Quick Hits for Dec. 8: Nobel, Bulgaria, and NYT

Quick Hits for Dec. 8

A click in time…

Nobel Talk:  This year’s Nobel winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, has written an beautifully affecting speech in response to being awarded the prize.  Addressing politics, his love of books and the influence of French culture on his literary life, it comes down to building communities that educate and appreciate readers.  He heralds many classic writers which, unfortunately, seems to have gone out of fashion with the younger cadre of writers coming out of writing programs.  I had recently finished Llosa’s book, Letters to a Young Novelist(can you believe they have already put the Nobel seal on the cover?), and it delves deeper into his influences and his approach to writing.  For sheer inspiration and just getting down to what counts, the culture of reading and writing, this speech is empowering and insightful.  Print it out and read it all at once or break it down into little contemplative segments. 

Bulgarian Writers Get Some Love : I think this is really cool.  Three Percent and The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation have joined forces to promote Bulgarian literature through a contest for writers and translators.  The announced the winners recently and here is a slice of the press release:

Open Letter Books and The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation are proud to
announce the inaugural winners of two contests supporting Bulgarian
literature: Milen Rouskov won the first Contest for Contemporary
Bulgarian Writers for his novel Thrown into Nature, and Zdravka Evtimova won the Contest for Translators.

“What the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is doing for Bulgarian
literature is remarkable,” said Open Letter publisher Chad W. Post. “The
support they’re giving to Bulgarian writers—through the Sozopol Fiction
Seminars and these contests—goes a long way to helping bring
contemporary Bulgarian literature to the attention of readers throughout
the world.”

Milen Rouskov’s Thrown into Nature will be published by
Open Letter in the fall of 2011. The novel is an ironic, humorous book
set in sixteenth-century Spain and tells the story of Dr. Nicolas
Monardes, whose treatise “Of the Tabaco and His Great Vertues” was
partially responsible for introducing tobacco to Europe. Da Silva—Dr.
Monardes’s assistant—narrates the novel and the absurd adventures of Dr. Monardes, who attempts to cure all ills through the “power of tobacco,”
until it becomes painfully clear that tobacco isn’t the perfect

As a result of winning the Contest for Translaltors, Zdravka Evtimova
will spend three weeks in Rochester, NY, working with Open Letter on
her translation of Master Mille’s Living Light and Other Stories
by Boyan Biolchev and learning about the U.S. publishing industry. An
author in her own right, Evtimova has also translated several English
novels into Bulgarian (including Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved) and Bulgarian stories into English.

New York Times States the Obvious:   And I am not necessarily complaining.  Yes, works in translation are woefully neglected by big publishing and mainstream media.  Just had to add a bit of snark to this revelation from the NYT, which most of us involved in the world of international literature have long been grieving over.  The article is a good one, with salient points and good quotes from leaders in the world of translation and international literature.  I do take issue, however, that there seems to be the lingering implication that until the big publishing houses catch on, works in translation are destined to virtual anonymity by being sequestered to the ‘small publishing houses’ like Dalkey Archive:

But for work from other regions, in other genres, winning the interest
of big publishing houses and readers in the United States remains a
steep uphill struggle. 

This by no means lessens the work of the writers, translators and publishers.  It speaks more to the economics of the American publishing industry and the lackluster commitment to creating a global literary culture.  Mr. Rohter, who wrote the article, defends the need for publishers and readers to seek out these works from other countries.  Stating that the cultural institutions have made it a priority to promote writers form their own countries in the United States is a financially challenging task, this fact does lend itself to wondering how access to global literature would change our society if we took more of a global approach to publishing so the success and promotion of a great book wasn’t solely left in the hands of the bigger publishers.

Don’t forget to shop the Holiday Gift Guide!

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