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Week in Review: March 22, 2021

Looking back: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Publishing giant and free speech advocate Lawrence Ferlinghetti was celebrated and memorialized throughout the French and American literary sphere after the news of his passing was announced on February 22. He would have been 102 on March 24. A champion of the Beat poets who studied at Columbia and the Sorbonne, Ferlinghetti was known for his art, activism, and co-founding the San Francisco stalwart City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. For his role in the latter he was arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and was the defendant—eventually acquitted—in a 1957 obscenity trial that set a precedent protecting artists’ and authors’ free speech to this day. He was a prominent figure in French and American literary circles, having been named a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2006.

In memoriam: Jean-Claude Fasquelle

The death of publishing legend Jean-Claude Fasquelle at age 90 was announced by Editions Grasset on Twitter on March 13. According to Teller Report, he served as the CEO of Editions Fasquelle before the publishing house merged with Editions Grasset in 1967, after which he eventually became managing director of Editions Grasset-Fasquelle in 1981. Fasquelle left the company in 2000, at age 70, after having started as the director of Editions Fasquelle at age 23. As he recounted in a series of interviews on France Culture, he came from an illustrious line of publishers: his grandfather founded Editions Fasquelle in 1896 and was the editor of Emile Zola and others. Jean-Claude himself was a member of the Friends of Emile Zola Literary Society during his lifetime.

Debates on translation

Debates on translation recently surfaced in the literary community when a white Dutch author, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, was chosen by the Dutch publisher of the Black American Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, to translate “The Hill We Climb”, the poem Gorman delivered at U.S. President Biden’s inauguration, which deals with themes of unity and overcoming hardship and references Gorman’s own heritage as a “skinny Black girl/descended from slaves and raised by a single mother”. As reported by the BBC, after initially accepting to do the translation, Rijneveld decided not to in response to an opinion piece by Dutch journalist Janice Deul which prompted public outcry. Various French translators, such as Alain Mabanckou and Claro, and publications have weighed in on the question of translating Gorman’s work, which, for the record, had already been assigned by the French publisher Fayard to Congolese- Belgian artist and musician Lous and the Yakuza (also known as Marie-Pierra Kakoma).

Shining a spotlight

Two stories set in Asia and featuring French Asian protagonists are among this month’s published translations: Elisa Shua Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho and Julie Blanchin Fujita’s Tokyo Love Story: A Manga Memoir of One Woman’s Journey in the World’s Most Exciting City. As a French-born scientific illustrator exploring Tokyo, Fujita’s comic grants a uniquely developed look at Japanese contemporary culture through snapshots of city life split up by chapter, all conveyed with colorful, meticulous watercolors and side-by-side English and Japanese text, making it useful to the language-learner, aesthete, or casual reader. Dusapin’s debut, Winter in Sokcho, shares themes of the romance novel and the bildungsroman, telling the story of a young French Korean woman wrestling with societal and familial expectations and her own and identity and desires while working at a guesthouse on the border of North and South Korea.

Authors on Tour/Around the world in 80 zooms

Ivorian writer Véronique Tadjo is on a whirlwind virtual tour throughout the month of March to promote her novel, In the Company of Men. One of Ms. magazine’s most anticipated books of the year, Tadjo’s story could hardly have come at a more timely moment—her book draws on true experiences as it revisits the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa, and raises ever-relevant questions about coping with times of crisis and combatting fear and prejudice. An interview with Tadjo was featured in World Literature Today on March 9, where she spoke about the novel and the lessons the world can learn from Ebola and the coronavirus.

Celebrating Francophonie

March 20 marked International Francophonie Day, an occasion for over 300 million French speakers across five continents to celebrate the French language and Francophone culture. The International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) set this year’s theme, “Francophone Women, Resilient Women”, which sought to recognize the strength and resilience of French women and their essentiality to Francophone culture and society, and offered a vibrant program of virtual festivities including webinars, concerts, and other performances showcasing the diversity of French-speaking artists.