery of time and God. It moves from a deep awareness about the tragedy of being alive to a sly allowance for the fact that existence is a comedy. The story is set both in a Brazil that is almost too real in the limit it sets on the characters’ lives and a Brazil of the mind and the imagination, made vast by the way in which words and images, and shifts of tone and texture, are deployed by Lispector in her mysterious swan-song.
And if you’re interested in more info on Lispector herself, you should definitely check out Ben Moser’s Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. Here’s a link to the first chapter and a link to a piece Ben wrote for Publishing Perspectives.
I feel like it’s been ages since I last posted anything new here . . . In my defense, it’s kind of tricky finding the time to come up with good material during a ten-day trip to Abu Dhabi, two panels (including the 2010 BTBA announcement), and an extended trip to New York. Two-and-a-half weeks of traveling is mentally exhausting.
I’m back in Rochester though, feeling more and more energized every sunny day that I can ride my bike to work, and ready to get back into all of this. Well, sort of. With the NCAA tournament starting in two hours, and a million-and-one things to catch up on, I think I need another day or so to get sorted. So instead of a number of thoughtful, well-put-together posts (as if that ever happens anyway), here’s a smattering of things:
In addition to a series of posts about the always interesting Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, we also have a few reviews coming up, including pieces on the new Peter Handke and Dubravka Ugresic titles.
Back on December 11th, Liu Xiabo was formally indicted by the Beijing Municipal Procuratorate for “inciting subversion of state power,” a charge that is often leveled against writers the Chinese government wishes to silence.
Here’s a bit more background info from PEN America:
Liu Xiaobo is a renowned literary critic, writer, and political activist based in Beijing. He served as President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center from 2003 to 2007 and currently holds a seat on its board. Liu Xiaobo was a professor at Beijing Normal University and has worked as a visiting scholar at several universities outside of China, including the University of Oslo, the University of Hawaii, and Columbia University in New York City.
Liu Xiaobo was formally arrested by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on June 23, 2009 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China that has been signed by hundreds of individuals from all walks of life throughout the country. His case was officially moved to the prosecutor’s office on December 8, 2009. He had been detained a year earlier, on December 8, 2008, and held for six months and two weeks under “residential surveillance” while police gathered evidence on his case. Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, was only been permitted to visit him twice, he did not have access to a lawyer and he was denied writing materials while detained at an undisclosed location in Beijing. Since his arrest, he has been held at the No. 1 Detention Center of Beijing City, where he has finally had access to his lawyers. If convicted of the subversion charge, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
To help bring more attention to Liu Xiaobo’s case, PEN has organized a click-and-send letter-writing campaign and petition signing. Just follow that link and look at the “Take Action” section to participate.
After briefly lamenting the fact that there’s not a lot of places to turn to to learn about/gain exposure to international poetry, I opened my mail and found the new issue of Rattapallax, which, along with CALQUE and Circumference, is one of the best sources for poetry in translation. This particular issue kicks off by featuring eleven Bengali poets . . .
Also arriving within the past few days is issue #11 of PEN America, which also has some great international content, including: an interview between Adam Gopnik and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, fiction by Alejandro Zambra (from Megan McDowell’s translation of The Private Lives of Trees, which cough cough, Open Letter is publishing in the spring, but isn’t credited for in the journal . . .), memoir from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and poetry by Liu Xiaobo (trans by Jeffrey Yang). (And a piece by Ed Park!)
The new issue of PEN America comes out next week, and to celebrate, PEN is throwing a launch party at Le Poisson Rouge that sounds like a lot of fun. Here’s the official details:
Celebrate “make believe“—and writers who make us believe in the worlds of their own creation—with PEN America, the award-winning literary magazine published by PEN American Center. Join recent contributors including Cynthia Cruz, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Lynne Tillman to toast the newest issue, “Make Believe.”
Paul Auster and Roxana Robinson will read.
Date: Monday, October 26, 2009
Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Location: Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY
FREE with cash bar
The issue sounds pretty interesting:
What do you believe? PEN America 11: Make Believe examines—through fiction, poetry, drama, essays, and conversations—the question of belief in all (or many) of its forms. Alesksandar Hemon, Cynthia Ozick, Lynne Tillman, and others imagine books they wish they (or someone else) had written; Sigrid Nunez invents an orphanage full of “rapture children”; and Rivka Galchen pretends to be Lydia Davis and Peter Altenberg. Plus new fiction from Brian Evenson and Roxana Robinson; poetry by Reza Baraheni, Marie Ponsot, and Liu Xiaobo; notes from a manifesto by David Shields—and much, much more.
You can find the complete table of contents by clicking here.
This is pretty cool:
Inspired by live translation slams that proved to be audience favorites at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, and again at PEN World Voices, PEN’s online Translation Slam aims to showcase the art of translation by juxtaposing in a public forum two “competing” translations of a single work.
For the inaugural installment, we asked translators to test their linguistic mettle on 暮色, a poem by Chinese writer Xi Chuan.
As you can see by comparing the two examples, there’s more than one way to skin a poem. Here’s the opening stanza of both:
Lucas Klein version:
in the vast expanses of a nation
the twilight is just as vast
lamp after lamp lights up
and twilight spreads out like the autumn
Wang Ping & Johann Hauser-Ulrich version:
In a vast country
Dusk, too, is vast
Lamps light up one by one
Dusk spreads like autumn
Be sure to visit the site to log your own reactions about these two translations.
In my opinion, Jan Kjaerstad’s The Conqueror is one of the best books we brought out in our first season. Compelling and engaging, with a brilliant over-arching structure, it’s a novel that’s very literary and very readable, and one that we were really hoping would take off. (Especially since this is part of a trilogy, and we’re bringing out the final part in the fall.)
Well, although there haven’t been a ton of reviews (yet), we’ve been getting a lot of comments from readers and booksellers about this book.
Karl Pohrt from Shaman Drum called me a while back to tell me how impressed he was with this novel. And since then, I’ve heard that one bookseller wrote a staff pick about how The Conqueror forced him to rewrite his “desert island” list. And just today we received a postcard from another New York store about how The Conqueror was a “amazing and wonderful reading experience.”
Back a couple months ago, we gave away a few galleys of this book. And earlier this week I heard from one winner about how effing good this book is . . .
It is the second part of a trilogy—the first part is The Seducer, which came out from Overlook a couple years ago—but the books really do stand alone. If you’d like to know more about the first volume, Michael Orthofer has a really comprehensive review at Complete Review.
I’m mentioning all this now, because we’re in the process of preparing Jan’s U.S. tour. He will be in New York for PEN World Voices, and in Rochester (with Mark Binelli, author of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!), and possibly a few other places as well. I’ll post all the details as soon as they’re finalized.
On Tuesday, February 24th, PEN America will put on the first ever event specifically for the magazine. If you’re not familiar with it, PEN America is definitely worth checking out. Lots of great fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama in every issue, including a number of pieces from international authors. (The most recent issue—“Checkpoints”—is all about literature in translation.)
The Global Correspondences event will feature Andre Aciman, Edward Albee, Anthony Appiah, Ron Chernow, Lydia Davis, Deborah Eisenberg, Nathan Englander, Janet Malcolm, Francine Prose, and Sarah Ruhl.
Tickets range from $12-$50, depending on if you’re a PEN Member or if you want to stay for the reception, and can be purchased here.
On Saturday, the NBCC announced the finalists for the series of awards they hand out every year. As always, all of the finalists are pretty strong, and there are two works in translation up for prizes. Bolano’s 2666 is a fiction finalist, and Pierre Martory’s The Landscapist is a poetry finalist.
I must say, I’m not entirely sure why the official listing of the NBCC site references John Ashbery as the translator of the Martory, but doesn’t list Natasha Wimmer as the translator of 2666. Probably an oversight, and not the only place where translator’s names tend to disappear (try looking through a publisher’s catalog some time and guessing whether certain books are translated or not), but still . . .
I was half-watching the live blog of this event, and liked Monica de la Torre’s comment that it was nice that 2666 was honored,
but had hoped that other books in translation would have received more attention in this year’s awards season as well. “There’s just so much out there!“ she exclaimed.
It’s also really cool that the PEN America Center is receiving the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof Life Achievement Award. Very cool and very deserving.
The new issue of PEN America arrived earlier this week and has a ton of interesting articles, interviews, fiction, and poetry.
The pieces by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed and Anya Ulinich look great, but the real highlight to me is the transcripts from some of the PEN World Voices events. There’s no way one can attend all the events he/she wants to during the festival, so it’s great that PEN makes the video/audio of many of the events available online and supplements that by printing some of the transcripts in this magazine.
For instance, this issue reprints the conversations with Peter Esterhazy and Wayne Koestenbaum, Jeffrey Eugenides and Daniel Kehlmann, and Albert Mobilio, Elias Khoury, and Nuruddin Farah.
Overall, it’s another great issue, and definitely worth the cover price.
I just got this e-mail from PEN America about their Freedom to Write program and a special event they’re hosting on August 7th in support of jailed Chinese dissidents. All the info is below, but the bottom-line is that PEN is seeking Chinese translators to help work on this project. The date is coming up quick, so anyone who’s interested should get in touch with Andrew Proctor asap.
The Freedom to Write program of PEN is looking for Chinese translators to help translate original work by Chinese dissidents and writers who are imprisoned or have been in the past. On August 7, 2008, PEN will be hosting an event called “Breaking Down the Great Firewall: Silenced Writers Speak on the Eve of the Olympics,” which will feature new and previously untranslated statements and writings by several of the jailed writers PEN is tracking, as well as other leading dissidents and members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, which is on the front lines of the struggle to expand freedom of expression in China. PEN will need help translating the 10-12 pieces of writing (averaging 3-6 pages in length) that will be used for the event, many of which may be political in nature. These pieces will include thoughts on the current state of free expression, experiences in prison and writing under the Great Firewall, and other statements by prominent writers.
Translators are welcome to work anoymously, if that is their preference. Translators will be offered free Associaite Membership in PEN and VIP seats at the event.
Please contact Andrew Proctor, Membership Director of PEN American Center, at aproctor at pen dot org or 212 334 1660 × 101.
I’m not sure, but I think non-PEN members can sign this as well:
Dear fellow PEN Members,
I am writing to ask each and every one of you to stand up and be counted in support of our campaign to free 38 writers and journalists from prison in China.
As part of our We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression campaign, PEN American Center will be delivering a petition to the Chinese Consulate in New York on April 30, 2008—100 days before the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies—requesting the release of our jailed colleagues and seeking an end to internet censorship and other restrictions on freedom of expression in China. We want to make sure the name of every single member of PEN American Center is included among the thousands of signatures we are gathering for this petition.
If you have not already done so, please take a moment right now to sign this petition: www.pen.org/chinapetition
Your efforts will make a difference. Since the launch of this campaign on December 10, 2007, four writers and journalists have been released from Chinese prisons.
Once you have signed, or if you have already have, please spread the word and urge 10 friends or family members to sign on as well. Simply direct them to: www.pen.org/chinapetition
If you would like to do more, also sign our parallel petition to United States Congress to prohibit U.S. internet companies from helping China censor the internet and jail cyber-dissidents. Visit our campaign page at: www.pen.org/china
With your help and the help of all who support literature and freedom to write, we will free many more of our jailed colleagues before the Olympic Games begin.
Thank you for joining in this effort.
bq. Francine Prose
The July-August issue of World Literature Today—a special issue entitled “Inside China”—is now out, with some of the articles available online.
It’s interesting to me that WLT is focusing on China. Recently, PEN America/Ramon Llull Institut released a special study on Globalization and Translation that included statistics on the number of books translated into English from around the world. As part of the study (which should be available online sometime soon, and when it is, we’ll definitely link to it), there were “Case Studies” from a number of different countries. Including China, which had this chilling statistic:
According to the national statistics, China produces about 110,000 new titles per year. [. . .] But the number of those new titles that were translated into other languages, as far as can be told from an extensive Internet search, was less than 100 titles for 2003. This means about 0.01% of Chinese books are being translated into other languages.
After hearing awful insular statistic after isolationist statistic, I didn’t think anything could shock me. But 0.01%?! Less than 100 titles translated into all other languages throughout the world! The only bright side is that there must be a ton of interesting Chinese titles available for an ambitious press to find . . .
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .