PEN Atlas editor Tasja Dorkofikis looks back at a year of dispatches from around the world, and looks forward to more cutting-edge literature, essays and articles in translation in 2013
The looking back and summing up season is upon us, and I’d like briefly to look at the PEN Atlas as it nears the end of its first year of life. Our main aim has been to look at new voices and literature all over the world and to introduce them to an audience in the UK by commissioning new and original blogs written by writers, critics and translators.
English PEN itself has a translation programme helping both the promotion and translation of international literature via two Writers in Translation Awards – PEN Translates! and PEN Promotes! – and some of the books featured in the Atlas come to us through these grant schemes.
In many of our 2012 blogs we looked at how writers dealt with political problems and conflicts in their countries, in this way supporting the core PEN activity of defending and promoting the freedom to write and the freedom to read. We will be returning to many of these countries again next year, as unfortunately most of the conflicts covered by the Atlas are still underway. These continue to make it difficult for writers to express themselves freely as well as endangering their lives. Samar Yazbek wrote to us from Syria about the perils of reporting from a war zone and in January we will have another Syrian, Nihad Sirees, one of the winners of a 2013 English PEN Writers in Translation Award, writing about Aleppo and its incomprehensible destruction. And later in the year we will be covering another of the PEN Award Winners: Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus, which compiles some of the most exciting new writing borne out of the Arab Spring.
Hassan Blasim discussed the aftermath of the war in Iraq and the role literature plays in how society deals with tragic events. The Devil’s Workshop by Jachym Topol, again one of the winners of a Writers in Translation Award, deals with the more distant past of concentration camps in Belarus. We will be talking to Jachym Topol later this year.
Selma Dabbagh wrote very movingly from the Palestinian Literary Festival about the fragile situation in Gaza. Alas, the crisis there has deepened and we will return to the festival next year to look at the response of writers to the events there. Lydia Cacho’s reporting from Mexico has won awards and accolades. For us, she wrote about taking risks and being afraid. She is still reporting and still in danger.
We hope that as the reviewing space in print media shrinks, PEN Atlas, like some other literary websites, is filling that gap and providing more outlets for literary criticism and debate.
We also have been following trends and reported on developments in international publishing by featuring specialists’ opinions. We have looked out for new writers who might be interesting for a British audience and for publishers here. In this way, we have introduced Alisa Ganieva from Dagestan, Yuri Herrera from Mexico and Park Wan-Suh from South Korea among others.
PEN Atlas dispatches in 2012 took us all over the world, from Mexico and China to Greece, the Netherlands, Croatia and Russia. And as we continue to explore the world’s literature in the New Year, we hope to bring you closer to interesting places and introduce you to new writers.
And if you still have any presents to buy, you might find inspiration here in our list of books recommended by publishers, writers and festival organisers. And for literary inspiration look at one of our most moving stories this year – Santiago Gamboa’s ‘Of Poets and Aviators’.
In the meantime, happy festive reading and all the very best in the New Year!
Editor, PEN Atlas