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From Orwell to ‘Little Mermaid,’ Kuwait steps up book banning

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

No book, it seems, is too substantive or too insignificant to be banned in Kuwait. Recent targets of the government’s literary censors include an encyclopedia with a picture of Michelangelo’s David and a Disney version of “The Little Mermaid.”

David had no fig leaf, and the mermaid, alas, wore half a bikini.

“There are no hijab-wearing mermaids,” said Shamayel al-Sharikh, a Kuwaiti women’s activist. “The powers that be thought her dress was promiscuous. It’s humiliating.”

Kuwaitis like to think of their country as an enclave of intellectual freedom in the conservative Persian Gulf, a haven that once welcomed exiled Arab writers. But that self-image is becoming harder to sustain.

Responding to the demands of a growing conservative bloc in Parliament, the government is increasingly banning books.

In August, the government acknowledged that it had banned 4,390 books since 2014, hundreds of them this year, including many works of literature that had once been considered untouchable, setting off street demonstrations and online protests.

Read more at the New York Times link here

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Poetry: Shopping for Pomelos by Robert Flinn

Shopping for Pomelos by Robert Flinn

Robert Flinn holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing  in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Languages at Zaman University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he teaches various English courses as well as Business and Professional Communications.

He is also the director of the university writing center. His poems travel across a wide spectrum of social commentary and popular culture and often speak to injustice and the under-represented.

His previous poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Asian Signature Review, Atom Mind, Microkosmos and The Beacon, as well as on the debut CD of touring band ULU.


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Book Review: Reclamation Song by Jhilmil Breckenridge

Reclaiming the Power of the Feminine

Reviewed by Soni Somarajan

Reclamation Song cover

Title: Reclamation Song
Author: Jhilmil Breckenridge
Publisher: Red River
Pages: (Paperback) 100
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Holding Reclamation Song in my hands is sheer joy – here, at last, is a book of poetry made beautifully, an object of art in itself. Much thought is given to the cover design, the choice of paper, and the font – in this case, a Fell Type. The publisher, Red River, seems to have insight into how poets would love their books to be designed, evocative of the content as well as the fine delicateness of poetry itself. Thanks to Jhilmil Breckenridge, the poet who is also a painter, the illustrations in the book complement a poetic landscape that refuses to wear off days after.

The 55 poems in Reclamation Song are anything but ‘let it be light, it should float’ kind that Jhilmil aspires to, because the personal tragedy and anguish – the crux anchoring this collection – is of an enormous scale. The verse may be light but the effect is anything but floating, the weight of angst becoming our own – threatening to undo the objectivity of a review. For a debut collection, it has everything going for it – including a glowing introduction by the Master himself, Keki Daruwalla, who terms it ‘solid poetry grounded in pain’. Also, add a cluster of luminous blurbs from the who’s who in the world of letters.

Divided into three sections, we can easily say the first, “Overtures” hinges on the autobiographical – a diverse terrain: separation from children, graveyards, being born dusky, the mother’s influence, a lost childhood, abuse, longing, meeting expectations, and relationship dynamics. One begins to picture a comfortable couch, each poem a session of opening up – the release of the memories, vulnerability subject to public gaze, the poetry an attempt in and becoming the catharsis.

In “Letter to Liam”, notice the contrast between ‘I feared for your life and I let go’ and the delicateness of ‘grass and the daisies’. We focus on the poet’s earnest efforts for control over the turn of events as recalled from memory, the loss of her children. In the light of past events, note the second stanza’s ‘I love you more than words can express’ escalating into a superlative trope, ‘like an endless daisy chain’ – the mother’s love rendered in an unusually higher register, disguising a scream of helplessness. In “Love and Other Stories”, love of another kind, bruised by life’s experiences, comes full circle, inwards: ‘So now the safest place for my heart/ is with me. It beats a triumphant song…’

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Guy Davenport’s translation of Mao

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

In 1979, Guy Davenport’s second book of “stories” appeared: Da Vinci’s Bicycle. He was fifty-one. I put quotation marks around the word stories because almost nothing happens in any of them. When they’re good, they’re good for other reasons. 

Davenport was a disciple of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, and like everyone answering that description, he was a supreme crank. The main problem with all of these guys is that they vastly overestimate the value of literary allusion. And I know all about it, ’cuz I was ruined in my youth by these lizard-eating weirdos. Davenport certainly did his part.

They were all brilliant. They could write sentences that stick with you forever. Most people never write even one; these guys could practically cut them off by the yard. Yet, none of ’em knew when to stop. They always, always got carried away. My hypothesis is that too much of their motivation for writing was to enshrine their crankitudes. They were always trying to get away with something.

Zoom in on Davenport. Let me ask you: How much Chinese do you suppose he knew? I think the smart money is on “very little.” He probably knew about as much as I do—which is to say, as much as can be learned from one semester of study, augmented by the eager observation of one or two native speakers reciting a handful of classic poems. 

But a supreme crank knows how to exploit every little drop of whatever he or she knows. Davenport, who really did know all about poetic meter in English, must have listened very actively when he got somebody to recite Li Bai (or whomever) to him. Davenport knew what he was not hearing. Chinese meter was not about vowel quantity, nor stressed and unstressed syllables. What Chinese poetry almost certainly sounded like to him was clusters of five syllables, all of them stressed. That’s what mile after mile of Tang- and Song-Dynasty poetry sounds like to an English speaker.

Armed with this thought, he did a translation of a famous poem by Mao Zedong. The form of his translation is unique in American letters: The text is set up as quatrains (that’s normal enough), but the individual lines have only three syllables each. Davenport knew that this did not accurately reflect the original Chinese, but—and this is where the brilliance comes in—it does get across (like nothing else available in English) the collapsed syntax and staccato pacing of classical shi poetry.

Read more at the Paris Review link here


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Workshops: Singapore Book Council’s October workshops

SBC

1. Good, Clean Copy – How good editing can make you a great writer

1 OCTOBER 2018 (Mon) | 9:30AM – 5:30PM

Truman Capote famously said: “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” In fact, many great writers refer to the editing stage as “where the real work happens.” The fine art of editing really can make good writing great and time and time again proves the old adage that less really is more. This workshop looks at distilling and crystallizing your writing to make it shorter, sharper and – most importantly – better. The workshop will include practical exercises and will teach you a number of tried and tested editing techniques. As Dr Seuss says: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who want to develop a disciplined approach to their work and gain an understanding of the importance and effectiveness of good editing.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/good-clean-copy-how-good-editing-can-make-you-a-great-writer#discount

 

2. The New Self-Publishing – How the entrepreneurial writer can challenge publishing’s status quo

2 OCTOBER 2018 (Tue) |  9:30AM – 5:30PM

There has never been a better time to be a writer; the power balance is shifting away from the traditional gatekeepers, the commercial publishers, and back into the hands of the writers. The traditional publishing process is fast becoming known as ‘legacy publishing’ and the canny writer is reinventing themselves as an entrepreneur with a significant digital presence. As part of this revolution, self-publishing has been reborn and is now a force to be reckoned with. Done properly, the new self-publishing allows the writer to carefully cultivate their audience and deliver a book to them that is a hotly anticipated product, rather than just being a small cog in the machine of the very speculative process that is traditional publishing. But it’s crucial to get this right. This workshop will look at taking advantage of this publishing revolution and avoiding any pitfalls that might come your way.

Suitable for: Writers of any experience level, from both fiction and non-fiction, who are new to self-publishing and who have a specific publishing project in mind.

Trainer: Simon Clews – Simon is in great demand as a writing coach and has delivered training around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, the UK, Thailand and Hong Kong. Prior to that he ran the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for fourteen years, as well as a slew of other literary events, including Writers at Como, Writers at the Convent, Stories Alive and Crime & Justice.

Register here or https://academy.bookcouncil.sg/courses/detail/the-new-self-publishing-how-the-entrepreneurial-writer-can-challenge-publis

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In the wake of Trump, YA novels highlight immigrant narratives

(From Literary Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

In 2017, the year of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the year he banned immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, the year he threatened DACA, there was a verifiable wave in young adult literature featuring immigrants and first generation Americans. It has continued in 2018, alongside Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, with the publication of novels like Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate, and Other Filters, Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, and Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love.

….

Though deportations and anti-immigrant sentiment are not new phenomena in the United States, for teenagers born after the September 11th attacks and raised during Barack Obama’s presidency, the overt anti-immigrant rhetoric may feel unfamiliar. The stakes for both immigrant teenagers—and teenagers engaging with immigration policy for the first time—are incredibly high. The wave of young adult literature focused on immigrant narratives is both sorely needed and an act of resistance against the dehumanizing immigration policies of President Trump.

The novels discussed here focus on a mix of immigrants and first generation citizens. Their protagonists are Jamaican American, Haitian American, Chinese American, Iranian American, and Indian American. Some are struggling through poverty while others attend elite schools and struggle to live up to parental expectations.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here


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Taking stock of a half-century of service: Singapore Book Council’s William Phuan

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

As the organization’s mission statement reads, the charity was founded in 1968 to address literacy issues in the island nation.

“That mission has since evolved,” according to the company’s media messaging, “into encouraging and supporting local content creation through writing, reading, illustrating and storytelling. The book council’s vision is focused on ‘Building Our Imagine-nation’ by developing creativity, imagination and original thought.

“The book council supports the community at all levels, from language programs for children, to aspiring individuals and professionals like writers, illustrators, storytellers, and relevant industry partners by providing a platform to learn, network, and collaborate. It also organizes events to foster professional and community engagement like the annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content and All In! Young Writers Festival. And it grants prestigious awards, like the Singapore Literature Prize, to recognize and encourage excellence.”

We start by asking Phuan where the organization now finds itself at 50.

Publishing Perspectives: How central to Singapore’s literary life has the Singapore Book Council become in its 50 years of serving the nation?

William Phuan: Singapore Book Council is the longest-running independent nonprofit dedicated to promoting Singapore literature in the four official languages—Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil.

Through its 50 years, the council has constantly and steadfastly played an integral role in literary life here, from the first book fair in 1969—the Festival of Books and Book Fair—to the various awards given out since 1976 to recognize writers and their works, including the country’s national literary award, the Singapore Literature Prize.

We also have provided training over the decades to boost the literary arts sector. And our current #BuySingLit movement [which promotes Singapore’s own authors and publishers] is another way the council has made significant and important contributions to Singapore’s literary life.

While there are many organizations that promote literary art in Singapore, the book council is the only one that has such a long history with good, longstanding relationships with key organizations like the National Arts Council, the National Library Board, the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, the various book retailers and distributors, and quality local and international trainers.

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here


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On taboos, touring and cultural representation: Sight/Unseen Asian Drama Conference

(From Arts Equator. Link to the complete article given below)

The Sight/Unseen Asian Drama Conference was a two-day event on 26 – 27 April 2018 at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Tara Arts. Billed as an event to “tackle challenging issues facing playwrights in the UK and in Southeast Asia,” participants came all geared up to discuss issues ranging from minority representation to taboo subjects in the region. The conference was helmed by Cheryl Robson from Aurora Metro Books who, in her opening address, emphasised that the project was a labour of love that took her almost a year to complete. The first-of-its-kind conference also doubled up as a platform for Aurora Metro Books to launch its new collection, British East Asian Plays, which featured works from established playwrights such as Stephen Hoo, Lucy Chai Lai-Tuen, and Daniel York Loh who also served as panellists and participants of the conference.

Before the start of the Southeast Asian Plays and Touring panel discussion, participants noticed that something was amiss: there were supposed to be five panellists instead of four. Panel moderator Aubrey Mellor, Senior Fellow at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore), quickly addressed the issue: playwright Chhon Sina (Cambodia) was denied a visa from her home country to leave. You could almost see the thought bubbles emerging from everyone’s head.

The remaining panellists included Asa Palomera (Korea/USA), Joned Suryatmoko (Indonesia), Alfian Sa’at (Singapore) and Ann Lee (Malaysia): all leading playwrights in their respective countries and within Southeast Asia. Right from the get-go, Mellor pointed out that it is important to remember that the context of touring is vastly different in Asia than in western countries. It is important for us to remember that culture holds a greater standing in western countries like the United Kingdom as opposed to Asian countries (essentially Southeast Asia), whose main priorities are generally economy-inclined. Apart from Singapore, most Southeast Asian countries are generally struggling with different sets of issues, such as the political instability and corruption in Malaysia, which was later cited by Ann Lee. These factors ultimately lead to cut in funding towards the cultural sector, therefore making touring a non-feasible option for most artistic organisations. Secondly, there has been an issue of generalising Asia and Asian culture around the world. For example, Mellor explained that comparing the culture of Thailand and Japan and putting them under the classification of “Asian culture” is simply out of the question because of their stark differences. It is also important to point out that most western countries are still unable to identify the individual cultures in Southeast Asian countries today. Most of my friends, for instance, are unable to differentiate a Singaporean from a Cambodian, and regard “Asian culture” as ultimately a shared one across all the countries. Lastly, Mellor pointed out that there seems to be a lack of collaboration between Southeast Asian countries, with most of the collaborative efforts taking place between Malaysia and Singapore—mostly due to the geographical proximity and shared history. It is also important to note that Mellor’s preface was necessary since there is a persisting misconception that ‘Asian’ usually just refers to ‘South Asians’.

Read more at the Arts Equator link here


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Book review: Senserly Amako by Anita Thomas

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

Senserly Amako 3

Title: Senserly Amako
Author: Anita Thomas
Total number of pages: 269
Publisher: Simurg
Price: Rs 249/-

 

Senserly Amako by Anita Thomas has been described by the author as a ‘scrap-book journal of the “growing up” years (seven to eleven, in this instance)’. Written in the epistolary technique, it consists of a series of phone messages, sketches and emails from a young boy who calls himself Amako, a name he has devised for himself, derived from the ‘mackerel shark’. Drawings of the shark splatter the book and give it an interesting perspective.

Amako grows up with loving parents, a house help from Philippines called Essie, a dog, and a cat. He writes of his life in Singapore, travels in Australia, England and India. The author has taken the persona of a young boy to give a child’s perspective of the world around him, which is refreshing and humorous; for instance, the child defines ‘amber’ (pg 52) as ‘that spewy thing that catches flies’. There are bad jokes as only a child would crack, his reaction to his mother disciplining him, his perception of his school, teachers and friends, religion, his immense love for his father and his interactions with grandparents living overseas.

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Writing Matters: In conversation with Kamila Shamsie

By Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Kamila Shamsie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018), for her novel Home Fire – also long listed for the Booker Prize in 2017 – an extraordinary book that serves as a reminder of the times in which we live. Her other books include In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Salt and Saffron that won her a place on Orange’s ‘21 Writers for the 21st Century’, Kartography, Broken Verses, Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction), and A God in Every Stone.  She was one of the five judges for the Golden Man Booker winner and is one of the three judges for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, 2018.

Kamila_shamsie

Kamila, welcome to Kitaab! Congratulations on winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Sucharita: Antigone sets up a conflict that ruptures a family and raises complex ethical questions related to the personal and the state, family and identity. When you decided to write Home Fire, what was the immediate trigger to turn to Greek Tragedy and to this particular text?

Kamila: Sometimes the best ideas come from other people.  In this case, it was Jatinder Verma, the artistic director of Tara Arts in London who suggested to me that Antigone could work very well in a contemporary setting. That made me go back to the text, and as soon as I started reading it I saw how directly it spoke to our contemporary times.

Sucharita: Home Fire is a political story firmly rooted in the age of global terror and what it does to individuals and families. It is also about the difficulty of moral certitude in an age of deepening schisms, most evident in Karamat Lone, making him perhaps the most conflicted character in the book, dealing with much more, it seems, than Eamonn or Aneeka – a complex, modern adaptation of Creon’s character in Antigone. The moral burden is terrifying and rests squarely on his shoulders. What led to this positioning of the book’s moral complexity?

Kamila: I’m always interested in the ways in which different readers respond to the characters in the novel. Some see Karamat as shouldering a moral burden; others see him as acting out of political expediency with no interest in the moral questions. I prefer not to interpret the characters and get in the way of readers’ freedom to do so. So all I’ll say is that Karamat and Isma are the two characters who really inhabit the world of adulthood with all its messy complications and contradictions.

Sucharita: At the time of writing the book, the idea of a Tory from a Muslim immigrant, working class family as the country’s Home Secretary would have seemed unbelievable. In fact, you thought it to be ‘ridiculous’. Eventually, when Sajid Javid became Britain’s Home Secretary, how did the writer in you respond? What does prescience mean to a writer?

Kamila: I would love to claim prescience, but the truth is, my first instinct was, as you say, that the idea of such a Home Secretary would be ridiculous, but then I thought a little harder about it and considered the fact that Britain had three prominent up-and-coming politicians from Muslim backgrounds: Sajid Javid, Sadiq Khan and Sayeeda Warsi. One or two is an aberration; three suggests that something has shifted in the political culture. That’s why I was able to create Karamat Lone – because I started to see that actually a Home Secretary from a Muslim background was possible. But it also seemed to me that Muslimness would be something he or she would have to find a way to negotiate around, possibly by creating distance from it.  So what I’ll say about prescience is that actually it’s just paying attention to the currents around us and guessing what’ll happen if you move things forward just one step.

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