Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hilda Hilst Book Launch This Saturday + Scholars Find, Authenticate Claude McKay Novel

A few weeks back, I mentioned the imminent publication of The Obscene Madame D, the first published English translation of fiction by the late, extraordinary Brazilian novelist Hilda Hilst (1930-2004).

Two presses, Nightboat Books in the US, and A Bolha Editora in Brazil, are jointly issuing poet Nathanaël's superb translation, in collaboration with Brazilian poet and publisher Rachel Gontijo Araújo, of Hilst's novel,  which is now available. I'm delighted to have had a small part in the project through my introduction to the book, and thereby to Hilst's work.

For all who are in or around New York this weekend, there'll be a book launch on Saturday evening, with a reading and panel discussion, by Nathanaël, Rachel, Bruno Carvalho, and me, at Poets House, one of the most beautiful venues for poetry and literature in the city. If you're free, please come by!


The Obsence Madame D by Hilda Hilst
Translated by Nathanaël in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araújo
Introduction by John Keene

The first English-language translation by the Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst (1930-2004).

Reading and panel discussion with
with Rachel Gontijo Araújo, Bruno Carvalho, John Keene, and Nathanaël

To be followed by reception and book sale
Saturday, September 22, 6:00pm
Poets House, 10 River Terrace, New York City

This is made possible through Poets House's Literary Partner Program.


Claude McKay
One of the most exciting pieces of news to cross the academic wires recently was the announcement that Columbia University doctoral student in English and Comparative Literature Jean-Christophe Cloutier, had found in the university's archives an unpublished novel by the late Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay (1889-1948), and then, with his advisor, professor Brent Hayes Edwards, authenticated that it was in fact an original work by McKay, a major figure in early 20th century African-American, Caribbean and African-Diasporic writing.

The 1941 satirical novel, Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, is set in 1936, marking it as a work from the latter years of the Harlem Renaissance, and according to Felicia Lee's report this past weekend in The New York Times, Cloutier and Edwards have received permission to publish the novel, for which they will write an introduction. As Lee tells the story, Cloutier's discovery came about during the summer of 2009 when he was working as an intern in Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and spotted the nearly 300-page bound manuscript in boxes of material donated by Samuel Roth, a Columbia alumnus and former literary publisher, of once-scandalous texts, in his own right.

Cloutier & Edwards (Robert Caplin
for the New York Times)
Cloutier, saw the McKay's name and the title, and found two letters between McKay and Roth, which suggested to him that this might be an important find. He took the materials to his advisor, Professor Edwards, one of the most distinguished figures in contemporary African Diasporic literary and cultural criticism, and they studied the manuscript, noting the concurrences, in theme and style, down to particular word choices, between it and McKay's other works of fiction, which include Banjo (my favorite of his books) and Home to Harlem, one of his best known works. 

They also found a wealth of other archival material that underpinned their supposition about the work's authenticity, including letters between McKay and the writer and critic Max Eastman in which Eastman quotes from the novel, and further correspondence indicating that the publisher E. P. Dutton had contracted with McKay to write Amiable with Big Teeth.  The novel, Lee says, portrays important aspects of the 1930s Harlem experience, among them the experiences of black participants in the Communist Party, as well as other portraits of the rich and vibrant lifeworld of that moment. Lee quotes Edwards saying of Amiable that it will perhaps eventually be viewed "as the key political novel of the black intellectual life in New York in the late 1930s." Thanks to him, and to the budding scholar (who has all but written his ticket to a job and a career), the still dissertating but soon to be Dr.--and Prof.--Cloutier. And eventually, we all will be able to read what sounds like a late masterpiece by McKay.

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