The Beginning –
In less than two months Gentle Reader, we will learn who the two laureates will be for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Below ninety-two (92) writers are listed on this year’s speculation list. These ninety-two writers were chosen for a myriad of reasons; however, at no point in time do I cement or affirm under any circumstances do I think any of the writers will receive the award. I have chosen the authors below after careful consideration, after learning about them, and reading them and thought they have no more or less of a chance than any other writer. One of the greatest joys about the Nobel Prize for Literature is that we learn at times great writers, who previously were overlooked, or unknown to us, either thanks to the award or thanks in large part to the speculation. The following list is merely an attempt at bringing a great plethora of writers to a greater attention; there is nothing quite as enjoyable as discovering a new writer, and wishing to readily consume their works with vigorous and otherwise ravenous glee. In this, I thank the Nobel Prize for Literature to bringing to my attention personally, such wonderful writers such as: Herta Müller, Wisława Szymborska, and Patrick Modiano. Other times, you get to well deserving writers win the award, as they have become masters of their craft such as Alice Munro; or have clung and promoted to the humanstic principles that benefit mankind, such as the reportage, and cartographic docu-histories of Svetlana Alexievich. In that regard the Nobel Prize for Literature, should always seek to expand our literary experiences.
The following list Gentle Reader is categorized in the usual format: Continent and or geographical region, then sub-categorized into country/origin, then country of exile (if applicable), and written language (if applicable).
Europe [ Continent Category ]
Tua Forsström [ writer ] – Finland [ country ] (Swedish Language) [ language as applicable ]
(Please Note Gentle Reader, Tua Forsström does not appear on this year’s list as she was recently elected to the Swedish Academy, taking Chair No. 18)
It should be made clear now though Gentle Reader, how the list is organized and categorized is in no way a reflection of national interest or biases. They organized in this manner, so the list would be easier to traverse, read, and offer a unique perspective of each writer. As previously mentioned, and I profusely continue to state: the Nobel Prize’s—be it Literature, Chemistry, Physics, Peace, Medicine, or Economics—are not the Olympics. The awards and the laureates are selected by individual merit in their fields, not by national petitions or lobbying. Further elucidation is also needs to be mentioned: this list is personal; there is only one English language writer on the list, and that is for diversity purposes; I have not included any writer from North America (United States or Canada, which is my home) as I am under the thorough understanding these writers are given more than adequate attention for other speculative lists and media sources. This is reflects my desire to focus on the unknown, obscure, and underappreciated, and the underdog—after all, every underdog requires its champion.
As always my Dear Gentle Readers, I look forward to your comments, your recommendations, and to engage you in lively and stimulating conversation, as we patiently wait for this year’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to welcome a new follower of the blog: Calvert Benedict! I hope you enjoy this blog, and look forward to reading any of your comments or recommendations you'd like to share.
Thank-you & Please Enjoy,
If you'd like to read the announcement of this years Nobel Prize for Literature Speculation List please see the following link:
If you are looking for further information regarding the Swedish Academy Scandal, which was followed in this blog, please see the the Label titled: "Swedish Academy Crisis," for an overview of the crisis and reportage from this perspective.
Mia Couto – Mozambique – Since his debut Mia Couto has been a growing and influential African writer. His contradictory perspectives often reflect his heritage: his mother and father were Portuguese immigrants to Mozambique, and Couto himself considers himself a: “white African.” He delves into the post-colonial and independence, realities of Mozambique as a citizen rather than a third person observer. His work is riddled with magical realism which is reflected of Mozambique’s pre-colonial history, with its legends, folklore and unique culture. Mia Couto is considered the smuggler writer. He’s known for taking words and phrases from different languages and cultures and creating his own literary language. This world play has been praised by many, as it creates a unique linguistic experience, which can be seen immediately in sentences, as well as offers a unique lyrical quality to the prose. His creation of myths, legends, riddles and ‘improverbs,’ as well as portmanteau words, is a blend of languages and cultures. His unique linguistic experimentation is often praised as one of the greatest merits of his literary work; but certainly there is something lost in translation. Yet as of late Mia Couto has been gaining greater literary recognition in the world, from wining the Latin American Prize ten years ago, to be awarded the Camões Prize and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Ivan Vladislavic – South Africa – For the longest time, the South African writer Ivan Vladislavic was unknown on the global stage of literature. The shadow of J.M. Coetzee was also known for eclipsing all authors who hailed from the country, with the exception of Nadine Gordimer, who had preceded him in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, securing her status as equal. Where other South African writers concern themselves with the nations troubled past of segregation, discrimination, and blatant racism; Ivan Vladislavic takes an otherwise unique and surreal take of the landscape, the world, and the human condition, exploring the possibilities of literature in its relation communicating the human experience both in the personal and in the universal context. His one novel or short story collection or digression on the concept of memory, landscape, and people: “Portrait with Keys,” is not unified by an overarching narrative, story, or plot. Rather the work is composed of numerous fragments, prose snippets, vignettes, scenes, and stories concerning Johannesburg through: ghosts and gardens, memories, habit, concepts of home, journeys undertaken, wandering observations, changing perceptions, falling and stealing, as well as friendships and mortality. It’s a pastiche novel painting a portrait of a city, through its side streets, and its unique characteristics and populace. It should come as no surprise then that Ivan Vladislavic is renowned for his shorter proses, where there has been a steady increase in translation over the past few years. His shorter prose provides a surreal, postmodern, and postructuralist perspective of the world, one which rejects societal and human attempts at instituting either order or control, an echoing sentiment of the strange paradox of the human condition: despite our unity in on the most atomized level, we are all still inherently different. In this a critic or a reader may find an allegory or metaphorical element providing inclinations to the discussion of apartheid in South Africa, while all the same the work transcends the national and seeks to make sense of the more philosophical, existential and ethereal components of the human context, while ultimately being unable to measure it. The short story, and further fragmentation of form, is therefore a perfect literary style for an author whose decries and sighs at the continual need for order, and harmonic responses to the natural, instinctual and by nature chaotic world.
Nuruddin Farah – Somalia – The only word which goes with Somalia seems to be: failed. More often than not, Somalia is described as a failed state, one which lacks a government, a central bureaucracy, a sense of order, or even an idea of law. Its coast are ruled and patrolled by pirates. What government has been established, is continually putting out more fires than it is governing. Everything about Somalia screams fragile and failed. Though as of late, there has been noticeable improvements, and described attempts at progression. Tomorrow always holds up for today. Nuruddin Farah has been one writer affected by the political uncertainties of Somalia since its civil war and demand for independence. Farah has lived in political self-exile since he published his second book “A Naked Needle,”—because the government had planned to arrest him over its contents. He has described writing as an act of keeping his country alive; and the late Nadine Gordimer herself had praised him as one of the greatest writers and interpreters of the continent.
Boubacar Boris Diop – Senegal – Boubacar Boris has been called one of the most original and exciting contemporary writers at work on the African continent. His most famous novel “The Book of Bones,” is a fictional account of the notorious Rwandan massacre and genocide, which plagued the country from April to July in nineteen-ninety four. His most recent work is “Doomi Golo,” (originally published in two-thousand and six, and translated into English in two-thousand and sixteen) is the only novel to be written in Wolof, and also the first novel written in Wolof to be translated into English. Diop’s literary works deal with the modern African realities: unstable governments, everyday violence, corruption, and poverty. Beyond his literary leanings and writings, Boubacar Boris Diop has also written for the theatre and screenplays for films, along with his political focused essays. Diop has also written journalist articles for both a Swiss newspaper (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) and a Paris based newspaper (Afrique, perspectives et réalités), while also founding his own newspaper in his native Senegal.
Wilma Stockenström – South Africa – Wilma Stockenström is an Afrikaans language playwright, poet, translator, casual novelist; as well as actress. She is considered one of the leading female writers in the Afrikaans language in South Africa. Today Stockenström is renowned for her poetry, and better known for her novel: “The Expedition to The Baobab Tree,”—but her first love was drama. Her degree is in theatrical studies, and she wrote two one act plays and performed in numerous productions, before slipping behind the curtain with pen in hand to draft the works she would become famous for. Her poetry is known for being unadorned with intense lyrical language, but rather being plain and stark as it discusses its themes. Along with eschewing a floral language, Wilma Stockenström had also shifted perspective away from the personal and poet ‘I,’ to a more drifting voice which gives commentary on the human condition; which is always done with sober thought, plain language, and a slight ironic eye. There are no traditional poetic conventions in Stockenström’s work, as if she completely bypassed the usual theories and notions of what poetry should be. Instead she turned the poem into a private thought and a glimpse of wonder, presented to the reader in a line format, but left there without the usual poetic devices. In these regards, I view Wilma Stockenström a lot like Wislwa Szymborska; someone who reinvented the genre to discuss a variety of themes and thoughts, without the pomp of musicality, rhythm, and rhyme—what remains is a warm poem open to readers to ponder and think about, without patronization and frustration.
Ben Okri – Nigeria – Since his debut, Ben Orki was noted as being one of the most leading and acclaimed literary voices to come out of Africa (specifically Nigeria) as a new post-colonial voice. His third novel won the Booker Prize, and at the time Orki was the youngest writer to ever receive the award (Eleanor Catton now holds claim over the title). He has been favorably compared to Salmin Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for his use of magical realism in his novels. Orki however, disagrees with the term magical realism applied to his work, as he points out the category is easily applied by critics who are too lazy to offer any original analysis, and so it would best lump into the work of other post-colonial writers, for others to note similarities and see likeminded authors. When others attempted to apply postmodernist theory to his work about the post-colonial situation in Africa and Nigeria, Orki once again rejected the claim stating he wrote without postmodernist skepticism, and did discuss legitimate and concrete realities and truths within his work. Beyond his fiction where spirits communicate with the living, and the dream logic of the unconscious is ever present; Orki’s non-fiction is more noted for his political leanings and reflections on witnessing the Nigerian civil war as a child, and reflecting on the sometimes shaky ground post-colonial Africa chooses to operate and act; proving the writer is not just a story teller, but also an active participant in the social concerns of his own nation but also the continental destiny of Africa.
Tierno Monénembo – Guinea – Tierno Monénembo is one of Guinea’s most renowned writers, but also one of the most important French language writers to emerge from the post-colonial Francophone controlled regions of Africa. Monénembo’s work is particularly informed of the blight of the African intellectuals, who find their home in disarray after colonialism, and seek opportunities abroad, and the difficulties they encounter in life in other countries. Tierno Monénembo has taken a particular interest in historical narratives, often detailing the lives of the Fula People, where documented the extraordinary life of Addi Bâ, a Fula resistance fighter during the Second World War, who the Nazi’s deemed ‘the black terrorist.’ Tierno Monénembo remains persistently concerned with the colonial and post-colonial histories of the African continent, and seeks to elevate the intellectual standings of the continent, to a broader audience, through a process of continual codification of memory, in historical, personal, and anthropological scope. Through the preoccupation of the past, one is able to gain an understanding of the trajectory of the future. Yet continually the same mistakes are perpetrated over and over again, the same crimes, the same violence, the same political uncertainty, the same oppressive atmospheres, with different perpetrators. After the Rwandan Genocide of nineteen ninety-four, Tierno Monénembo became one of writers tasked with reviewing and writing about the event. This act would change his perspective on the concept of writing, as many of the writers chosen for the project, either were first hand witnesses of the atrocities, or where third-party witnesses, who sought to attempt to understand the horror which had taken place. In this, Tierno Monénembo, was a third-party witness, attempting to understand the societal break down of order, and make sense of the senseless violence that had taken place, and inevitably swayed back to the wounds of colonialism, which had finally become to raw and rotten to ignore any longer. In this, Tierno Monénembo works to survey the African continent in a mired of contexts, from colonial to post-colonial, and the dawning hope of a new world, a better world, riddled with the basic idealism and principles of humanity.
José Eduardo Agualusa – Angola – Along with Mia Couto, José Eduardo Agualusa is one of the most successful and powerful Portuguese language voices ringing from the post-colonial African continent. Where Mia Couto from Mozambique won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in two-thousand and fourteen, José Eduardo Agualusa went on to receive the International Dublin Literary Award in two-thousand and seventeen. Both Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa are influenced by the histories of their respective nations. Yet, both have a particular relationship to their respective countries historical narratives, as they have the perspective tinted of the outsider, the colonial, the conqueror. Mia Couto explores the historical through the infusion of folktales, traditions, and ceremony, with an anthropologist’s curiosity, as well as the magical realism of the exotic to depict a world, which cautiously remains in flux between the grounded certainty, and the flights of imaginative fancy. José Eduardo Agualusa maintains a historical approach to his literary narratives, firmly grounded in the context provided, but maintains its own imaginative flights. Take for example Agualusa’s celeberated novel: “A General Theory of Oblivion,” about a woman who grows increasingly concerned about the Angolan War of Independence. As Angola begins to shake the yoke of colonial rule off, she becomes increasingly paranoid of her future. Instead of fleeing to Portugal, the expat barricades and entombs herself in her apartment for nearly three decades. Her only contact with outside world is through the conversations she hears from her neighbors, the world viewed from her window, and the radio which eventually dies. She distills her experiences, observations, and eavesdropping down into diaries, before documenting them on the walls; all through the historical context of Angola being torn by colonialism, and the influence of other exacting nations: Soviet Union, United States, and the insurgency of South African fighters. José Eduardo Agualusa other novels carry the same preoccupation and concern with the social and political context of Angola and the African continent in the world. Its historical destitution are never far, and the atrocities, reprehensible cruelties, and the prior mistakes are often left behind, through the inventiveness of the imagination, as characters seek to become chameleons, changing colour, lives, and pasts to greet a new era, and a new world without concern for the previous episodes. This is the world of José Eduardo Agualusa, one of histographic understanding, while presenting imaginative and postmodern irony, to liven it up, and when necessary add allegorical elements of forewarning and foreshadowing of impending disaster, be it ecological or human.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o – Kenya – Every year you can always expected to see the usual candidates listed as potential possibilities for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is no exception; but he is an interesting writer. Thiong'o is considered a prime and perfect canidate for the prize for a few reasons. The first being: he’s an African national writer. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o hails from Kenya, and this makes him desirable as the Nobel Prize for Literature has underrepresented African literature. The second reason is: he’s a socially conscious and aware writer, in which his work often probes and discusses the political situation affecting Kenya, and he was persecuted and arrested as consequence for this. Despite the attempts at suppressing his work, the author found it revitalized and revolutionized his commitments to literature and culture. The third reason is: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o writes in a traditional or tribal language of Africa, specifically: Gikuyu. Thiong'o did not start drafting his work in Gikuyu until his stint in prison, and since then he has continued to preserve the tribal language in his work and in modern literature; then translating it into English. For this reasons Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is often considered an appropriate and worthy writer. Though awarding Thiong'o would be considered an obvious choice, it would be a deserving decision, based on the author’s preservation of a tribal language, the desire to reinstate African memory as well as tackling social and political themes, within the African context in a post-colonial world.
Antjie Krog – South Africa – The contemporary South African poet, literary theorist, and academic (as well as contemporary of Antjie Krog) Joan Hambidge, has described, Antjie Krog as the Pablo Neruda of Afrikaans poetry. Krog herself, published her first collection of poetry at the tender age of seventeen, and two years later published her second collection of poetry, and throughout the following decades, Antjie Krog would continue to write and publish numerous volumes of poetry. The poetry of Antjie Krog contemplates and discusses powerful themes, ranging from gender politics, identity, race, salvation, and of course apartheid. Her work can take a slight personal and almost autobiographical tone in discussing the changes of age, time, and gender and its effects on an individual’s identity. Identity in her work often goes beyond gender as well, and encompasses a strange desire to change her race beyond the won endowed to her by birth. In this, Antjie Krog presents a unique and political conscious perspective of a poet, observing a strange society at work, one influx of change, of resentment and in need of reconciliation. Krog’s work moves beyond just poetry as well, and encompasses finely tuned prose form. The first and most famous work of prose is: “Country of My Skull,” which recounts the Truth and Reconciliation Commission instituted, to bring closure and truth, to the previous discrimination and abuse caused by apartheid in the southern African state. The second prose work presents a postmodern blend of different forms: prose, personal narrative, poetry, interviews, and journalistic reportage to craft a deconstructuralist narrative, recounting the evolution of South African society away from apartheid, as well as the erosion of Afrikaans language and culture in South African society, in favour of a strange vernacular and English. Afrikaans as a language, was the language of the oppressor, the racist, the separatist, the great divider of the country, and yet remains within its borders.
Pepetela – Angola – Pepetela is one of those many paradoxical writers of Africa. His heritage comes from colonialism and the colonizing country—in this case Portugal—but he was born Angolan and identifies as such. He identified so much as a Angolan, he was by the MPLA (The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola) to document and promote Angolan culture and studies. As Pepetela became more entangled with the MPLA, he began to actively take part in their armed resistance against the ruling Portuguese government, and this would prove the inspiration for his first wave of published works: the war narrative. In these first books, Pepetela wrote about the active resistance for an independent Angola, but then discussed the disillusionment of independence and post-colonialism afterwards. Mid-way through his literary career, and after leaving his work in the new Angolan government, Pepetela began working on historical novels which documented Angola’s history, including its colonization. With the turn of the minimum, Pepetela’s gaze has shifted towards a more satirical perspective; specifically with his anti-detective novels staring: Jamie Bunda (a slight parody of James Bond). The novels mock and offer the authors critique of Angola’s underdevelopment, as well as the United States foreign policy. Yet this later decade of the author’s career has also seen his writing broaden beyond Angola, and even go into science fiction tropes, as he grapples with the ever present thoughts and concerns of global catastrophe, which lurks around the corner.
Ribka Sibhatu – Eritrea/Italy – Eritrea is a small country located on the African continent. It’s a small country on the African horn, bordering the Red Sea to the north and the northeast, along with Ethiopia to the south, and Djibouti to the southeast. In all, Eritrea is a relatively unknown country to most; though it is rich in natural beauty, landscape, as well as minerals and precious gems, and metals, which are quickly mined for by western and first world corporations. The government of Eritrea is a dictatorship, as no elections have been held in the country since the end of its independence war two decades ago. Continual reports released by the third party organizations reveal Eritrea is a cesspool of political corruption, nepotism, human rights, and civil liberties violations, and abuses. Ribka Sibhatu has experienced and witnessed. During the war of independence, Ribka Sibhatu was imprisoned at the age of seventeen, on false accusations she had criticized the government, which were perpetrated by the scorned Ethiopian politician she refused to marry. Upon leaving fleeing Eritrea and finishing her studies, she would marry a Frenchmen and leave for France; after the marriage ended she would leave for Italy, which has been her most prominent residency. The poetry of Ribka Sibhatu explores the complications of African colonialism, abuses, which have become prominent features of the continent, but it also explores the experiences of immigrants coming into their own in foreign and strange lands, where they are set to rebuild and begin their lives anew. Sibhatu’s poetry is noted for its adherence and exploration of Tigrinya literary forms, which have never ben codified or documented, but survived through the ages, via retelling and oral traditions. These aulòs or African bardic songs are the hallmark of her work, tinged with the experiences of the foreign in a new land, a rich cultural history in the exile, and a longing for home. These poetic treatises are powerful and poignant in today’s world, as the world grows increasingly claustrophobics, splintered, and fragmented seeks to divide people into different groups, with little to no concern for the experiences, lives, and troubles of others, instead seeking to sustain and maintain their own world, their own luxuries, and their own privileges. Ribka Sibhatu becomes voice of poetic concern for the immigrant, the migrant, the exiled, and the foreign seeking a better life, a better world for all.
Northern Africa & the Middle East –
Abdallah Zrika – Morocco – Abdallah Zrika is one of the most profound poetic voices of Morocco. In the Middle East, poetry holds a special and unique place in literary favour. Iran for example takes great pride in their poets of old, whose poetry is still recited by the young and the old alike. Poetry becomes an aspect of the everyday, an infusion of language and perspective, harmoniously unifying populaces through a singular vision of form, language, and devotion to higher pursuits. Abdallah Zrika embodies this in his poetic contributions to Moroccan poetry. First published in the nineteen-seventies, Abdallah Zrika, gained notoriety and recognition with the youth of Morocco, his poetry representing their ideals of life, freedom: freedom to live, and freedom to express oneself. Abdallah Zrika’s poetry immediately gained notice of the authorities, and was censored, and deemed immorally morally dangerous. Subsequently Zirka spent two years in prison for his ‘morally dangerous,’ poetic work. Once released Abdallah Zrika continued on his poetic career, becoming one of Morocco’s best kept literary secrets, with continual translations appearing in French, but overlooked by the English language market. His poetry is noted for its spontaneity, which remains striking and revolutionary in Arabic literary circles. Abdallah Zrika treats the human condition, with a metaphysical and existential, he portrays and deals with the human being as an organic being within the universe, a mere component that builds up its unique mosaic matter. Human beings are not depicted as heavenly beings, ricocheting through the celestial spheres. Rather, the human being is much like the animals, the insects, or the birds—and in turn they are all given equal turn, song, perspective, and voice through the everyday, echoing through a grand universe, which takes neither note or notice of the beings beneath its star studded sky. It is here Abdallah Zrika makes sense of the world, and the human condition, by rooting down to the needle point of the exactness of being.
Adunis – Syria – Adunis is one of the most important poets at work today. His influence on Arabic language poetry during the Second Half of the Twentieth century, was considered a Modernist revolution, and was comparable to T.S. Eliot’s influence on Anglophone poetry. There can be no doubt as to why Adunis is referred to as the most influential and important poet and figure of Arabic literature; despite the condemnations of Islamic religious leaders, extremists, and political dictators of the region, who have threatened his life, burned his books, and banned his work. Adunis’s work goes beyond poetry, as the poet is a recognized translator—he is famously stated to have translated Tomas Tranströmer poetry into Arabic, and accompanied the poet on a tour through the region; but he has also released literary criticism. He edited a multi-volume anthology of Arabic poetry which covers millennials of historical poetry of the Arabic language. Despite his literary endeavors, Adunis has been critical of the politicization of the Islamic doctrine and religion. This of course has caused controversy throughout the Middle East, where Islamic politicization is on the rise; but much like many other writers of the region, Adunis believes in the separation of theological and spiritual from political and public ideologies and service. Removing the political context and connotations from Adunis, his poetry and his influence on the poetics of the region and the Arabic language is far reaching and extraordinary. The influence can still be felt today, as poets pick up the pen to resist, to create, and to change their world.
Bahaa Taher – Egypt – Bahaa Taher was once considered Egypt/Cairo’s literary secret; after all the government once banned him from publishing his works and voicing his opinion. He was fired from his job, where he helped found the Cairo Radio Cultural Program, where he would come into contact with Naguib Mahfouz, and help produce radio drama’s for Greek theatre to Beckett’s comedies; as well as narrated stories. All because Taher had left leaning view points and political views, which were in direct conflict with the ruling government of the day. After years of living off minimal salary and giving up his dreams to publish, Bahaa Taher would leave Egypt, and travel to find work as a translator, where he eventually ended up in Geneva, Switzerland working as a translator for the United Nations. Now he has returned to Egypt, and has found a welcoming response since his exile. Yet, the situation at home has improved, which the author laments. His work however deals with the complications of Egypt and the Arabic world, with a humanistic touch; he does not delve into the political situation with simplistic measures. Rather, Taher views the situation historical and precedent set more than just political or religious.
Ibrahim al-Koni – Libya – Ibrahim al-Koni is one of the most prolific, and well known Arabic language writers currently at work. Ibrahim al-Koni has published upwards of over eighty literary works including novels, short stories, poems and essays. al-Koni was born in the southwestern district of Libya known as Fezzan, and was raised on the traditions of the Tuareg people. The Tuareg people are known as nomadic desert pastoralists, whose range of territory stretches through vast territories of the African continent; including Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and many more. The traditions of the Tuareg people have been represented in Ibrahim al-Koni’s work, often leading him to be referred to as a magical realist by some, while others call him a Sufi fabulist, for his poetic novels. Despite being raised among nomadic traditions and customs, al-Koni would go on to study at the former Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in the Soviet Union, despite only learning to read or write at the age of twelve. After his studies he worked as a journalist in Moscow and Warsaw; and would be one of the most profilic contemporary Arabic writers at work today. Ibrahim al-Koni’s unique cultural upbringing with its’ folktales, traditions, customs and conventions have been the well of inspiration which has formed his work and perspective.
David Grossman – Israel – There can be no denying the favoured author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was always the late Amos Oz. Amos Oz was usually favoured for his mild politics within the Middle East, often relayed in sobering, solemn tones. Second, to Amos Oz, has always been David Grossman, who politically speaking—is the representative of the Israeli left-leaning cultural and intellectual side of the spectrum, noted for his peace activism. The on-going dispute between Israel and Palestine, as a subject has often been carefully avoided in his work until the death of his son in two-thousand and six, during the Lebanon War. Afterwards, Grossman would publish his novel: “To the End of the Land,” recounting the emotional strains families experience as their loved ones are deployed during combat. David Grossman has been one of the most renowned Israeli authors on the global stage. In two-thousand and seventeen, he won the Booker International Prize, for his novel: “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” where he was shortlisted alongside his contemporary colleague Amos Oz. David Grossman remains a poignant writer of the Jewish experience in the region, but also of the insurmountable grief families experience when their loved ones are sent off on military service, and the superstitious rituals they perform to ward them from harm. Despite his literary renowned, David Grossman is no stranger to skirmishes with authorities due to his political activism, and in two-thousand and ten was beaten by police during protests along the west bank. Beyond the dirty affairs of politics, and geopolitical disputes, David Grossman is a phenomenal and serious writer, with striking literary tastes, humanistic eye, and a solemn perspective of the human in the world continually divided.
Boualem Sansal – Algeria – Writing carries many purposes, and writers carry this function out through their own personal reasonings. Some writers write for enjoyment, others write for more rational purposes, and others as Samuel Beckett stated best: aren’t good for anything else. Some, however, like Boualem Sansal write out of intellectual integrity, as well as protest, and dissidence against the sheer disregard, and collapse of the basic civic due processes of society, which becomes infected by fantasies of grandeur, dissatisfaction with other sects, races, religions, people, and other homicidal/genocidal inclinations, which are fueled by hatred; which they quickly retort they do not foster, nor promote. As an author Boualem Sansal, is deemed an author who is exiled within his own country. In Algeria, his works are banned from publication and distribution, so it should go without saying they are indefinitely not deemed appropriate for public consumption. The reason for this is simple, his work is highly critical of the current political maneuvering of the Algerian government to set aside all political sovereignty, as well as moral and intellectual integrity, in embracing, and fostering Islamic fundamentalism, a movement which Boualem Sansal has adamantly worked to undermining and dissuading against. His work is noted for using political and historical allegories to reflect the current of Algeria, and the Northern African Continent. Despite the disregard in which his home country treats him, he is still considered one of the most profound and important writers of the French language, and of the French language on the African Continent.
H. A. Sayeh – Iran/Germany – H.A. Sayeh is an eminent Iranian poet of the twentieth century. His poetry and poems have observed and survived numerous political uprisings, cultural shifts and literary upheavals through the course of the twentieth century. His first collection of poetry was published when he was nineteen years old, during the liberal and open period of Iran’s history, following the Second World War. It was during this time Sayeh was introduced to the famous poet: Mehdi Hamidi Shirazi. It was during this time Sayeh would become involved with numerous literary circles and his poetry was published in numerous magazines. However, much like his contemporaries, Sayeh reframed from entering into political conversations, and maintained poetic integrity over any misplaced public service or political obligations. After the Iranian revolution, the apolitical stance of Sayeh did not save him from the eventual imprisonment and persecution under the new found theocratic dictatorship which overtook Iran; and he would be forced to leave Iran in nineteen-eighty seven, now living in Germany. On the cusp of turning ninety, H.A. Sayeh’s output is small in consideration to other poets; but his attention to detail, his mastery of traditional poetic formats, have made him a fine poet, with an eye for superb quality over quantity and mass productivity. His creative integrity is still intact, and his poetry is moving—though difficult to find.
Mahmoud Dowlatabadi – Iran – Dowlatabadi is a contemporary Iranian epicist. His novel “Kelidar,” is considered a monument of contemporary Persian language literature; it is over three thousand pages long, consists of five volumes and ten books; and took Mahmoud Dowlatabadi fifteen years to write. Despite this monumental piece of literature, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi is still viewed with great skepticism within his native country of Iran. His novel “The Colonel,” currently sits in bureaucratic and publishing purgatory, as it does not recount the events of the Iranian Revolution by the prescribed official perspective, and now waits for censor approval or disproval. Dowlatabadi is not known for digesting or adhering to the administered historical contexts and viewpoints, forcefully recommended by Iran’s political and religious governance. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi tackles social issues and injustices in his work, but does not strictly adhere to the moralistic framework of most social realists, rather, Dowlatabadi is more conferenced with the moral complexities of the poor, impoverished, overlooked and forgotten; and contrasts this brutal reality with the lyrical and sensual Persian language, which has gathered him great fame in Iran. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi knows firsthand the impoverished life, as he comes from a family of farmers, but was a voracious reader and curious child growing up, and with his father’s blessing he would leave his farming village to go on and work as a shoe peddler, bicycle repairman, street baker, before ending up as a ticket taker in a theatre, where we moved on as an actor and eventually a foray into journalism, in which he began to write for both the theatre and prose. Despite working through the legal channels in Iran, obeying censorship (and getting his novels published overseas) Dowlatabadi was once arrested by the former Shah regime of Iran, because his work were being read in mass quantities which made him provocative and inspiring to revolutionaries.
Nawal El Saadawi – Egypt – Now in her eighities, Nawal El Saadawi is as combative as ever, which certainly is a testament to her earning the title: “the Simon de Beauvoir of the Arab World.” Saadawi is a doctor by training, but views herself as a writer first and a doctor and activist of women’s rights in the Arabic world second; she specifically protests female genitalia mutilation (which she suffered first hand). As a doctor Nawal El Saadawi witnessed firsthand the oppression of women through patriarchal cultural norms, class division, and the ripples of imperialism; which would help shape the themes of her prose works, her non-fiction, and her political activism, in which she would decry the remnants of colonial rule, the oppression of religion on women, and the abuse of women at the hands of men. It is not Saadawi’s fierce and open opinions and criticisms against the government, against religious and cultural conventions, which make her feared, but the fact she encourages all citizens to question the conventions, doctrines and orders of the government. Despite her vast literary, medical and political activism career(s), Nawal El Saadawi is still heavily underrepresented in the English language. Despite the lack of representation, is growing as a literary and political force in her native Egypt, where she hosts young people in her apartment, to hold discussion about politics, as well as continue to lobby and actively oppose oppression of women in the Arabic world. For the government, Nawal El Saadawi is untouchable, though difficult to deal with and ignore
Abdellatif Laâbi – Morocco – Abdellatif Laâbi is one of the most important Moroccan writers at work today. His bibliography contains poetry, novels, plays and essays; though he is revered for his poetry first and foremost. Despite living in exile in France, he is still immersed and influential in Moroccan public life. His recent book of non-fiction, deals with the political situation of Morocco, and its turbulent post-colonial history. Early in his career, Laâbi was an editor of a cultural magazine, which started out just as a literary review magazine, but was soon became a periodical which attracted rising artists from painters to filmmakers, to poets and writers, but also researchers and scholars; to discuss and share their works and interests. It was a cultural point of contact for the new rising artistic force of Morocco. Alas, it was short lived. The magazine was crushed, and Abdellatif Laâbi would be tried and sentenced to prison for his crimes of opinion. Upon his release, he would leave for France in exile, where he would continue to publish his poetry, his novels, and translate writers into the French language. Now he is considered a intellectual force of Morocco, despite still living in exile in France, he spends a vast amount of his time in Morocco on public engagements, and promoting emerging writers and poets.
A. B. Yehoshua – Israel – Of the three literary statesmen of Israel which included: David Grossman and the late Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua is the oldest, but equally respected and renowned. Each of these three authors were noted for their stance on the Israel and Palestine conflict, promoting and encouraging peaceful resolutions to the dispute, one which respects the legitimacy of both Israel and Palestine to coexist. As a writer, A. B. Yehoshua was noted as ‘new wave,’ Israeli author, a group of others who moved away from the discussion of national or group consciousness, and instead fixated on the interpersonal relationships, and individual predilections. In order to accomplish this, A. B. Yehoshua probes the minuet of the individual experience, often through the conflict of the familiar, via multigenerational family narratives, to review generational conflicts and disenfranchisements, as well as the individual against the societal expectations, social crisis’s, and political maneuvering which ultimately infects and poisons their lives with an acute toxicity. His deployment of modernist multi-narrative has often gathered comparisons to William Faulkner, with some critics going as far as to call A. B. Yehoshua the “Israeli Faulkner.” His narratives carefully convey the displacement and dispossession Israel and Palestine often share; both nations seeking to stake out an identity, a concept, or even a geographical construct, to call their own, and more so: to call home. These perspectives, viewpoints, opinions, and blatant forms of activism—be it literary in scope or political—are not above the political scrutiny, as each of the authors, have been forced to defend their actions, slandered by far-right political movements, and of course the looming threat of politically motivated violence against them. A. B. Yehoshua has created a career out of balancing high literary pursuits, which also sympathetically review the political situation with a serious calm, warning the present and future generations of an unachievable dream, which will only be paved in tears, blood, and death. A. B. Yehoshua is a prolific writer, who has written novels, essays, short story collections, and plays. Yehoshua’s novels and essay collections have always gathered the most attention and respect by readers and critics alike. His novels are noted for their quiet interpersonal epic qualities, through the use of high modernist literary techniques, and his essays always cause a stir for their political discourse, social criticism, and scathing reviews of the current situations, and the inevitable harm it will cause.
Elias Khoury – Lebanon – Elias Khoury is well-known and renowned Lebanese playwright, novelist, and public intellectual. Khoury is a political involved writer, one in which continually seeks political reform, in a democratic vein. Despite this though, politics of the Middle East region are contentious, and there is no simple black and white solution. He was praised along with other writers (including Adunis) for protesting a holocaust denial conference in Beirut; but when the Israeli government praised his open condemnation of the conference, it shot back against their vile treatment of Palestine and the Palestinians. Politics in the region is not a graceful linear waltz; rather it’s a polka through a field of land mines, always attempting to evade a strike or a explosion. Khoury’s novels tackle these same subjects, with his same objective and critical eye. His novels tackle political subject matter, but not in easy black and white terms, which is preferred by western readers. Rather, Khoury presents the ambiguities of the political situations, going beyond simple context of “good guys,” versus, “bad guys,”—he fundamentally questions the behavior of people during these situations, and seeks to present an, objective portraits via the use of internal monologues, discussions and objective opinions presented by his characters. This makes Khoury a difficult writer to propagate and use for propaganda purposes, as he rebukes such concepts in favour of facts and a well-rounded narrative to present a fully fleshed throughout perspective. Elias Khoury is at once controversial as he is admirable.
Olga Tokarczuk – Poland – After winning the Man Booker International Prize last year (2018) for her novel “Flights,” Olga Tokarczuk has officially gained her overdue critical recognition in the English language. In her homeland of Poland, Tokarczuk has the dual pleasure of being both critically acclaimed by the literary establishment as well as being read and enjoyed by the public. Olga Tokarczuk studied psychology at university and is still a devote disciple of Carl Jung, whose anthropological and mystical theories and concepts define and describe human behavior are often found in Tokarczuk’s work; much like the unique play of archetypes found in “Primeval and Other Times.” Her work is noted for its philosophical discussions and psychological digressions, keenly observed characters and interactions, as well as her renowned gift for story telling— Tokarczuk has stated the act of writing is in essence telling oneself fairytales. Her work is often described as magical realist in form, depiction and nature; but her work is not the contrite exotic garden variety of fantastical tropes in realistic settings. Rather than setting her works in the exotic foreign jungles of South America complete with its alienated and untouched magic, Tokarczuk utilizes a unique mystical element which is striking in its European identity and heritage. Olga Tokarczuk conjures her narratives around history and the predilections for mysteries, while remaining firmly set in reality. Despite her work often mythologizing, embellishing, and pondering possibilities which elude defined constructs of human vocabulary; her work is always in check and in tune with an individual’s experience with history, for better or for worst. These historical preoccupations have recently found Olga Tokarczuk embroiled in scandal in Poland, where her magnum opus “The Book of Jacob,” was released. Nationalists and far-right populists rejected the novel as slander of Polish history, especially considering the novels abrupt depiction of Polish antisemitism, sanctioned slavery (Serfdom is the preferred term) and discussion of colonialization. This shattered the otherwise propagated depiction of Poland as a sympathetic state: powerless, and the underdog, who was grabbed and pulled between greater national powers and neighbours; yet Poland as the smaller state always allied itself in spirit with the disenfranchised, the weak, the powerless, and the disposed. With the “Book of Jacob,” Tokarczuk challenged this notion, and forced Poland to reconsider its own sympathetic and glorified image by detailing the story of the Jewish cultist Jacob. Her ability to maintain historical fact, despite ideology, idea, or desired historical interpretation, found Tokarczuk facing death threats in Poland; which ironically enough only strengthened her appeal, and notoriety abroad.
Jon Fosse – Norway – Before retiring from theatrical writings to focus on prose writing, Jon Fosse was named on numerous occasions, the most produced, and performed living playwright in the world. As a dramatist, Jon Fosse had written over twenty plays, and has been hailed as the heir of Henrik Ibsen, but also Samuel Beckett, and to a more minor extent, Harold Pinter. Jon Fosse, could not be more contrary then all three. He is the not the naturalist in the fashion of Ibsen. His works do not carry a detailed portrait of the individuals, as they maneuver through their day to day lives, fit with their own tribulations, personal, and private dramas, based on the often familiar concoction, which any audience member could empathize with, just beyond the edge of the stage. He is not quite the absurdist, as Samuel Becket; his characters are not veiled pantomime clowns, mocking the absurd cruelty of life as it circles the void of meaninglessness. Jon Fosse also doesn’t have the comedic menace of Pinter, or his later open discourse into political commentary and criticism. In this Jon Fosse, is his own beast. His work is noted for its minimalist perspective, with lengthy pauses—bringing to mind Beckett and Pinter—but once again lacks both the comedy, and the menace. His work is not noted for its realistic perspective either; but rather takes place in strange and hallucinogenic worlds, where time and reality are shifting concepts, which change with the characters cognitive interactions with the world around them, and dialogue is noted for its simple structure, but poetic. Jon Fosse’s prose is no different than his plays. Fosse’s prose style employee’s long winding sentences, and sparse dialogue, which takes place often, appears fragmented, as if the characters are merely half-consciously talking, while they ponder, or are preoccupied with the other subjects. Surrounding the minimalist prose, the sparse dialogue, and the fishbone plots, is an eerie sense of theological metaphor, and mysticism. His recent prose works have also gained him greater international renown, his “Trilogy,” consisting of: “Wakefulness,” “Olav’s Dream,” and “Weariness,” recounts the tale of Alse and Alida, two characters carrying biblical allegory, of their fated doom, and their undying love. Jon Fosse’s prose is noted for his literary repetition: images, dialogue, and metaphors, to create a hypnotic narrative that creates a lapsing tide which rhythmically pulls the reader under, lulling them into exploring the existential uncertainty of the characters. As Jon Fosse himself has stated, readers do not read his works for their plots, or their narratives, but rather for the linguistic experiences.
Sirkka Turkka – Finland – Sirkka Turkka is a renowned Finish poet. Sirkka Turkka’s poetry has a particular inclination towards nature and animals. This is trend which can be seen with many Finnish writers, both contemporary and late; who each offered their respects to the natural beauty of their nation; and to their animal neighbours, companions, and fierce predators. Sirkka Turkka’s poetry is noted for its explicit treatment and fondness of animals—loyal, trusting, and selfless companions, whose instincts are never muddled by the emotional irrationality of human beings. Their thoughts may be simple, but they do have their philosophical ponderings, their witticism, and their own idiosyncrasies. Their flaws are always forgivable. As a poet, Sirkka Turkka serenades these companions with a gentle touch, a caring eye, and a unyielding spirit, that is singular in its compassionate treatment. Turkka first became a published poet at the age of thirty-four, which some may consider a late age for a writer to begin embarking on a literary career. Her maturity only shone in her work. Her poetry was immediately praised for its well-developed themes, strong voice, fierce predilections, and beautiful poetic voice. The poetry of Sirkka Turkka is noted for carrying the heart of the storyteller; employing simple language, the Turkka is able to digress and recount the stories she tells through poetry. Sirkka Turkka is by no means an erudite orator, pontificating from the grand marble stages or staircases. Instead her poetry is warm, intimate, and inviting—reminiscent of previous Nobel Laureate: Wisława Szymborska; and the crystalline reflections of Nobel Laureate: Tomas Tranströmer. The deceptive simplicity of Sirkka Turkka’s poetry is its most endearing quality, as it tackles often powerful questions regarding life, meaning, memory, aging and death. In mentioning, Tomas Tranströmer, Sirkka Turkka, had won the biennial Tranströmer Prize, back in two-thousand and sixteen, as it stands she is the only Finnish author to receive the award. Previous winners include the Danish poet, Inger Christensen, and German poet Durs Grünbein. In receiving the Tranströmer Prize, fellow poet and recent elected member to the Swedish Academy, Tua Forsström, described Sirkka Turkka as one of the most beautiful and powerful voices currently at work in Finnish poetry.
Şükrü Erbaş – Turkey – Şükrü Erbaş is one of Turkey’s most beloved, celebrated, and best-selling poets. His complete literary oeuvre spans over twenty collections of poems and essays. The poetic inclinations of Erbaş initially concerned human relationships, seen through the lens, and the details of the overlooked, and ignored aspects of everyday life. These inclinations fermented and matured overtime to take in broader subjects of society, individuals, and their relationship to nature, maintaining the eye for the overlooked details, and mistakenly overlooked portrait, and rebuttal against the mistaken emotionless magnanimity of the natural worlds grandeur, compared to the progressive urban landscape; the former of the two always eternal, and timeless. Şükrü Erbaş’s poetic language is noted for its simplicity, in order to fend off preconceived prejudices that uninitiated readers may have towards the poetic form, with its concern for hermetic preoccupations, emotional resonance, and omission of narrative structure. The use of lucid language will ensure readers are never met with an air of pomp and pretense, whereby they can read the poems with the intention of understanding, appreciation, and contemplation. The use of everyday metaphors, allows Şükrü Erbaş to bridge the poetic world and the real world, with an imbued sense of symbiosis. This lucid and simple language has, endeared himself to the reading public of Turkey, and allowed his poems to touch all members of society, who approach his work with casual curiosity; and when they have closed the clovers of his volumes, are gifted with a unique poetic vision that at no point in time, pontificated from the ivory tower of academia; but presented rather a natural soothing language, which could be found at a park bench, café, or down the street.
Gyrðir Elíasson – Iceland – Iceland is renowned for its ancient literary sagas. Tales of heroism, romanticism, mythology and folklore, all wrapped up in historical epicism. Gyrðir Elíasson could not be further from his literary predecessors. Gyrðir Elíasson’s, work is physically noted for being short and condescend. His work is noted for being precise in its language, using minimal words to achieve macro impact. Despite being physically smaller in comparison to other contemporary novels, Gyrðir Elíasson’s work is not myopic in its scope; rather in its condescended format, Elíasson rivals and trumps other novelists who require four hundred plus pages to make their point. Gyrðir Elíasson began writing poetry, and published his first collection: “Red and Black Suspenders,” in nineteen-eighty three, before moving to prose in nineteen-eighty seven with: “The Walking Squirrel.” Despite finding acclaim with his novels and short stories, Elíasson, refers to himself as a poet first, and a prose writer second. His poetic leanings and debut are perhaps what makes his work linguistically and lyrically dexterous. His ability to maximize minimal with the greatest reward, showcases his early poetry, as well as the beautiful yet simple language of his prose. His novels are known for depicting the mundane invaded by an ethereal dream world, where the characters and narrators are haunted or left confused by the surreal, supernatural or dream like logic which has overtaken their life for the briefest of moments. Despite this, Elíasson rejects being called a magical realist; and as he has matured as writer, his stories have almost abandoned the earlier blend of dream and reality; and now almost appear as motionless stories dealing with mundane concepts—but only on the surface—as deep below lies a undercurrent of psychological probing and existential pondering. With his acrobatic and poetic use of language, and his ability condenses his narratives to manageable sizes, it is no wonder Gyrðir Elíasson is noted as a grand stylist of contemporary Icelandic literature; as well as a short story master. In two-thousand and eleven he was awarded the Nordic Councils Literature Prize for his short story collection: “Milli trjánna,” or “Between the Trees.” In these regards, Gyrðir Elíasson is much like his epicist and saga writing literary predecessors, but rather then detailing his sagas in volumes and large tomes, riddled with poetry and grand narratives, his work is minute in detail, but grand in its hidden glacial depth.
Ersi Sotiropoulos – Greece – Ersi Sotiropoulos is a personal favourite. She is a critically acclaimed Greek poet and prose writer. Her novel “Zig Zag Through The Bitter Orange Trees,” was praised as the best book of the decade at the turn of the twenty-first century, and became the first novel to win both the Greek State Prize for Literature, as well as the Book Critics Award. Sotiropoulos is often described as an avant-garde writer, which may shock those who are first introduced to her work. Her prose is clean, deprived of unnecessary ornamentation, and it’s skillfully designed with jeweler’s eye for accessible filigree. Yet below the surface of the bone bare prose, one begins to see her experimental or avant-garde characteristics come through. Her short stories depict the uncertain grounds of relationships; either between parent and child, husband and wife, or brother and sister; as a reader, one is not entirely away of how they reached such a sudden, or absurd, or violent climax; as if the characters reasoning or rational are exaggerated or over reactionary for the situation. Her recent work is noted for tracing the bankruptcy of the Greek soul, as the financial crisis has emptied the wallets of its citizens, caused political discourse and uncertainty, and drained moral character from the state. “Eva,” employees the female psyche of the character Eva, to offer an x-ray and diagnostic imaging of the complete collapse of Greece’s moral infrastructure, its political institutions, and its citizens in crisis and fear; as the financial crisis pillages and pilfers the Greek populace of hope, stability, and places them on the edge of collapse and ruin. Her most recent English translation is the fictionalized three day sojourn in Paris, of the Egyptian-Greek poet, Constantine P. Cavafy. Ersi Sotiropoulos had called, Cavafy, a monumental Greek poet of the last century—perhaps even more important than Nobel Laureates: Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis. The novel combines fact and imagination, to create a sensual, erotic, and hallucinogenic narrative of the three days Cavafy spent in Paris, which would inspire and mature his poetic endeavors.
Magdalena Tulli – Poland – The literary family tree of Magdalena Tulli houses the apples of: Bruno Schulz, Daniil Kharms, Franz Kafka, and Jorge Luis Borges. The roots sink deep into earth, firmly anchoring it. The apples are often warped, surreal, and carry the tinge of cynical bitterness, riddled with the absurd, and at times the surreal. When one drops, and begins the slow process of decay, in its fermenting juices, and rotting peels, a world comes to its end. A city of steel, brick, and glass collapses. The sky once distant now encases in closure. The sidewalks crack, while the roads warp. The seeds remain, now postmodern jewels, offering inclinations of the fragmented realities, narratives, and stories beneath the last material, yet to decay. The world of Magdalena Tulli is continually in a state of postmodern creation and maintenance; disrepair and repair. Her novel “Dreams and Stones,” recounts the creation myth, through the postmodern lens, and creates a narrative that has neither narrator, character(s), story, narrative, or plot; but rather recounts through the objective perspective of some distant and haphazard voice, in the most poetic documentary tone, the creation of a city, being either created or rebuilt through the wishes and dreams of the populace. The novel is characterized in a polarizing fashion. Some have described it a work of poetic prose (or prose poem), while the author maintains with singular certainty that it is a novel. It has been called a critique of the traditional creation myth, as well as topical discussion of the apocalypse. Others have deemed it an allegorical rendering of the rebuilding of Warsaw, after the Second World War. The author offers no elucidation to either claim, and instead promotes the interpretation readers and critics entertain. These metafictional qualities, first established in “Dreams and Stones,” would follow later on in her other novels: “Moving Parts,” “Flaw,” and “In Red,” where gradually traditional elements of novels were introduced, though always with postmodern twists, and often playful twists; until finally settling on the most conventional notion of a novel—at least by Magdalena Tulli’s fashion. Her latest works, yet to be translated, take a more autobiographical approach to her. They are introspective journey’s, as the author traces the shadow of the Second World War, and the Holocaust on her mother, who had survived the concentration camps, but carried the shadow into her life afterwards, and subsequently endowed it on to her own daughter, who grappled with notions of guilt, grief, and death from an early age. The works of Magdalena Tulli, are true feats of a literary master mind. Her production is little and slow, but the quality is world class. Her literary language is dense, poetic, and lush. It riddles with vibrant images, metaphors, and symbolism. She is able to deconstruct the world with surgical precision, and in its ruin reconstruct yet another world of similar shape and form, yet in this reflection, showcase the inherent differences that exist between the two versions, and how perception in itself, creates reality, and how one interacts with it. Magdalena Tulli is talented, as much as she is a literary genius. A truly remarkable writer, who is deprived of the appreciation she deserves.
Durs Grünbein – Germany – Since his initial debut in the late eighties, Durs Grünbein was noted for being of the most invigorated, and powerful new voices in the Germany literary scene, especially in the field of poetry. Grünbein was noted for being a poet of world significance, and marked a changing wind in German language poetry. The poetry of Durs Grünbein is noted for going beyond autobiographical and personal predilections, and instead turns its eye towards more grandiose, historical, and external aesthetics. This has led, Durs Grünbein, to being one of the most successful poets of his generation, in large part thanks to his international appeal, and being noted as the poetic voice of a reunited and uniform Germany, no longer divided into East and West divisions. His preoccupations with poetry cannot easy be defined, as they move between eclectic and diverse subjects: from Classical Greek poetry, to quantum physics. His early year’s poetry was noted for their deadpan, and at times ironic perception, laced with bitter sarcasm. Over the years his aesthetic sarcasm, has been stripped away with age. At one point, the poetic voiced shifted to more classical styles, complete with their austere restraints; while more recently has become more fragmented, shedding the constraints of severity, in favour of an earlier playfulness, without the youthful cynicism. Beyond his preoccupations with poetry, Durs Grünbein is a noted essayist and translator, whereby he has translated such works ranging from ancient Greece to Japanese, as well as collaborated with visual artists, and filmmakers, ensuring his creative palette, and perspective moves beyond the confines of poetry, and literature, in order to provide a more varied appreciation towards other endeavors.
Doris Kareva – Estonia – Doris Kareva embodies the soul and spirit of the poet, as a pearl. Her poetry is human, riddled with emotional brilliance and resonance, its sole goal is to be felt and understood through the sensory and emotive sensations. Doris Kareva is known for diving and plummeting to the deepest aspects of the human experience, where she dredges up the fine sands of the human heart, soul, spirit, and shadow. Her poems are noted for observing a strict adherence to her personal form, one based on brevity and clarity, in an otherwise condescend form. Her poetry is noted for its paradoxical movements, by employing both vivid imagery, clear diction, while maintaining open interpretation of meaning within her work, once again relying on the readers emotional reaction to imbued or guide meaning. Despite varied interpretations her poetry is open and willing to be read by all those who open its clam like shell, to gaze at the wonders inside. Her poems are not historical chronicles or epic in scope or vision; in fact they are quite contrary. Kareva’s poetry has often been misclassified as feminine in nature or pertaining to the gender specific guidelines of poetry; where (if we are to believe) male poets are preoccupied with the political, the historical, the philosophical—the important predications of the time; while women are to be more concerned with the nature and issues of the domestic variety: writing poems of love, longing, unrequited affections, and the evils of the heart. This notion is absurd, as it is archaic. This idea is neither gender bias nor sexists; it’s simply outdated and pretentious. Though Doris Kareva is noted for her poetry which excavates and spelunk the arteries, catacombs and tunnels of the heart, and human emotions and spirit, it is high quality. When one opens the oyster of Kareva’s poems, they will find a pearl as stunning, ethereal and elusive as the dawn, in which the sun has yet to slip above the horizon; it is there her poems glimmer with boundless meanings and interpretations, each depending on the personal characteristics of the beholder. Doris Kareva’s poetry is anything but anemic; and certainly not reserved for the female sex. Its merit is just as strong as the historical chronicle, and epic poems of anyone else. Her foothold in the English language is also becoming more paramount. Bloodaxe Books recently released a collection of selected poems titled: “Days of Grace,” in English translation. The collection has been well received by critics and poetry readers alike, who admire her ability to create a multitude of meanings through a singular strength of vision, distilled with such economic clarity, as well as her poems harmonic grace, and continuity in thought that expands throughout the collection.
Annie Ernaux – France – Autobiography, memoirs, diaries—these are not terms associated with the higher pursuits of literature. They are personal, and private; an example of histrionics, self-indulgence, and self-absorption. The confessional exhumation of one’s own past, now shined and polished for general consumption. Annie Ernaux, though a writer of deeply personal affected narratives, memoirs, and otherwise noted for her ‘autobiographical fiction,’ is able to leave cheap indulgences, cliché, and kitschy confessional sentiments aside, in favour of sociological narratives, utilizing the otherwise personal and private to provide an anchor, and narrative force to the cartographical act of tracing and observing otherwise more external macro social, political and societal changes. The work of Annue Ernaux is not the self-indulgent confessions, or satirically veiled and barbed Roman à clef, produced by other writers. The work of Annie Ernaux is instead an examination of the external through the lens of the private, and personal, which happens to give the socioeconomic and political changes a shape, form, and narrative structure, in order to make it more personable, palpable, and tangible. Her work carefully examines the changing climate, atmosphere, pressure, and conventions of society, while also providing a unique analytical critique. Ernaux takes her own personal and private predictions in order to provide a human and personal touch to the greater workings of society and history. The humanization of such moments, removes it from the dusted case of academia, and places it into a realm that is palpable and engaging. Annie Ernaux is able to create empathetic, as well as sympathetic narratives, built on distressing facts, but measured with a restrained vision, and a preoccupation with grander and more social concerns. This macro and external perspective is what is endearing about Annie Ernaux, she is able to move beyond the self-indulgence, and confessional pitfalls of less capable writers, and instead fixates and focuses on a need to protest or actively voice change, through her sharply observed writings. Her work is a social and historical time capsule, bet fit with personal memorabilia, opinions, perceptions, and fine-tuned observations.
Dimitris Lyacos – Greece – A wonderful thank-you to one of you, my Dear Gentle Readers, for brining my attention to Dimitris Lyacos, in this I thank reader and commenter morta, who in two-thousand and seventeen brought to my attention to the Greek writer Dimitris Lyacos.— Dimitris Lyacos is one of Greece’s great contemporary writers, who has come to paramount attention with the recent completion and publication of his “Poena Damni,” trilogy. First and foremost, “Poena Damni,” is extraordinarily postmodern in scope, with a combination, and pastiche of different genres, to create an epicist trilogy of form, scope, and thematic concern. The trilogy is noted for taking its inspiration from epic and tragic poetry and narratives. It is often described as ‘post-tragic,’ work of literature, as it explores the structure of tragedy, instead of exploring its formal characteristics; while reviewing the shadow elements of romantic poetry, symbolism, expressionism, and the works of Dante, as well as Homer. “Poena Damni,” has been described as an exemplary postmodern challenge to: “Ulysses,” by James Joyce and the late Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” and the stream-of consciousness introspective narratives of Virginia Woolf. “Poena Damni,” is at once a paranoid, postmodern, surreal, nightmare landscape, which plays with form, perception, all through the powerful lens of poeticism utilized by the author.
Ana Luísa Amaral – Portugal – Ana Luísa Amaral is often described as one of Portugal’s most important poets, despite the fact that she begun to write and publish her poetry late in her career. Before embarking on the path of poetry, Ana Luísa Amaral worked (and still does) as an university professor of English literature, and other scholarly pursuits. Her doctoral thesis was on the American poet and recluse: Emily Dickinson, who—along with John Updike and William Shakespeare; she has translated into Portuguese. The poetry of Ana Luísa Amaral, was noted early on for taking a feminine stance in voice, tone, and themes with her first published collection. Her works are noted for studying the details of everyday life: mundane objects, routine activities, relationships, and the daily business of life, is juxtaposed and inflected with the sense of the dreamlike, or surreal. in this regard, Ana Luísa Amaral is often viewed with the reflective airs of philosophical poet, where she contemplates the mundanity with the celestial; or turning the personal into the universal. She is able to utilize Greek myths, biblical testaments, and other epics, and narrate them in her work from the female perspective. Her poetry is noted for its lucid language, which is readable and mistakenly viewed as simple. Beyond her work in academia, poetry, and translating, Ana Luísa Amaral has also written: essays, a novel, a play, and children’s books. Her poetry has also been adapted into theatrical texts.
Lyudmila Petrushevskaya – Russia – The stories of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya carry the atmosphere of fairytales. They are dark pearls strung along an onyx coloured chain; each one a glistening, gleaming, inky tear of unfortunate events, circumstances, depicting desperate individuals. During the Soviet Era, Petrushevskaya was prohibited from publishing her stories and novels. Her works are not political in nature; they do not encourage revolt, or rebellion; they do not inspire dissidence. Her work never showed any inclination, or predication towards political machinations. Rather, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya was proscribed from publishing, do to her work ‘blackening reality.’ In other words, her short stories and novels did not adhere or prescribe to the socialist realism and propaganda requirements of the system. It did the complete opposite; it described the actual reality of Soviet life: unhappy marriages, childhood poverty, disparity in wealth, and inhumane living conditions. There was no praise and no ideological fanaticism, no proletariat toiling away for the greater good; though there were workers toiling (then drinking), but it was to make the minimal wage they were offered, for the few grahams of bread they could have, to go with the other inexpensive accommodations of their life, under the Soviet System. The inspiration for the narratives of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya come from the people of Russia, especially the woman, who are more keen, and interested in talking about life, gossiping about their neighbors, and venting their frustrations. These women become the modern Homers, who ride the subway or the buses, sit in cafes, and on park benches; and from them, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya is able to concoct a witch’s brew, and present their narratives in her finely shaped, dark pearls of fairytales. Now days, Petrushevskaya has become a somewhat Saintly figure, or Minerva, to the Russian women, who view her as a medium, who has given material form, and voice to the marital discord of the Soviet Union to uncomfortable democracy, which is a reflection of their own broken marriages, and divorces. All the while Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, never digresses to political commentary. Though her popularity may still be on the rise, her apolitical position is still able to ruffle feathers, with her frank stories, novels and plays, where she discusses, depicts, and contemplates the absurd and often tragic realities of the former Soviet Union and how it has spilled over into the new Russia. Throughout it all, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya does not just merely describe or objectively listen—she offers solace with biting irony.
Henrik Nordbrandt – Denmark – Before her death ten years ago, the late Inger Christensen was considered serious contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Christensen was a marvel of poetry, whose themes were universal (death, love, fear, powerlessness), but discussed in a unique poetic format, that was both readable, and displayed with acute philosophical perception. Nobel Laureate, Herta Müller has praised and spoke warmly of the poet, whose charisma and warm personality was enchanting. Yet time and waiting has proven consequential once again, as Christensen would pass away without the Nobel nod. A contemporary of Christensen, Henrik Nordbrandt, is considered a hallmark of Danish poetry, with an exotic flavor. Nordbrandt studied Eastern languages when he attended university, and since becoming a full time writer has lived in the Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, and now Spain). His poems deal with emptiness, love, yearning, absence, and death, among many others; but despite the solemn nature of his themes, his poems are noted for taking a somewhat upbeat or cheerful tone. It is with great thanks to, Bror Axel Dehn, that I’ve researched Henrik Nordbrandt. Bror Axel Dehn describes Nordbrandt’s poetry as a marriage between classical lyrical traditions with a almost childlike perspective. Though he admitted, he has an ambivalent relationship towards, Nordbrandt, he admitted that when the poet reaches his strong striking points, he often hits the mark and tune with delicate grace and clear vision of poetic perspective.
Fleur Jaeggy – Switzerland (Italian language) – Fleur Jaeggy is the literary queen of dry-ice. Her pen is stainless steel, while the nib is razor sharp, bleeding ink to paper, where the following etches depict the horrors, the misery, the drudgery, the mundane, tragedies, and the ever present violence, and insanity lurking beneath the surface of day to day life. The literary world of Fleur Jaeggy, is a cold and uninhabitable place; one deprived of joy. Her characters live squandered and unfortunate existences—furthermore they do not live, but merely exist; drifting through the sewage strewn river of life, until they die. Their perspective is similar to the author: dry, cold, and precise. They act with restrained emotion, presenting the world with an almost rational exterior, never presenting any burst of passion, anger, or other unnecessary showcases of pantomime. They calculate when to commit suicide, in order to conceal the shot with the ring of a church bell. Their violent appetites, watch manor houses burn for the sheer hell of it. They decide early on, their sole aspiration in life is to die. As for Fleur Jaeggy herself, the biographical notes of the author remains scare, with but a mere scant amount of flesh of detail, to provide a character portrait. She’s noted for being reclusive and solitary, rarely consenting to interviews, and being evasive during them. She was born in Switzerland and shipped off to boarding schools. Her literary language is Italian. She is married to Roberto Calasso, who is considered a literary institution in his own right. She has lived in Italy, since she has been an adult. Beyond her literary preoccupations, she is also a translator of Thomas De Quincy, and Marcel Schwob. Her literary style is considered a marriage of different forms. Her novels are known to possess qualities of an essay and to have a language like that of a prose poem. Her short stories are often given similar recognition with regards to its blend of poetic language, essayist analysis and prose narrative. Despite being overlooked, and grossly underappreciated, Fleur Jaeggy is an astonishing and monumental writer. Her work is biting and perhaps mistakenly nihilistic, but her observations and dry-icy cartographical analysis of the depravity of existence, is both endearing and admirable, as it refuses to look at the world through priggish moral high handing. It’s an existential vivisection, of the depravity to seek universal meaning, only to be driven mad or violent by the inherent meaninglessness.
Jón Kalman Stefánsson – Iceland – Iceland is a small nation residing in the Atlantic Ocean, whose closest neighbours include: the Faroe Islands and Greenland; while further on: Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (specifically Scotland). Despite being small, Iceland is regarded as one of the most literary in the world. Icelandic authors are also no strangers in finding success in translation, and are often noted for its powerful literary talents, such as the lyricist turned prose writer: Sjon. Jón Kalman Stefánsson is a dark horse of Iceland letters. His novels carry unique and often foreboding titles: “Heaven and Hell,” and “About The Size of the Universe.” The novels of Jón Kalman Stefánsson beckon forth the Medieval Iceland Saga’s of the past. They trace the profound exploration of life, love, desire, and of course death, all in the rugged, harsh, and breathtaking landscape of Iceland, a land of fire and ice. Jón Kalman Stefánsson has been nominated for the Booker International Prize, as well as the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize on four different occasions. He is an author who with a profound simplicity remains concerned with the human conditions primeval nature, which lurks beneath our societal image of ourselves; there lurks the carnal and primal urges, hankering for release, through the unabashed and raw need for desire. All of this is recounted through the deceptive simplicity of prose, detailed with a poet’s acumen to mine right to the heart of the matter, with a keen philosophical eye, continually observing the wayward wills and oppression of the human condition. Jón Kalman Stefánsson, came to more prominent attention last year, when he was considered one of the nominees for the revolutionary ‘New Academy Literature Prize,’ which sought to fill the void left behind by the absent Nobel Prize for Literature. Since then Jón Kalman Stefánsson, has been mulled and ruminated on as a possible, contender—but no more than any other writer.
Mircea Cartarescu – Romania – Mircea Cartarescu, is one of the most critically acclaimed and well known Romanian writers, currently at work today. He is a respected poet and prose writer, who began his literary endeavors as a rebellious poet, belonging to the ‘Blue Jean Generation.’ Yet, since begin his literary career, Cartarescu has moved beyond his youthful literary beginnings of the eighties, and has become a revered Romanian postmodernist master. His first prose work was a collection of five short stories called “Nostalgia,” which already began to show the developing themes and styles of Cartarescus later works. His most well-known and praised work however is his ‘Orbitor,’ trilogy, which had taken fourteen years to compose, and spans more than a thousand pages. The trilogy is noted for its attention to detail, fine-tuned language, and hallucinogenic prose. “Blinding: Volume 1, the Left Wing,” is the only part of the trilogy currently translated into English, and is a massive novel to get through; but the prose is sensual, vivid, surreal, engrossing and a true delight to read; though one should take their time to read it, to savour it, and its audacious romp through history, memories (envisioned, embellished, and honest), and the mythical city of Bucharest.
Viivi Luik – Estonia – Some writers sit or remain dormant after becoming their initial publication. They are unsure if they can repeat the success of their first work. Others never reached any success the first time around, and worry about publishing into the void again. Viivi Luik has never had an issue with publishing. She has been described as the Estonia literary ‘wunderkid,’ her first collection of poetry was published when she was eighteen in the Estonian Literary Golden Years of the nineteen-sixties, and she was noted for being a changing wind in the Estonian literary scene. This is perhaps why, Viivi Luik is often regarded as the Canary poet, for her ability to take note of the changing poetic predilections, sociopolitical atmosphere, and economic tides, but also the personal, private, and sensual changes of the human heart. Her poetry is often noted for its chameleon like flexibility, nimble measures, and undying musicality. Her poetic forms often reflect and refract, personal observations, private moments, intimate minuets, into the mystical and universal, through the metaphors and lens of the natural world, landscape, and other external forces. Her poetic voice is ever sensual, preceptive, and understanding of the world in which we all inhabit, but experience is such different and unique measures. Beyond her poetry, Viivi Luik has also published three novels. Her first two novels, were noted for their immediate poeticized language. Language, experience, and the depiction of the intimate and immediate, are often noted as focal points of the novels, not the usual narrative structures typically used in prose deconstruction and criticism. These first two novels were noted for their depiction of the political situations of the Eastern Europe and life behind the Iron Curtain in the grand Soviet Union. “The Seventh Spring of Peace,” tells the story of an Estonian childhood, riddled with absurdity, fear, and paranoia, in the countryside, as a child seeks to make sense of the macro machinations of the world around them, fit with fear and uncertainty. “The Beauty of History,” recounts the love story of a young woman and a young man, during the Prague Spring, and reflects the mentality and reality of the Baltics at the time, and the malaise of Eastern Europe in its grey fortification. Viivi Luik has also written, essays on matters of art, literature, and the conceptual meaning human beings bring to them. She is one of Estonia’s most beloved and special writers, who is unfortunately under translated and underappreciate
Javier Marias – Spain – Javier Marias, is one of Spain’s most renowned, recognized, and established writers, with international recognition and appeal—especially towards English language readers. He studied English philology, translated classic of English Literature into Spanish, as well as lectured at Oxford on the art of translation. Javiar Maris had an upbringing, surrounded by intellectualism and dissidence; his father a Spanish philosopher was persecuted by Franco’s regime, and was imprisoned, for his teachings and criticisms. Due to the hostility of Spain under Franco’s rule, Javiar Maris along with his family, moved briefly to the United States, where his father lectured at universities. Throughout his childhood and adolescences, Javiar Maris proved himself to being a literary prodigy; writing his first ‘mature,’ short story when he was fourteen and later publishing in a collection of short stories titled: “While the Women are Sleeping.” He published his first novel at the age of seventeen, and his second novel while studying in university. His work is noted for its postmodern pastiche and playfulness, combing genres, themes, and preoccupations to bring a conceptive fragmented perspective of the modern world, while remaining a sense of humour and playfulness. He is regarded as one of most important contemporary Spanish language writers currently at work.
Zsuzsa Takács – Hungary – the “doyenne of contemporary Hungarian Poetry,” as described by World Literature Today; though Zsuzsa Takács is often overlooked by comparision to other contemporary and widely translated Hungarian writers: László Krasznahorkai and Péter Nadas, who are noted for their dense, philosophical, and at times apocalyptic works, which are deemed the highest caliber of serious literature. Despite this, Zsuzsa Takács has been a quiet voice, but striking voice within the wings, her poetry striking, forceful and sharp. Since her initial debut in the nineteen-seventies, Takács poetic voice was already developed, with motifs that would reoccur continually: urban landscape items: trams, streets, and promenades along the waterfront. Takács, poetic themes range from transformation and metamorphosis to love and death; all the while wrapped up in her signature ironic humour, with its misunderstandings, and double-entendres. Zsuzsa Takács is a unique poet in Hungary. She followed the Postwar Poet, who in returned gave their blessings and praise, to her early poetic work. She had the privilege of observing her country’s metamorphosis since her debut, from one ideology to another—from the stifiling political atmosphere of the Soviet Union, complete with ideological constraints, and demands; to the independent nation of Hungary, which now moves towards a stronger more ‘ultra-nationalistic,’ perspective, in contemporary politics. In her early poems, she discussed homelessness as a state of existence, and then remarked on the claustrophobic realities of: apartments, rooms, and hospital wards. Zsuzsa Takács most recent collections of poems showcase her own literary transfigurations, where alongside the poems, the writer had also included works of prose (short stories or prose poems), in which she comments on the poetry of others, and her own. Zsuzsa Takács is a Hungarian treasure, one who is waiting for greater English introductions.
Ryszard Krynicki – Poland – A contemporary of Adam Zagajewski, Ryszard Krynicki also belongs to the literary movement and generation aptly called: Generation ’68; in reference to the political movement of the late sixties and early seventies of the Twentieth Century. The early poetry of Ryszard Krynicki is noted for its accumulative and pointed imagery, reflecting the meaninglessness, the danger, the oppression, and the uncertainty of the time. Krynicki’s poetry was depicted as hostile, and threatening, a wasteland of corruption, which took its toll of the everyday individual, in the most exact and taxing of manners, slowly stripping them of their dignity, their humanity, and their freedoms. The ‘narrators,’ or ‘protagonists,’ of his poetry often remark at the incomprehensibility of their realities, an unknowing inclination, a bewildered disorientation, and an attempt to revolt against the falsehoods of ideology and communist: “new speak.” Do to his open disregard and dissent against the reigning political movement of the time, Ryszard Krynicki was censored and forbidden from publishing. This did not stop his literary output or his outright refusal to abide by the communist rule of the time, which was slowly beginning to erode, implosion now: certain. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the abandonment of the communist ideology, and a new found sense of independence, the perspective of Eastern Europe began to change. Some Eastern European countries failed to get a ride on the economic train which was passing through, while others such as Poland, Czechia, a unified Germany, and Estonia quickly took advantage of the new found freedom. The poetry of Ryszard Krynicki also changed into a different direction, moving away from the multifaceted postmodern baroque poetry of the communist era, Krynicki took short poetic discussions, reministicent of haikus, where instead of seeking political autonomy, freedom, and social liberty, they are reminiscent of a spiritual pilgrimage.
László Krasznahorkai – Hungary – The Hungarian monk of the apocalypse, gained immediate recognition and notoriety when his notoriously long, dense, difficult, and mammoth novels, particularly noted for his long, unending, winding sentences—which have been described his one translator (George Szirtes) once described his sentences and narratives as slow moving lava. László Krasznahorkai has been dubbed the ‘Master of the Apocalypse,’ by Susan Sontag, and variations of the title now fit. His work is noted for its particular dread, its particular unease, a foreboding atmosphere, and then finally an explosive impact, which leaves everything its wake in chaos, as oblivion makes traces its clawed marks along the Kafkaesque landscape—Soviet rural communities, poor communities, ruins of desperation, bars of neither character nor charm and so on. In this László Krasznahorkai is often deemed some old underground punk Rockstar, now finding his niche, his success, his place in the world. Hipsters bought his books like they were albums, readily willing to discuss or read them out loud; if they weren’t translated, they’d seek to translate the narratives themselves. László Krasznahorkai became a unique literati currency, amongst educated youth, seeking a something unique, strange, dense, and more powerful then what English language authors had been able to produce in recent memory. He became their postmodern prophet of the abyss. Despite the dread, the horror, the doom, and the gloom which surrounds his work, there is a noted sense of comedy and humour, which is intricate to his work; though one would need the tolerance, the patience, and the stamina to enjoy it, before it too is consumed in the relentless lava of text. On a personal note, my reading experience with László Krasznahorkai, is one based off respect, but lukewarm all the same. His work requires the level of care, patience, tolerance, and marathonic resilience and tenacity, which I do not have. There is respect in what he can do, what he has done, his discipline to his form, his unrelentless singular spirit and dedication to his style, preoccupation, and themes, its still not a literary work which I find easy or enjoyable in consumption. One cannot deny his work for being masterful in craft, monumental in form, and foreboding in deliverance, he is uncompromising, which is also what endears him to his readers. László Krasznahorkai is a giant of global letters and international literature, his shadow is eclipsing, and undeniable. The talents of his work blister and push forward. Denying, Krasznahorkai his place on the literary stage is inappropriate, if not impossible. The Nobel Prize for Literature would not be a surprise for the author, and this point one is merely discussing when not if—though caution should warranted against speaking with such certain conviction. The Swedish Academy has proven, they do not like to appear stagnant or complacent, or predictable.
Cees Nooteboom – The Netherlands – Cees Nooteboom’s novels have been compared to that of Italo Calvino, and Vladimir Nabokov; writing post-modern fables that engulf the oddities of twentieth century, and the now early twenty first century in its ethereal, whimsical and cerebral disorganized self. His works painstakingly remind the reader, that all novels are an inherent self-absorbed act of human validation. Nooteboom, however, writes more than just novels; he is noted for his essays, poetry, and short stories. He has gathered particular acclaim for his travel writing and reportage. Home, becomes less a hearth and family oriented concept in Nooteboom’s bibliography; rather it becomes more academic in its discussion, as he recounts the flights of fancy and jet-fueled wanderlust in an ever more closely and interconnected world; which everyday grows closer and closer, and more borderline to annihilation and extinction. Home in these regards is more than just four walls and a roof; it’s our place in the cosmos; where each of us seek to validate and stake our claim against the greater expanse of meaninglessness, in a cold universe deprived of celestial warmth or holy divinity.
Kiki Dimoula – Greece – Kiki Dimoula’s poetry reflects personal experience in a historical context. Her poetic language is frank, honest, sharp, and sparse. Yet it is known for its linguistic aerobatics, playful syntax, and emotive powers deprived of sentimentality. Her poetry deals with national disillusionment and state homelessness, as the homeland is no longer a welcoming place but a military ruled ideological dictatorship. Her poetry recounts faded memories, the onslaught of oblivion, and the progressively corrosive touch of time, which disintegrates everything; as well as the modern man’s attempts to escape his existential anxieties and insecurities of the modern age. This comes from Dimoula’s own experience of living and viewing Greece under the state of military dictatorship. Yet despite the arbitrary historical context haunting the present, Dimoula’s poetry always offers a glimpse of hope: fading memories make room for new ones; while lost or destroyed photographs are replaced with others; a home goes beyond the roof or the possessions and furnishings, it’s the people and the memories which count. She’s a strong elegiac voice, which does not allow itself to be overtaken by maudlin yearnings or nostalgic notions; it offers warning and hope, to those who listen and to those who read.
Kjell Askildsen – Norway – [ Recommended by Bror Axel Dehn ] – Kjell Askildsen is regarded as one of the most important Norwegian writers working in the contemporary short story; often characterized as a master of the form. His short stories, utilize minimal language and bare bone plots, to showcase human relationships at their most intimate and fraught, where moments of misunderstanding explode and crumble the foundations of time and age, which has supported the characters. His work has had a lasting impact on Scandinavian literature, as he is often considered a mentor of many new and young contemporary writers. Despite the intimate nature of the short story, and the fact that Askildsen focuses on relationships within his work, there is glacial permafrost which is imbedded in his work. His landscapes are derelict and almost apocalyptic in their Beckettian minimal bleakness, with similar draperies and events going through them, ashtrays and stale cigarette butts, beer, coffee, as well as funerals. In such a timeless void, deprived of coherent sense of time and place, there is little for the characters to hope for, and so they succumb sexual impulses, and dream of erotic desires to keep them company. In his machine like prose, with its repetitive mantras, and steely accuracy, now rusted by time and fate, but not forgotten; Kjell Askildsen presents the plight of the contemporary human: continually envisioning and craving for the warmth and intimacy of companionship, but is thwarted by misunderstandings, and in the end left disenfranchised and disposed in a world deprived of such luxuries, simply by human failure and fault.
Adam Zagajewski – Poland – Zagajewski is a compatriot of Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, a Neustadt International Prize for Literature Laureate, and one of Poland’s most famous poets; both post-war and post-cold war. Adam Zagajewski began his literary career, in the late sixties, early seventies, as he became one of the most influential members of “The 1968 Generation,” (or New Wave) of poets. His early poems and collections, such as: “Slaughterhouses,” were noted for their socio-political critiques; after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Zagajewski’s poetry has become more philosophical and existential, then politically observational. History is a major part in Adam Zagajewski’s work, as he often displays how history embeds itself in the everyday and common place, in the most subtle of ways. In this regard, history and historical accounts and facts, are not grand epics or chronicles, they are understated events which haunt the present with such a lightness of touch they overlooked and missed. His themes however are universal as much as they common place, but with historical contexts, philosophical ponderings, and an ever present existential desire to find meaning, Adam Zagajewski is considered a grand master of poetry and human thought.
Dag Solstad – Norway – Like many young writers, Dag Solstad, began his literary career with great controversy in his youth, by writing blatant political narratives, which sympathized and even promoted Lenin-Marxist ideals. Sand and time have the marvelous ability to smoothing out the coarse and pompous edges of youth, and soon Dag Solstad would abandon his less then bashful political themes for more philosophical and existential ruminations. His prose and his work, is considered the best of Norway, and the gold standard of comparison. Solstad’s mature work is known for focusing on the existential crisis’s of the everyday man who deals with abandonment, the passage of time, the frustrations of life, and the attempts at creating meaning in another wise meaningless world, deprived of any universal concepts or contexts of higher sense of meaning beyond the ones in which the individual is responsible to give it. Yet, what if the individual is incapable of giving their life meaning, beyond the pointlessness of job and paycheque? Dag Solstad ponders and wonders about these everyday existential individuals who continuously find themselves abandoned and realizing their life has past and left them stranded on the flotsam and jetsam of life’s shipwreck, adrift in a sea apathetic and disinterested in their course of life. His work has been called philosophical, political, and experimental—all of which does not matter to Solstad, whose peculiar and particular breed of writing and ironic sense of realism, continuous to provoke the imagination and ask questions about human destiny in the world.
Péter Nadas – Hungary – Peter Nadas, has often been compared to Marcel Proust, for his preoccupation with memory and times passage; but also perhaps because of his obscenely long novels; “Parallel Stories,” alone is extraordinarily large, with a page of one-thousand five hundred and twenty pages, and took the author eighteen years to write. Both his parents were illegal Communists during World War II, but survived the war, and found stability under the Communist dictatorship. Nadas’s father, was head of a government department, before being accused of embezzlement, though he was exonerated of all charges and accusations brought against him, he would commit suicide after the ordeal; his mother, died when Peter was thirteen succumbing to an illness. After his father’s suicide at sixteen, Nadas was an orphan. He trained to be a journalist and a photographer, and for a few years worked as journalist and a photographer, before freelancing and writing fulltime. Since then, Peter Nadas has been of the most renowned and well known Hungarian of contemporary literature, along with László Krasznahorkai. Much like his contemporary (Krasznahorkai) is known for his doorstopper novels, and his uncompromising style, which again requires readers to armed with stamina, tolerance and patience, as they tread the memory laden works, as they probe the historical and the personal.
Leonard Nolens – Belgium – When it comes to Flemish language poetry, Leonard Nolens would be considered the most striking and distinguished contemporary representative at work. Nolens entire oeuvre is described as encompassing and uncompromising. His early work is noted for being experimental, hermetic, and baroque inspired; while his later works are noted for eschewing his earlier experimental forms, hermetic styles, and abandoning baroque influence, in favour of a more somber and plain language. Despite striping his poetic style of baroque ornamentation and experimental forms, in favour of a more conversational and approachable language, Nolens poetry has not lost its desire to host discussions on a range of subjects, though philosophical and profound in nature. Apart from being a poet, Leonard Nolens is a noted memoirist (or diarist). His recent collections of poetry have seen Nolens depart from the singular ‘I,’ and move towards the interpersonal ‘we,’ in his poetry. His recent collection of poetry: “Tell the Children We’re No Good,” is a collection of poems which has been described as generational with the use of ‘we,’ and personal with the salt and pepper of ‘I.’ In this collection of poems, Nolens warningly reflects on his generation, but also casts a critical and honest eye on its blunders. The shift from the singular to communal shows Leonard Nolens desire to move beyond the personal to the collective with his discussions, observations, and thoughts.
Pierre Michon – France – Pierre Michon is a quiet writer of French letters. He does not capture the controversy of Michel Houellebecq; he does not exhume the private, personal, or sensitive like Christine Angot, and turn into some tabloid literary feature; he doesn’t quite have the obsessive brooding preoccupations of Patrick Modiano, or the expansive explorative eye as J.M.G Le Clezio. Rather, Pierre Michon, quietly sits back and writes otherwise, strange or obscure novels that never makes a headline, but gains a cult notoriety amongst his readers. His prose is both dense and intense, despite his work generally being relatively short, in comparison to other notorious dense writers such as: Laszlo Krasznahorkai or Peter Nadas. Discouragement or weariness to his work should be dissuaded. Michon is not necessarily a poetic babbling blowhard either. Though his work carries poetic symphonic qualities, it is not necessarily pontificating pretense, which seeks to alienate the reader either; patience is still required, as Pierre Michon is generally speaking barely interested in narratives, story arches, or plot. Instead, his work carries the concern for the subject itself—be it lost and forgotten saints, abbots, and monks; or the strange workings of the heart, portrayed in the context of Paleolithic cave art, echoing through time. Michon would not be a writer one would be described as ‘warm,’ either—his work carries a cold clinician’s eye, with a voice echoing through the marble amphitheatre, into the obsidian catacombs below. Pierre Michon’s work carries little in regard to empathy, but an increasingly obsessive attitude towards his immediate subject, be it tangible or cerebral; memory driven, or fictious. This has not been a hinderance to Pierre Michon, who has taken in a few literary prizes for his work, including: [the] Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française (one of the most prestigious French literary awards), [the] Prix Décembre, and most recently the Franz Kafka Prize, which only shows his growing appeal or recognition on a more international stage; though his preoccupations remain microcosmic in their relation to macro elements and events.
Henrik Nordbrandt – Denmark – Before her death in two-thousand and nine, Inger Christensen was considered a heavy contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Christensen was a marvel of poetry, whose themes were universal (death, love, fear, powerlessness), but discussed in a unique poetic format, with acute philosophical perception. Nobel Laureate, Herta Müller has praised and spoke warmly of the poet, whose charisma and warm personality was enchanting. Yet time and waiting has proven consequential once again, as Christensen would pass away without the Nobel nod. A contemporary of Christensen, Henrik Nordbrandt, is considered a hallmark of Danish poetry, with an exotic flavor. Nordbrandt studied eastern languages when he attended university, and since becoming a full time writer has lived in the Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, and now Spain). His poems deal with emptiness, love, yearning, absence, and death, among many others; but despite the solemn nature of his themes, his poems are noted for taking a somewhat upbeat or cheerful tone. It is with great thanks to, Bror Axel Dehn, that I’ve researched Henrik Nordbrandt. Bror Axel Dehn describes Nordbrandt’s poetry as a marriage between classical lyrical traditions with a almost childlike perspective. Though he admitted, he has an ambivalent relationship towards, Nordbrandt, he admitted that when the poet reaches his strong striking points, he often hits the mark and tune with delicate grace and clear vision of poetic perspective. Thank-you Bror!
Claudio Magris – Italy – Scholar, essayists and novelist, Claudio Magris is known for his far reaching historical novels. He is most well-known for his non-fiction book “Danube,” which traces the disputed origins of the Danube River, to its final destination. The travelogue/historical analysis traces, the cultural and literary histories of the countries, in which the river passes through. It also adds human elements and stories, into the book, through folktales and poignant observations. Magris in the novel has an eye for details, which give each visited town, and city its own personality. The language itself is poetic and graceful flowing with the Danube’s course with ease. His novels are equally as intense and philosophical in their discussions of the culture and history of the twentieth century.
Jaan Kaplinski – Estonia – Kaplinski’s career began in the Golden Sixties of Estonian Literature, where he was known as a poet; or rather a rebellious poet, but not a flow blown dissident writer. Jaan Kaplinski gathered appreciation for his humanistic perspective of his poems. Kaplinski’s influences are culturally and linguistically eclectic, from Celtic mythology and language, to Chinese philosophy and Buddhist thought—Kaplinski’s poetry is noted to change, evolve, and reflect his varied interests. In doing so Jaan Kaplinski eschews hermetic poetry formats, schools and traditions. In its place he utilizes his broad interests and themes to formulate a mosaic of human endless human destinies reflected in nature, philosophical discussion, political discourse, historical events, and fable like narratives. Though most well-known for being the star of Estonian Modernist poetry, and a productive poet at that, Jaan Kaplinski begun writing prose later in his career. His prose is a broad spectrum, much like his poetry. It ranges from autobiographical works, to essays, prose poems, and even science fiction, where he is able to cast a critical eye on human civilization, and our communal pride. Jaan Kaplinski is a unique poet, one whose humanistic voice brings influences from a multitude of different languages and cultures, and continual seeks to understand humanities destiny in correlation with the natural world, in which it seeks to conquer, subdue and form to its whims.
Mikhail Shishkin – Russia – Russian literature has long been known as the grand gold standard of literature. Its golden writers from: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, and Anton Chekhov, retain their relevancy and their provocative powers to this day. Though Russia’s history is noted for its darker periods, and the Soviet Union, may have crushed many intellectual persuits, the Silver Age preserved with: Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Ivan Bunin; which soon passed its moonlight glow on to later twentieth century writers: Joseph Brodsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Marina Tsvetaeva. The torch from its radiant golden sun, to its gentle silver moon, passed on and on. Today, Mikhail Shishkin is considered one of the most prominent and acclaimed writers of twenty-first century Russian literature. Shishkin is well revered for his beautiful lush language, which is praised for its lyricism and delivered magisterial control. Mikhail Shishkin is noted for tackling large themes and preoccupations in his work such as history, time, love (ever eternal), death and the resurrecting properties of memory. His work are grand scale epics, echoing the Golden Age of Russian literature; he is quoted to saying his major Russian influences are: Leo Tolstoy, who taught him not to be afraid of naivety. Anton Chekhov who passed on his love and devotion to humanity. As well as Ivan Bunin, who encouraged him to never compromise. Alongside his influences, Shishkin has been compared to James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov. Despite being praised as of the most important and influential Russian writers at work today, Shishkin’s relationship with Russia is complicated. He currently resides in Zurich, Switzerland, where he has worked as an interpreter for refugees. Mikhail Shishkin is a staunch critic of Putin and his government, calling it a regime riddled with corruption and filled with criminals. Despite his universally daunting themes, his complex use of language written with lyrical elegance; Shishkin is known for probing emotional destinies alongside the ethereal elements, which rule with intangible presence, and yet all too real authority. He has been described as a living classic, and an exceptional example of a writer who blends the Golden Age realism and romanticism of Russian literature, with postmodern sensibilities, as he seeks to broaden the Russian dialogue of literature once again, away from the political paranoia, prisons, and gulags of the Soviet Union.
Drajo Jančar – Slovenia – Drajo Jančar is Slovenia’s most prominent contemporary writer. The themes of Jančar’s works come from the early modernist traditions. His novels are characterized by the individuals struggle against oppressive institutions: prisons, psychiatric hospitals, military barracks and galleys or ships – or an oppressive society in the form of a dictatorship or a totalitarian regime. However despite the heaviness of these themes, he is known for his laconic and highly ironic writing style; often utilizing tragicomic events, to lighten the mood and twist the novel into different directions. Most of his novel take place in historical era settings (presumably twentieth century) Eastern Europe, as a metaphor for the human condition. Even though Drajo Jančar is a novelist and short story writer, he is also known for his essays and political engagements and civic commentaries.
Petr Král – Czechia – Petr Král has been described as: the last surrealist. In his earlier years, Petr Král was known as a surrealist. He had immigrated to France in nineteen-sixty eight, and became a student of surrealism, but later abandoned it. The themes and preoccupations of Král is an eternal longing. This yearning has become central to his meditations and works. He searches for the essences of something gone or past. This search becomes a longing for another time, wrapped in nostalgia, and eventually comes the individual. Identity and the places we inhabit, become instrumental to the human experience, and Král is a writer that scourges the past and its lost shadows, in order to discuss the present and its dilemmas. Yet he is also an observer of the small inconsequential moments of being; often through objects: a fresh shirt, the relief of urination, crossing a street, or the time of day.
António Lobo Antunes – Portugal – António Lobo Antunes is the Portuguese postmodernist master of prose. His novels follow in a similar fashion of other postmodernist writers such as: Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, and László Krasznahorkai. Antunes’s work is known for being long and exhaustive. His novels are especially well known for being difficult to read, as they the form of the stream of consciousness monologue. The monologues which narrate his novels are known to employee long and winding sentences, where they release their vitriolic perspective on the reader. Generally, António Lobo Antunes’s novels recount some historical reference or experience either with war of oppression—reflecting both the authors experience, as a doctor in Algeria during Portugal’s colonial wars, and his experience under Salazar’s dictatorship. His novels are often described as an old man, who releases and unburdens himself of his experiences of violence and death at any listeners or person who has an ear to spare, and time to tolerantly pass, with a man on the verge of madness, begging to relinquish his experiences of mankind at its worst. This often violent and somber perspective comes from António Lobo Antunes work as a doctor, both Portugal’s colonial wars, Angola’s war of independence, as well as his later work as a psychiatrist. His prose is noted to being influenced and reminiscent of William Faulkner, and his themes are grand, while his format difficult but rewarding—that if you get past the vitriolic onslaught of mankind at its worst.
Vladislav Bajac – Serbia – The Balkans, are often noted first and foremost for being contentious in their turmoil, thanks to the Yugoslav Wars of the nineteen-nineties and early two-thousands (1991-2001), which has carried charges of war crimes, including but not limited to: genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war rape, among other accounts of crimes against humanity, which carries its own sub-classifications of sects of criminal proceedings including: dehumanization, massacres, state terrorism/state sponsoring of terrorism, torture, enslavement and application of weapons of mass destruction. The Yugoslav Wars has been unanimously decried by international organizations, and other nations; yet the region at times remain contentious, bubbling and boiling in its own shared trauma, and exhausting lingering prejudices. The displacement of writers and other intellectuals of this time were striking, as suddenly nationalist and heritage concerns, took priority over a common notion of humanity. Many of these displaced intellectuals never returned, as home became a madhouse. Vladislav Bajac, on the contrary has remained in Serbia (or at the time of his birth Yugoslavia), through the wars and into independence. Bajac is regarded as one of Serbia’s bestselling and critically acclaimed writers, whose prose and poetry has been translated and published into twenty languages. His most famous novel from two-thousand and eight (which has only recently gained traction in the English language) “Hamam Balkania,” has been deemed a cerebral historical novel. The novel traces two parallel naratives dating back to the Ottoman Empire, and the two different trajectories and representations of creation and destruction, while the author provides his own musings and thoughts, on the notions of identity, religion, and nation, whereby he seeks to answer or contemplate at the very least, the grander questions of our time, and their historical roots.
Australia & Oceania –
Gerald Murnane – Australia – Gerald Murnane’s name is spoken in hushed whispers, among many. He’s a dark horse and a cult figure, known for his sparse bibliography, his eccentric qualities, and his uncompromising works. Murnane is often described as the quintessential Australian writer, as he has never left the country, and rarely explores his own, which is quite contrary to many Australian concepts, as they are known as cosmopolitan travelers, before returning home to settle down. Not Murnane, he’s a homebody, who has found his place on the earth, and quietly rests there. When his work has been released, its quietly reviewed, praised vehemently, but the praise does not fly far—despite often referring to the author and his work as genius and masterpieces. His work is noted for being paradoxical and contrary, nonchalantly refusing to fit into any concrete idea of what it should be or what it represents. For example, on one hand, Gerald Murnane’s work is described as plain, matter of fact, on the borders of being frosty in spirit, before the reverse is annunciated; that Murnane’s work is intricately lyrical to the point it was moving, in its continual distortion of personal realities, based on a individuals sight, rather than the preconceived notions of reality. His work is often described as fitting into the notion of realism at one point, then paddling back re-state the argument that it’s anti-realism, with many postmodernist tropes. The truth is: Gerald Murnane rejects literary tropes and fashions, and instead writes the most unique stories and short novels, in prose which shifts from extreme to extreme, in realistic but dreamlike prose, which always relies on the individuals perceptions of the world. It is truly no wonder, why he is considered a cult favourite, a dark horse, and a genius on the borderlands of the conventional.
Asia & the Indo-Subcontinent –
Yōko Ogawa – Japan – Yōko Ogawa has not received the same welcoming reception in the English speaking world, as Haruki Murakami did. Due to Murkami’s success, his grand shadow often eclipses other Japanese writers and comparisons are readily made. Despite the alienation of the English language market, seeking a Murakami successor, Ogawa has been favorably received in France. Her work is enthusiastically available, and receives both praise by literary critics, and endeared by the francophone reading public. Yōko Ogawa’s literary output is noted for its often grotesque, macabre, and subtle violent tropes. Her themes surround ideas of memory, loss, and absence. This immediately separates her from Murakami, and his surreal dreamscapes and magical realism romps. Her prose is straightforward and plain, but has the tendency to verge on the subtly poetic, but never venturing in grand feats of lyricism. She has been endorsed by Nobel Laureate: Kenzaburō Ōe; who has praised Ogawa for giving expression to the subtle psychological workings of the human mind, through prose which is both gentle and searing in its penetrating perspective. Yōko Ogawa is a superb writer, renowned for her unadorned literary style, which explores the peculiarities of memory, and the ghoulish world of loss and absence. Her narratives often fixate on the struggles of outcasts (be it physical or mentally deranged), who are at odds with the claustrophobic society, which seeks and demands conformity and abject assimilation. Ogawa traverses the shadows of the modern individual’s psyche, whereby she paints an intimate portrait of a society deceiving itself of its own madness; or a society on the brink of losing its own memory in willful consent, in order to escape the tragedies of the past in favour of the uncertainties of the future. Yōko Ogawa’s work is not grand or epic, but rather intimate and endearing, as it fixates on the private and personal tragedies of the individual mirroring and reflecting on the greater society as a whole, especially the cracks which have slowly over time become chasms and canyons, where the macabre and the grotesque dance in the shadow of the abyss, and in the ripe and rotten suppression of modern society.
Ouyang Jianghe – China – Chinese literature over the last century has gone through numerous periods of upheaval, adjustments, abuses, and reformations. After the communist revolution and the Mao years, Chinese literature entered a dark period of political messages, ideological confirmations and propaganda propagations. The nineteen seventies saw poetry take up the mantle of resistance, though these poems were often obscure, their politically charged messages and dissidence often saw them banned and their writers persecuted. After the failed democratic protests of the late nineteen eighties, Chinese literature once again shifted along with its economic capabilities. Ouyang Jianghe is known as a writer of the third wave, or a post-misty poet. Despite being considered a post-misty or obscure poet, Ouyang Jianghe is noted for being intellectually driven and challenging; though his poetry does not take a political stance. Rather the poetry of Jianghe concerns itself with the ideas and ideals of art for art’s sake, choosing the poetic medium as an intellectual conversation, riddled with scenes and thoughts from the ubiquitous, mundane and commonplace. His poetry resides within the personal and the private, and preoccupies the double meaning of everyday objects, figures, scenes, thoughts as they relate to the reader and the writer. On these grounds, Ouyang Jianghe is considered one of the most avant-garde and difficult poet working in the Chinese language in the past few decades.
Moon Chung-hee – (South) Korea – Is considered by many (South) Korean literati as one of the most important Postwar Poets of (South) Korea; which is ironic considering, Moon Chung-hee’s poetry is not necessarily concerned with the war, the suffering, the division, the hunger, and the human malaise. This would explain why some literary critics to make the distinction that Moon Chung-hee, is the leading Female Postwar Poet. The notion carries the inclination that the poets’ gender denotes and predefines her subject matter, preoccupations, and poetic output. As if Moon Chung-hee is resigned to write poetry about love, longing, heartache, domesticity and married life, children, and other feminine preoccupations, in a Postwar context. Femininity and the female gender is a preoccupation within Moon Chung-hee’s work, it is not denied or overlooked; but it is also not subservient or complacent to the subjection instilled on it via the masculine perspective. It is not portrayed as being fragile or delicate. It is a paradox of turmoil and bliss. It is the spirit of fire and quiet rebellion. It is powerful, though viewed as soft and overly sensitive. In the works of Moon Chung-hee the feminine is not degraded or typecast to poetry of exalting love or insufferable heartbreak. Moon Chung-hee’s poems eschewed these preconceived notions sentimentality and instead fixated and focused on the feminine as complex, contrary and revolutionary. The poetry composed by Moon Chung-hee reviews the female experience as existential, complicated, revolutionary, and rebellious, a vibrant spectrum of human experiences, complete with commentary on social, political and cultural topics and issues. Her poetry is not denoted or disregarded as trivial, light, or cheap, but striking in its vigor that has provided a new poetic perspective of the human experience from the female perspective. A perspective that is fearless and fiery as it changes the social and gender issues of the country and its poetic prejudices, against itself.
Yang Mu – Taiwan – Yang Mu is a prolific Taiwanese poet and essayist, who has also written one play in verse. His work has been translated into English, French German and Swedish (Goran Malmquist is his translator). Yang Mu is considered a preeminent scholar of Classical Chinese poetry. The influence of classical Chinese poetry is clearly demonstrated in his poetry, which he also fuses with western culture and ideas. Mu’s poetry is noted for its romanticist perspective and humanistic concerns, but also keen observations on social issues. His poetry has brought him numerous international accolades which includes the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature as well as the Cikada Prize. Yang Mu is considered one of the greatest innovators of Chinese language poetry of the late twentieth century; his work is deprived of pretentious poetic displays of pyrotechnics and other literary gimmicks, which may be employed by less than competent writers of armatures. His poetry is welcoming and at ease, despite its hybrid and fusion like elements. It playfully adapts to its chimeric marriage of two cultures, and thrives in this unique realm.
Ý Nhi (Hoang Thi Ý Nhi) – Vietnam – Ý Nhi is one of the most important Post-War poets of her generation. Nhi’s poetry style is noted for its grace, gentleness, and subtlety. Her subject is always humane, though tinged with the inclinations of tragedy. Her poetic format is regarded for its modernist form, detailing the emotions of the Vietnam War, and its last effects on the Vietnam as well as the populace specifically women. During the Vietnam War, Ý Nhi worked as journalist, where she recounted and reported the horrors and devastation the war caused, as it ripped through the country. It is therefore no surprise that the war has been a major influence on her literary output and work, which carries a gentle poignant sadness throughout her collections as it depicts the great loss of the times from a female perspective, be it: lover, husband, son, child or friend. Her work moves beyond just wartime literature classification—though it carries the pit of bitterness in itself—there is always gentle grace and philosophical wisdom, as she works historical themes and events in the grander narrative and consciousness of society and culture. Over the past years, Ý Nhi’s reputation and work has begun to find readership beyond the borders of Asia, with her poetry being translated into: French, Russian, German and Spanish, as well as a few poems have been showcased in poetry anthologies in English. In two-thousand and fifteen, Ý Nhi became the first Vietnamese poet to receive the Cikada Prize, whereby her work is expected to gain even further international recognition in Swedish as well.
Mend-Ooyo Gombojav – Mongolia – Mend-Ooyo Gombojav is considered one of Mongolia’s most critically acclaimed writers, known for the versatility of forms in which he writes in, including: poetry, short stories, novels, and essays. He first embarked on a literary career at the age of thirteen when he wrote his first poem under the tutorship of Dorjiin Gombojav, who was his teacher. In his early twenties, Mend-Ooyo Gombojav became a founding member of the underground literary movement called ‘Fire,’ in Mongolia, which would set the stage as an early milestone as a movement revolutionizing and modernizing Mongolian literature. Over the latter half of the twentieth century Mongolia would begin to chance its political landscape, and Mend-Ooyo Gombojav was considered one of the greatest writers shaping and influencing the literary landscape. By the nineties, the singular communist party rule had come to an end, and democratic reforms were taking shape. Free from presenting his work to the communist censors, Mend-Ooyo Gombojav was able to freely write and publish his work without meeting the constraints of ideological demands. During this time, Mend-Ooyo Gombojav wrote extensively about the pastoral and nomadic culture and heritage of Mongolia. These poems are often considered the best works of Mend-Ooyo Gombojav, as they unified the identity of Mongolia through its heritage, in celebrating the nomadic culture and history. Over the past three decades, Mend-Ooyo Gombojav became an increasingly striking, vibrant, and powerful voice in Mongolian literature. His bibliography ranges between his renowned poetry to novels, as well as scholarly and essayistic work, each book reaffirms his place as Mongolia’s greatest literary star, chronicler and celebrator.
Can Xue – China – Can Xue is considered one of Chinas greatest contemporary writers. This acclaim is provided by Western media and readers, more than it is in China. In her native China, Can Xue is regarded as controversial and dissents away from the main literary circle of the country. Her work is noted for being highly abstract, surreal, and pushes the limitations of the conventional notions of postmodernist literature. Her work is often understood as allegorical—especially in a political context. The author vehemently denies the political interpretation of her works. Instead, Can Xue, explains her work is more a literary experiment, which explores herself as a subject. This means as one pulls the layers of the abstract, unconventional, surreal and visceral back, at the deepest pit of the narratives, their lies within itself an aspect of Can Xue; meaning her work initially is constructed in an autobiographical thought, which is only encapsulated in the surrealistic of the subsequent narrative after the fact. Can Xue is not considered the most reasonable authors, nor the easiest read. Her work is riddled with contrary perspectives, contradictions, and as noted above an abstract and surreal perspective, which has gathered both acclaim abroad and controversy at home. Being one of China’s most experimental writers may come from the fact Can Xue had little to no formal education, and she is able to use language and words in a more natural (or rather, unnatural manner), whereby she is able to explore the rhythm and cacophonic nature of language which both entices and disrupts readers. Her narratives are often free from the technical or formal lectureships provided via education, and her work is not interested in conforming to the political and ideological standards outlined by more accessible, promoted, and available authors. Can Xue’s writing on the contrary has been influenced by a natural interest for language and writing, as well as years of reading. Often regarded as the Chinese Kafka, Can Xue’s surreal narratives defy convention, formal narrative and literary structures, and unsettle readers with a disquieting and resonating force of an imaginative power which is strictly her own.
Shuntaro Tanikawa – Japan – Post-war Japanese poetry was riddled with themes and concepts of melancholy, death, despair, pain and dishonor, following Japan’s defeat during the Second World War. These elegies and laments echoed through the poetry of Japan, until Shuntaro Tanikawa began to change the poetic perspective. Now noted as the great grandfather of contemporary Japanese poetry, Tanikawa changed the poetic themes of postwar Japanese poetry away from the poetry thick the iron of blood, the steel of bullets, the wasteful fervor of wartime propaganda, and the bitter taste of loss and defeat; instead focusing and fixating on the progressive and hopeful ideals of a new future. His poetry is optimistic and broadminded poetry acutely articulated and annunciated the brightness of a future, one moving away from the previous angst, despair, and radiation burns of the preceding generation. This new poetic perspective brough Tanikawa a greater readership within Japan, as the people and readers sought to remove themselves away from the dredge and drudgery of the previous war, and begin rebuilding their nation and their lives. Since his debut: “Alone in Two Billion Light Years,”—Tanikawa, has published over sixty volumes of poetry and translations. His translations include “The Peanuts,” and “Mother Goose Rhymes,” into Japanese. Beyond his translation, Shuntaro Tanikawa has also been an active promoting and supporting Japanese poets into translations of other languages in order to help them transition into new linguistic frontiers, and to find new readers in different languages and cultural backgrounds. Shuntaro Tanikawa would be a deserving Nobel Laureate for the progressive and broad perspective of his poetry, which spoke to the Japanese spirit of resilience, but also for his willingness to promote cross cultural exchanges of different people from different societies and countries, all in the name of the undying collaborative spirit of what it means to be human.
Kim Hyesoon – (South) Korea – Where Moon Chung-hee infuses her poetry with the subtlety of feminist perspective in revolt, Kim Hyesoon, is far more extreme, almost fanatical. She has been described as an engaged and revolutionary feminist poet, one whose poems are disquieting in their surreal, visceral, and grotesque imagery. In her poetry, Kim Hyesoon readily challenges the (South Korean) Korean opinion and perspective of women in societal standards and hierarchy. Hyesoon readily rips apart these social conventions, casts a critical eye on the socio-economic system, as the cause of the social hierarchy. Kim Hyesoon views capitalism is directly linked to (South) Korean patriarchal oppression, which views woman as less than, or a lesser status then their male counterparts. Her poems are noted for their visceral, violent, macabre and grotesque imagery, in which she shockingly displays the uneasy landscape of (South) Korea’s social enclosure, from the perspective of a woman. The political context which at times frames, Hyesoon’s poems, are not entirely clear; though she does criticize the (South) Korea dictatorship, with its willingness to accept neo-colonialism, and indulge itself in a steady diet of unequal capitalism, which has oppressed women the most. With that in mind, Kim Hyesoon, readily and violently lashed out and rebelled against a system which unjustly and cruelly seeks to oppress half the population (or more), to a status of domestic and martial service, with complete dependence on men. Though her poetry is critical, controversial, visceral, viral and violent; Kim Hyesoon is well revered and respected poet, as she is engaged and actively participates in either changing the system through poetry or at least having an informed debate about the status of women within society.
Duong Thu Huong – Vietnam – The Vietnam War was often considered one of the biggest political and military blunders of the twentieth century. Just like its predecessor the Korean War, which divided (and still divides) the Korean Peninsula; the Vietnam War rouse suspicion and questions of the ethical efficacy of the American War Machine, which had been glorified and promoted during the Second World War, as unstoppable in its victorious virtues. The Vietnam War, by contrast presented the notion of war not as a patriotic parade, but one of horror, trauma, and often inhumane slaughter. The rise of mass media showcased its ability to present a narrative to both gather support of the public, but also their accusations of savagery. The war itself did not unite a country; it divided it. Since then, the translation of Vietnamese literature has been rare and often limited. Duong Thu Huong has often been the most translated Vietnamese writer in the English language, mainly due to her work being dissident in nature. In nineteen-eighty nine, Duong Thu Huong was expelled from the Communist Party for her criticism of corruption in the government. She would later be imprisoned for her critical writings against the government, subsequently she would lose her job as a prizewinning screenwriter, her works were banned from publication, and she was forced to earn a living as a translator. Further insult was added, as the writer was prohibited from forming any group, party, or movement which could be seen as operating in complete contrast or autonomous to the government. In order for her to express commentary on freedom and democracy for Vietnam, Duong Thu Huong would need to turn to her pen, but be denied publication and be threatened with further imprisonment. In two-thousand and six, Duong Thu Huong was granted permission to leave Vietnam, and has since resided in exile in Paris, where she promotes change through uncensored and critical writings. Her novels and stories, often take the form of conventional narratives and stories, often with subtle political annotations and context, from there the author is able to provide a fierce and fiery barrage of criticism levelled against the communist government and its corruption. In this case, Duong Thu Huong is considered one of the strongest writers in translation from Vietnam, based off translation quantity alone, and the rarity the countries literature has found in other foreign languages. The promotion of humanistic ideals: freedom of speech and thought, independence, autonomy, are strong pillars of the author to stand on as well.
Wang Xiaoni – China – Wang Xiaoni is often classified as a Misty Poet alongside: Bei Dao, and Yang Lian. Despite this, Wang Xiaoni lacks the political motivations and convictions found in the works of the Misty Poets, whose obscure poetry sought to provoke and inspire democratic principles and social movements through literature. Instead Xiaoni has eschewed political stances in favour of a distinct and personal poetic form and style which emphasizes emotional resonance, and a preoccupation with the personal and private human psyche and soul. Her poetry is renowned for its striking style that Wang Xiaoni has crafted for herself, which details the feelings (both physical sensations and emotional response) to the landscape, scenes, and messages found in the everyday. Early in her literary career, Wang Xiaoni clarified immediately her interest was in the personal and its relation to the existence of others, as well as this relationship with the landscape and society as a whole, entirely deprived of the adulterating influence of politics and ideological messages. Her poetic style is noted for its intense detailed effort to capture the internal and introspective meaning, before being shaped into a musical and graceful composition. The emotional impact takes precedence over stylistic and compositional concerns. She avoids linguistic experimentation and is skeptical of writing poetry merely to showcase the peculiarities of language or the cunning nature of a writer willing to display their own clever aptitudes. Likewise she shuns mystical tropes and themes, which she views with skepticism, all in favour of displaying and discussing with great accuracy the human spirit, shadow, soul—the psyche of the individual—fit with its physical sensations and emotional resonances, in the constrained form of poetry.
Xi Xi – Hong Kong (China) – Is by all accounts, considered a cult writer—even in China. She is the grandmother to Can Xue, but lacks the latter’s international appeal and recognition, but shares a similar conviction towards a singular surreal vision, one noted for quiet resilience, and poetic strength. Where Can Xue is noted for her prose, specifically in novels, novellas, and short stories; Xi Xi’s resume is more versatile, showcasing her wordsmithing abilities shift beyond one genre. Over her past six decade career, Xi Xi has written poetry, novels, short stories, essays, screenplays and columns. Her work is noted for its regional qualities, continually observing and obsessing over the details of life in Hong Kong. The small, embattled, and compact island turn metropolises, continues to provide inspiration to the author. Her poetry often reflects the mundanity of life in the city, often through the mundane elements: visiting one of its endless shopping malls, buying a flower at the market, the continual noise, and bustle, visting a doctor in a public hospital, the families please to get their children to better schools, as well as families spread out across the globe. These poems are noted for showcasing the Hong Kong’s move from colonial-sovereignty, to a now shifting state of Mainland China, which seeks to gain more control, over the once autonomous region. Her work is not political, though it can carry criticism, but this criticism is equally issued to the rampant urbanization, as well as anti-colonial perspective. When it comes to politics, Xi Xi, maintains mercurial distance by never establishing any loyalty, or stance to any position. Her prose moves away from her subdued and simple language, of her poetry. Her novels and short stories were noted for their freewheeling experimental form, often through fantastical fairy tale elements, surreal imagery, and magical realistic wonder. Her screenplays from the nineteen sixties were particularly well-received, as they pushed Hong Kong cinema into more avant-garde realms. Beyond this, however, she remains an unknown author to many. Recently, three years ago a collection of poems was translated and published in English titled: “Not Written Words,” which provided an overview of her poetic output, but it once again failed to provide a complete stock of her work beyond the poetic achievements. Rare interviews can be found online. A few short stories can also be discovered, providing only glimpses of her phantasmagoric imagination in prose. Now, Xi Xi is nominated for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, which has seen previous winners such as: Yang Mu and Wang Anyi. Perhaps the nomination by this relatively new biennial award, will begin to see more of the Hong Kong writers work published abroad.
Hwang Sok-yong – (South) Korea – Hwan Sok-yong observed the tragedies and realities war. During the Vietnam War, he was charged in ‘Clean Up,’ Operations, where individuals would come in and erase (‘clean up,’) the civilian massacres that had taken place. More often than not this meant disposing of the dead in careless manners, without thought and dignity, as long as the evidence was erased. Despite the gruesome nature of the work, this would provide and provoke Hwan Sok-yong to ask himself philosophical questions, as well as compare his situation with that of his father and his generation, who were conscripted into the Imperial Japanese army in order to strengthen Japan’s national interest in the Asian sphere; Sok-yong, would then question his own conscription into the Korean army which was to assist in strengthening America’s national interests and influence in the region. These experiences, these questions, would be the influences for his most famous and first short story: “The Pagoda.” Since then, Hwan Sok-yong has been critical about the state of Korea calling it a “state of homelessness.” Sok-yong is also noted for his political activism in Korea, in which he championed democratic reforms, organized protests, wrote pamphlets and plays, as well as hosted a clandestine radio show. Now Hwang Sok-yong is considered one of the greatest prose writers of South Korea in which he documents the turbulent twentieth century of the nation, being split in two, and used as chess piece by larger foreign powers in a game of international politics.
Li Ang – Taiwan – Here is a paradox: calling a female writer, a woman writer is considered rude; yet calling a female writer, a feminist writer is considered a compliment. The two are used interchangeable, but carry different connotations. A ‘woman’s writer,’ brings to mind a female writer whose literary preoccupations are trivial, marginal, and of no literary significance. Whereas a ‘feminist writer,’ carries the weight of a female writer, who provides social commentary and criticism, on sociopolitical issues, especially issues regarding gender inequality, and female struggles, it carries the weight of more serious and severe thought. The Taiwanese writer, Li Ang is regarded as a ‘feminist writer,’ noted for her idiosyncratic and penetrating portraits of gender politics in contemporary Taiwanese society. Her work is noted for being candid and vicious in portrayals of the plight of women, and is known for pushing transgressive boundaries in a bold and unapologetic manner, often placing her in taboo territory. Despite this, Li Ang, has been writing since the age of sixteen, when she embarked on her literary career, and since then has published over twenty novels and short story collections. Despite the impertinent nature of her work, which vivisects and examines the gender politics in Taiwanese society, and the psychosexuality of her characters, she is internationally renowned and acclaimed, for breaking down oppressive social barriers, and displaying the putrid patriarchal system(s) which are still at work. Beyond examining gender politics, Li Ang has also written candidly on the state of Taiwanese politics, especially its continual assertion of independence. If literatures is meant to push the envelope, explore boundaries, and envision new and striking methods of communicating ideas, Li Ang dances within these flames proudly and unapologetically.
Yi Mun-yol – (South) Korea – Yi Mun-yol is one of (South) Korea’s leading contemporary writers, and is considered the public’s favourite author to be noted for the prize (or so I am told). Mun-yol’s work consists mainly of novels and short stories, alongside social and political commentaries. Yi Mun-yol’s literary is generally considered to splitting in to two categories: the macro and the micro. The first category, the macro—or external—consists of an exploration via allegorical elements, of Korean society during the past century, fit with injustices, rampant ideologies, and how everyday lives are shaped and governed, by the ideological, and powerful external forces over seeing their lives, and attempts to create solutions for these dilemmas. The second category, the micro—or internal—comprises of work that is considered semi-autobiographical in scope, and is more concerned with introspective exploration, existential themes ranging from angst, identity crisis’s and issues, and the eventual implosion of society as a whole, imploding due to its own failures, but also the implosion of the individual. The theme of connection and abandonment make ready appearances in Yi Mun-yol’s work, due to the isolation of his youth, and the abandonment of his father, who defected to (North) Korea, during the Korean War. The defection and crime of the father had a profound impact on the Yi Mum-yol’s upbringing, as he was treated as a social pariah, by peers alike due to the actions of another. The notion and suffering of division can often be found as an exploration in both of his categories of work. The work of Yi Mum-yol is noted for being multilayered and complicated, due to the extensive use of linguistic wordplay, symbolism, and the characters relation to language. Translators of Yi Mun-yol’s work, have noted it is difficult to translate this unique use of homonym wordplay into other languages, as the same form does not exist. The two categories, plus his own personal background, make Yi Mum-yol a unique writer, as well as noteworthy.
Bei Dao – China – Is often cited as one of the most prominent proprietors and poets of the Misty Poet Generation of contemporary Chinese poetry. The Misty Poets of contemporary Chinese poetry are a dissident and reactionary poetic school of writers, who promoted democratic visions and ideals through their poetic works. Their works were noted for employing obscure imagery and poetic techniques to both evade censorship, as well as to force the reading populace to contemplate and think about the poetry they were reading. The Misty Poets became the de-facto literary enemies of the Cultural Revolution, and the Communist Party of China. The goal of encouraging the reading populace to think becomes a dangerous activity in authoritarian institutions. If the populace thinks, they will then question; if they question, they will begin to question the reality, they will then question why are subject to the needless suffering of the ruling elite, which inevitably leads to the downfall of authoritarian figures, institutions, and governments. A: thinking, questioning and contemplating population, becomes an uncontrollable one. Bei Dao has inevitably been disciplined for his poetic dissidence. He has been sent to re-education camps and forced labour camps in order to understand the back breaking ideals of communism. Yet, undeterred the author continued to refine and secretly publish his works, even in the harsh conditions of his confinement and education. He participated in the first Tiananmen Square protests, before being forced into exile, and banned from re-entering the country. In exile, Bei Dao had the liberty of publishing his poetry, but retained his hazy language and obscure symbolism to provoke and inspire. China now on a global stage, is showcasing its aggressive and almost impudent might. Protests in Hong Kong have received worldwide attention, alongside economic wars between other nations. Awarding, Bei Dao, would be considered a concise and political message, in complete contrast to the earlier (mistake) of Mo Yan. Despite the political atmosphere, Bei Dao’s poetry is noted for its peculiarity, especially in the use of language, as well as sociopolitical preoccupations. His poetry is forever aimed in an idealistic direction of the unwavering spirit of human resilience and stoicism, despite rampant corruption and oppression.
Yoko Tawada – Japan/Germany – When Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in two-thousand and seventeen, there was a bit of a discussion of whether or not he was an English writer or a Japanese writer. The debate petered out abruptly. It is a fair statement, however, to state that Kazuo Ishiguro is a quintessential English writer. His literary language: English; his characters: English (with the exception of his first two novels). Yet, his themes carry the watermark of Japanese sensibilities and characteristics, but that is where the Japanese aspect of his literary output and style conclude. They are merely aspects of heritage and cultural impressions through parental endowment, nothing more. Yoko Tawada, by comparison resides on the farther end of the scale. She is by all accounts an exponent writer, working in two languages: her native Japanese and her adoptive German. Tawada works in both languages, and is known for drafting her novels in both languages, often creating two different manuscripts with two different voices, often employed in different literary forms. Longer works—novels and plays—are written in Japanese; while shorter works—short stories and essays—are drafted in German. The duality of language, and the contrary perspectives created by two different languages, has influenced Tawada’s use of language as well. She has expressed language as unnatural, and more artificial to the point of magical. This sense of bewilderment is often seen within her use of neologisms and wordplay within her works, to provide a linguistic portrait of the everyday through the perspective of how we discuss it, communicate it and describe it within the confines of words. Reality in this sense does not influence language; language on the contrary frames and provides the necessary infrastructure to understand and interact with reality. Beyond language and the peculiar technicalities of language and its relation to understanding perceptions of reality; borders and boundaries and their crossings, is another theme of Yoko Tawada’s work. Borders are not just physical, geographical, ideological, cultural or linguistic in her work; they are also philosophical and metaphysical: exploring the difference between waking life and dreams, animals and humans, thoughts and emotions, and other abstract phenomena. Language may provide context, but in narratives, Tawada employees postmodern literary techniques and magical realism to explore these otherwise strange notions of our differentiating and dissenting perspectives on a dichotomous plane of contrary polar opposites. Yoko Tawada, is for all intents and purposes a cosmopolitan and worldly author, eschewing geographical boundaries and language barriers to create both a career and literary oeuvre to reflect the mercurial state of a world and its linguistic shadow theatre. Unlike, Haruki Murakami, Yoko Tawada does not eschew her Japanese heritage or first language. She employees and embraces these notions fully. She also embraces and employees her adoptive language of German, as an equally unique partner in her literary output and career. In this she exists in a unique no-man’s land, based around a dual perspective of two different languages and cultures, and endearingly belonging to both; while Murakami exists continually as an outsider (with self-righteous indignation).
Ko Un – (South) Korea – Ko Un – (South) Korea – For years now, (South) Korea has been lobbying and desiring a Nobel Laureate in Literature, in part recognition of its culture, literary history, and of course it cements or presents the nation as a first class player on the world stage. Of course, as most know—to all informed about the awards; the Nobel Prizes are not Olympics, they are not panhandling to nations or governments, they awarded to individuals who have achieved great mastery or accomplished great work in their fields; be it Literature, Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, Peace or Economics. Yet, for (South) Korea, Ko Un has been considered the sole candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. National panhandling aside—Ko Un is quite a poet. His oeuvre encompasses a variety of poetic schools, thoughts, styles and formats. His poetry ranges from zen poems, imagistic reflections, personal epiphanies, to historical epics, as well to character sketches; such as his Thirty volume series of poems: “Ten Thousand Lives,” where the poet immortalizes people he has met in a poem. Despite his large scope of his poetic achievements, Ko Un’s life has often been usurped by political upheaval and personal difficulties. He was repeatedly imprisoned by the (South) Korean dictatorship, for his political protests and democratic sentiments. During the Korean War, he was employed as a grave digger, before a brief stint as a Buddhist monk. It was not until the eighties that Ko Un would begin his serious devotion to writing poetry, and produce a large, varied, and diverse bibliography; after which he would gain international recognition and national honours. Today, Ko Un is revered, respected and recognized as a poet of great talent and humanistic thought.
South America & Latin America; with the Caribbean –
Kamau Brathwaite – Barbados – Kamau Brathwaite is one of those powerful voices and influential voices of Caribbean literature. Brathwaite coined the term and concept of ‘Nation Language,’ to refer to the prescribed language idiosyncrasies of writers and poets from the Caribbean and African diaspora, which emancipates itself from the imperial language of English, and its limited connotations and perspectives. It should come to no surprise that Kamau Brathwaite is considered one of the leading experts of this linguistic and literary mode of expression, and would therefore utilize the conceived linguistic nature in his own poems and work, in which he discusses the effects of colonialism in a post-colonial world, but also discussing how the historical colonial outlooks and perspectives facilitate contemporary colonial attitudes despite the dissolution of the ruling empire, simply on grounds of convention and tradition, which only leads to the discussion of personal injury of the individual or people(s), in relation to their colonial history, and their new found autonomy in spirit and in verbal verification, but not always a reality. Kamau Brathwaite is a well accomplished and highly decorated poet, with an illustrious career. He has won numerous prizes including the Griffin Prize for Poetry and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Now in his late eighties, it is not entirely possible to see Brathwaite being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; it is however, an unlikely prospect. Despite this, Kamau Brathwaite is one of those spectacular poets who grapples with the historical in relation with the personal.
Nancy Morejón – Cuba – Nancy Morejón is of the most prominent poets of Post-Revolution Cuba, and is the most widely translated female poet from Cuba. She is considered the first African descent Cuban writer, to be considered a professional writer in Cuba. Her poetic themes detail the vibrant and colourful cultural blend of Cuba, especially the Afro-Cuban literary tradition, along with thematic concerns of gender, identity, ethnicity, history, politics, and the Afro-Cuban identity. Political themes are often rooted and depicted through intimate, family situations or scenes, as well as exploration of slavery in an ancestral past. Her poetry is noted for its highly lyrical quality, its often mysticism tones, erotic fasciation’s, and intimate spiritual nature. As a writer Nancy Morejón refuses to have her identity—literary or otherwise—be fractured or factored into different components, she is no more black then she is Cuban, and no more woman then she is human; her concern with a sense of unified identity, showcases her perspective as a humanistic driven poet first, and all other preoccupations, either applied or otherwise as secondary, and tertiary. As a poet, Nancy Morejón views poetry as a form of social communication, and eschews all attempts at hermeticism or closed off language preferences. The goal remains the same, to communicate beyond geography, language, and gender with others, on an experience, a thought, an emotion, a moment, all expressed through the unique narratives of her poetry.
Adélia Prado – Brazil – Adélia Prado is one of Brazils most renowned, and beloved contemporary poets. Her poetic career is remarkable. Her poetry was first discovered when she was on the cusp of middle age, when she decided to relinquish a few poems to a poet, essayist, and scholar, who in turn passed these poems on to the Brazilian modernist master, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, who quickly heaped praise on these startling and unknown voice, writing from the interstate of Brazil, away from the high urban, cultural, and cosmopolitan centres of the time. Adélia Prado’s poetry was noted immediately, as being independent, unique and striking, it was never an exaggerated display of fashionable literary methods of the time. Rather, Prado’s poetry took a preoccupation towards the female experience of the everyday, the physical (carnal and erotic), as well as the spiritual and religious. A devote practicing catholic—which already carries airs of solemn conservative stiffness, with little enjoyment, and an exacting sense of self-flagellation to bring on sufficient suffering, in order to repent with penance, and gain a close relationship with holier powers that be—Adélia Prado’s poems eschew this image, as it details carnal and erotic details, which becomes both shocking and contrary to the faith she practices, which Adélia Prado defends, by stating the poetry is not the eroticism of the flesh, but the eroticism of the soul. Yet her themes move beyond just he theological eroticism of the soul, as it details the preoccupations and concerns of the women of the country, filled with the objects, concerns, and experiences of their everyday life, which is never truly ordinary. According to the poet, it is the workings of the devil, which provides the illusion that the everyday is somehow deprived of any extraordinary details, or a sense of the bewilderment, as she relentlessly persists there is poetic enjoyment and beauty within the world of the everyday, and its ubiquitous charm, revealing the metaphysical, divine, and transcendental reality of life as is. Five years ago, Adélia Prado was the recipient of the Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award, an hour she shares with poets: Adam Zagajewski, Ana Blandiana, and the late (Nobel Laureate) Derek Walcott; which only cements the international recognition, and appeal that Adélia Prado is in possession of.
Rodrigo Rey Rosa – Guatemala – Rodrigo Rey Rosa is a profoundly humanistic author, whose styles of writing can be described as both diverse and digressive. Rosa can be both fluid and fragmentary; eschewing national identity in favour of a more global reach, and mosaic prose writing documenting, and exemplifying his vagabond existence. His travels have taken him throughout Central America and Mexico, as well as sojourns in North Africa—specifically Morocco, where the tutelage of friend and mentor, Paul Bowles, proved to be a major influence on his writing, intercepted with his own heritage, experiences, and preoccupations. His most recent translated work into English “Human Matter,” has been described as frustratingly fragmented, defies any traditional notion of proper classification within literary scope. It has been described as a collection of notebooks, investigations, and a recorded exploration of humanity, memory, integrity, and cruelty. It’s too factious to be defined as non-fiction; yet, to discursive for many to call it a novel. All the same, “Human Matter,” is defined and marketed as a novel. It’s been praised as a treatise exemplifying human dignity, integrity, as well as collective identity, but in the family sequence, but also on a national level. Throughout his erudite and colourful career, Rodrigo Rey Rosa gained praise, support and acknowledgement from others. The late Roberto Bolaño praised Rodrigo Rey Rosa as being one of the best writers of his generation. In fashion similar Bolaño, and other Post-Boom writers, Rodrigo Rey Rosa employees more postmodernist techniques and perspectives in his literary output. His work carries the influence of myth and folktales of Guatemala, but takes a more global attitude in preoccupation. Unlike the predecessors of the Latin American Boom Generation, Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s concern is not necessarily limited to the mystical, exotic, and magical lands of South and Central America, but instead pushes the otherwise southern land to the forefront of the global literary stage, providing a unique dialogue not hindered by national identity or provincial concerns.
Cesar Aira – Argentina – Cesar Aira is a prolific and industrious writer, producing two to four novellas a year. Aira is known for being a practitioner of a unique writing style and technique, which he refers to as: ‘flight forward,’ where he bypasses edits and revisions, and begins to change the direction of his novella, when he views the work is headed towards a literary or stylistic traps or dangers. This ‘flight forward,’ technique has often be compared to theatrical improvisation, where the writes improvises or changes style or literary genre to best serve the work. This often avant-garde perspective has gathered praise and criticism. On one hand critics applauded the writer’s unique blend of contrary and shifting perspectives to offer a truly unusual view point of the world, often in surreal and humorous manners. On the other hand, detractors have criticized this style as being nothing more than postmodernist gimmick or party trick which the author parades as a literary aesthetic, but is nothing more than a continual rehash of the same old joke, where he nonchalantly wears the hat of Dadaism, the coat of surrealism, the tie of fantastic, and the shoes of quasi-nonsensical. Criticism often points at the authors reliance on his style, often removes attention from his depth and themes, which many feel are severely underdeveloped in favour of his style. No matter, however, as Cesar Aira is considered an important literary writer in the Spanish language, moving away from the Latin Boom Generation, and facilitating a multitude of genres, perspectives, and themes with every novella written, produced, and published.
Elena Poniatowska – Mexico – Elena Poniatowska is considered by many the Grand Dame of Mexican letters; but Poniatowska may view herself as more of a journalist first, then a writer of literary pursuits. Her work—especially her journalistic work—focuses on the disenfranchised of Mexican society: the underprivileged and poor; though she has a strong inclination to focus on women. Poniatowska’s fixation on the social and political disparity of Mexico in her reportage and literary works, have some declaring her a political and human rights activist. There is always a tint of irony, though, when those who challenge and question the socio-political inequality, usually come from privileged and upper class lives. In this, Elena Poniatowska is of no exception. Poniatowska was originally born in Paris, France to a fortunate family (her father was distantly related to the last king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), her family would later leave France, due to the Second World War, and the Nazi invasion of France. The family left for Mexico (where her mother was originally from, but fled during the revolution). As a young woman of reasonable noble birth, Elena Poniatowska was expected to be raised and to behave like a lady. Imagine her mother’s dismay and despair, when Elena Poniatowska showed greater interest in the people of the streets, the maids in the house, and all their stories and experiences; before eventually seeking to become a journalist, rather than concern herself with fashion, and the life of a socialite, and finally marriage. Escaping the world of fashion, and lifestyle preoccupations did not end the moment she became a journalist. The first journalistic position Elena Poniatowska held was a lifestyle columnist, which she has stated was dreadful and boring, after satirically mocking the fashion of the time, she was instructed to afterwards to conducted boring interviews every day for a year with individuals she came across. Over time, Elena Poniatowska would begin to cover the sociopolitical and economic disenfranchisement of Mexico, and its subsequent violence. After writing about the student massacre in Mexico in nineteen sixty-eight, Elena Poniatowska would set to become one of the most powerful literary voices within the country by being both journalist, social critic, civil activist, and prose writer (novels and short stories). As a journalist, Elena Poniatowska cannot be described as objective, her work is always centered, and delivered on the behalf of the personal and human stories of the affected—specifically the poor, and woman—who are inevitably the victims of the violence and corruption. Throughout her career Elena Poniatowska has been the recipient of numerous literary accolades including, The Cervantes Prize in two-thousand and thirteen, in receiving the award, the prize jury praised Elena Poniatowska for her devotion to form, brilliant foray into different literary genres, as well as her firm understanding and commitment to documenting, reporting, and disseminating contemporary history.
Gioconda Belli – Nicaragua – Gioconda Belli is one of the most important literary and political active and critical voices of Latin America. The poetry of Gioconda Belli is noted for being rooted in the female experience, and feminist ideological notions, especially that concerning women ‘taking back the body’. In this, the early poetry of Gioconda Belli worked strongly around eroticism and discussions of the female body, creating a multifaceted mosaic of the female experience, through the narrative of their bodies, claimed back from the societal held perspective. Belli’s work is also noted for its political inclinations, by first and foremost, taking aim, issue, and unleashing criticism against the Somoza dictatorship, and praising the alternative: Sandinista National Liberation Front, where should become their international press relations officer, and then the state communications director. Overtime, Gioconda Belli would later leave the Sandinista government and becoming a fierce critic. Beyond poetry Belli has written novels, which carry an equal social and political perspective, where they recount and review the social and political injustices of Nicaragua, with particular attention paid to the gender politics, and oppression endured by the female populace, across the Latin & South America. Gioconda Belli semi-autobiographical novel: “The Inhabited Woman,” is considered her seminal revolutionary piece of resistance literature in the southern hemisphere. Gioconda Belli remains of the most accomplished, powerful, and successful voices of the Southern Hemisphere. She wrote alongside writers of the Boom Generation, while remaining autonomous to them.
Leonardo Padura– Cuba – Leonardo Padura is one of the most well-known, internationally recognized, and stately writers from the island nation of Cuba, who comes from a generation when intellectuals were initially persecuted, censored, and often became the pariah of the newly instilled communist government. Over the past decades, Cuba’s policies and laws have since relaxed on censorship; writers still must remain cautious on their subjects, themes and narratives. Unlike other Cuban writers such as: Severo Sarduy and Alejo Carpentier, who left Cuba following the revolution, and went on to become influential writers in exile, influencing later developments in Latin & South American literary culture; Leonardo Padura remained in Cuba, working as journalist and essayist, before turning to write novels. As a writer, Leonardo Padura has carefully written his novels ensuring they met ideological standards preferred (or rather expected) by the government. His first novels detailed the narrative of a Cuban detective who longs to be a writer. The quarter detailing the tales of detective Mario Conde, take place through the seasons of Cuba, and provide a unique perspective of the island country. These novels are often noted as being Leonardo Padura’s most renowned and famous, beloved by writers and critics alike, and often converted into television-films. Unfortunately, as a writer who hails from an authoritarian nation, commentators, and journalists often ask politically charged questions, while ignoring his aesthetic and literary influences. Sadly, this is an expectation—though frivolous—it should be expected that writers who do reside and write from a nation governed by authoritarian standards, chooses a side with regards to them, or at least provides some form of commentary on the matter, or they risk the missteps of other writers, such as Mo Yan, who insert their foots in their mouths.
Circe Maia – Uruguay – Circe Maia is a literary national treasure of Uruguay; despite living through the political upheavals which have gripped the country. These same political upheavals have infiltrated her home, and often came close to destroying her personal life. Her husband was arrested for his political involvements, and Circe Maia was only spared a similar fate, simply because she was pregnant with her youngest daughter at the time. The dictatorship of Uruguay and personal tragedies had once silenced Maia as a poet—but not out of grief or fear, but more out of protest. Now, she is a renowned and respected contemporary poet. Her poetry is noted for being direct and somber. She refuses to slip into the self-absorbed poetic monologue or fill the airs of a narcissistic poet. Circe Maia writes with clear conviction, to write her poetry in a way in which as a poet and as a reader, there is a conversation in which there is a mutual unearthing of what it means to be human and to live, all become thoughts and questions about the human condition and its universal and personal destiny. Circe Maia has battled against her poetry becoming self-contained and hermetic; rather her poetry is lively, direct, approachable and conversational in form and function, it is the poetry of daily life, the poetry heard and seen through the comment mundane events, reflected in objects and events; it is a poetry of a life lived and experienced, rather than one theorized and mythologized.
Frankétienne – Hati – Frankétienne has been regarded as Hati’s: Father of Letters—a wizedn man of literature, wordplay, and humanistic intellectual pursuits. For this, he has often been speculated and tipped as a winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Frankétienne’s literary work is known for its unusual use of language in the form of neologisms; but also for his ill-mannered depictions of vulgar sexual encounters, and brutal violence, which are common occurrences in Haiti even today. Even though Papa Doc and Baby Doc are dead, there has been little progress or change in Haiti’s political system or central control of power within the country. Haiti has been described as an unfortunate orphan of fate and change; a politically mismanaged wretch; and a depressingly third world country, which is better left ignored then acknowledged. For Frankétienne, this all must be brutally depicted, voiced, and protested. Frankétienne’s work is noted for its mystical atmosphere, and its almost voodoo folkloric roots. If Wole Soyinka was a writer influenced by the Yoruba people’s myths and folklores, in which he found a way to embody in his literary identity; Frankétienne’s violent and mystical heritage (found in his paintings, poetry and prose) stems from the Hattian voodoo traditions of Haiti and its alluringly dark intrigue, which enchants the Caribbean in warmth and ecstasy.
Homero Aridjis – Mexico – Homero Aridjis has a long list of titles, which reflects his interest, positions and life. Aridjis is a poet, prose writer, journalist, diplomat, and environmental activist. Homero Aridjis has written forty-eight plus books, ranging from his renowned poetry, to novels, short stories, non-fiction and children’s books. Yet, writing would not be considered his first vocation growing up. Homero Aridjis often proclaimed and maintained he was born twice. First, he was born (via the natural manners) to his mother and father, and then at the age of ten he was reborn, after surviving a nearly fatal shotgun accident. It was after this accident that Aridjis became an avid reader, and begun to compose poems of his own, neglecting his former childhood of playing soccer and other games, in favour of scholarly and literary pursuits. Now, he is regarded as one of the most prominent poets of Mexican literary heritage. His work is widely translated, appreciated, and recited.
In The End: Closing Thoughts –
There you have it Gentle Reader: my Nobel Speculation List for Two-Thousand and Nineteen; though a bit late then in previous years, I am happy to get up to you sooner rather than later!
Following are some statistics and data of this year’s list:
There are a total of 92 writers on this year’s list.
32 writers are female
60 are male
Of these 92 writers, 25 are new on this year’s list.
Previous writers of years past have been cycled out and may return in future lists; other new writers who were originally on the speculative list in early draft phases were cut, due to a lack of information to provide an adequate overview; perhaps in coming years they will be included on the speculation lists.
The new writers by geographical area are:
Africa – 5
Middle East & North Africa – 3
Europe – 8
Asia & the Indo-Subcontinent – 5
South America & Latin America; with the Caribbean – 4
These new authors are the following (again in geographical area)
Ivan Vladislavic – South Africa
Tierno Monénembo – Guinea
José Eduardo Agualusa – Angola
Antijie Krog – South Africa
Ribka Sibhatu – Eritrea/Italy
Middle East & North Africa –
Abdallah Zrika – Morocco
David Grossman – Israel
A. B. Yehoshua – Israel
Şükrü Erbaş – Turkey
Durs Grünbein – Germany
Annie Ernaux – France
Dimitris Lyacos – Greece
Ana Luísa Amaral – Portugal
Jón Kalman Stefánsson – Iceland
Ryszard Krynicki – Poland
Vladislav Bajac – Serbia
Asia & the Indo-Subcontinent –
Ouyang Jianghe – China
Wang Xiaoni – China
Xi Xi – Hong Kong (China)
Yi Mum-yol – (South Korea)
Yoko Tawada – Japan/Germany
South American & Latin America; with the Caribbean –
Nancy Morejón – Cuba
Adélia Prado – Brazil
Gioconda Belli – Nicaragua
Leonardo Padura Fuentes – Cuba
Continuing with this statistical report, with regards to how this is organized and contained, if we look at countries in correlation to the author, most have one to two writers listed. There are some, however, who exceed this general convention and have three and even four to five writers named in correlation to nation. Those countries are:
South Africa – Ivan Vladislavic, Wilma Stockenström, and Antijie Krog
Estonia – Doris Kareva, Viivi Luik and Jaan Kaplinski
Hungary – Zsuzsa Takács, László Krasznahorkai, and Péter Nadas
Norway – Jon Fosse, Kjell Askildsen, and Dag Solstad
Japan – Yoko Ogawa, Shuntaro Tanikawa, and Yoko Tawada
Poland – Olga Tokarczuk, Magdalena Tulli, Adam Zagajewski, and Ryszard Krynicki
(South) Korea – Moon Chung-hee, Kim Hyesoon, Hwang Sok-yong, Yi Mun-yol and Ko Un
China – Ouyang Jianghe, Can Xue, Wang Xiaoni, Xi Xi, and Bei Dao
The above Gentle Reader is merely a continual enjoyment of classification and categorization, in an almost deconstructive and dissected manner. It provides a unique overview of components of the above speculative list, providing nothing more than some unique analytics.
As previously mentioned, there is no point in vouching, proclaiming or even beginning to state if any of the above listed writers have a chance to receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature or not. The goal remains the same, to provide the beneficial aspect of providing readers to discover new writers, while we patiently for the announcement to come, while participating in fierce debates as readers, who champion their literary writers.
The Swedish Academy, however, has a difficult predicament on their hand. Due to the scandal which shut down the academy over the past year and a half, the Swedish Academy had been called: patriarchal, male dominated, and male oriented. The scandal, though originally begun as a sex scandal; only mutated and evolved, to showcased the lack of proper internal governance and policy framework governing the academy’s internal structure, whereby it was no longer a ‘sex scandal,’ but one of an institution failing to properly adapt to the changing times. Regardless, many view the scandal as being one of gender politics, and a lack of gender diversity within its ranks—both in terms of Laureates and members.
Gender, politics, ethnicity and so on, should never play any significant role in the Swedish Academy’s decision to award any fortunate writer the Nobel Prize for Literature. This year, though, there are two be two laureates chosen, one to make up for the Nobel Prize for Literature in two-thousand and eighteen, and one to mark the Nobel Prize for Literature for two-thousand and nineteen. If the Swedish Academy announces two female writers, it will be decried for panhandling to the lobbying of gender diversification and social equality groups, and not on true literary grounds of merit—even if the two women chosen are of strong character and literary merit. If the Swedish Academy ignores a female writer, it will be criticized for maintaining what has been deemed: patricidal and otherwise sexist perspectives.
In this case, the Swedish Academy is up against a wall, and it is difficult to see how they will be able to maneuver in this difficult position, without suffering and extraordinary amount of criticism. Over time, the scandal’s affect will subside, as the academy will reach full capacity by twenty-twenty, but for the present time, the shadow of the actions of Katarina Frostenson’s willful disregard of the Swedish Academy’s statutes, as proven by the investigations; the muddy tarnishing of its reputation thanks its association with Jean-Claude Arnault; and of course its own public vitriolic dispute between members, and the rampant exodus over the past year and half, will linger for a while to come, until the Swedish Academy, can once again shut its gilded doors to the public, and work tirelessly in its secrecy to choose worthy, powerful, and influential Nobel Laureates in Literature, without the pathetic criticism of social politics, and lobbying.
I do not envy the new Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Mats Malm, who in his own right is new the Swedish Academy as a member himself. He has his work cut out for him to ensure the chosen laureates are defensible on literary grounds, not social or political, and again begin moving the Swedish Academy in the proper direction, one which rises above the sophistic concerns of social movements, who demand appeasement, toll, and tribute, from wherever they can get it, which will provide them the greatest headline worthy connotations.
Until, October 10th, Gentle Reader, we will not know who the chosen Laureate(s) are, or whether or not they are perennial favorites, or obscure. In the meantime, all one can do is speculate, discuss, debate, and wait.
Thank-you for Reading Dear Gentle Readers!