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This item is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

News & Notes
Leonardo Sciascia, the Sicilian writer whose novels, essays and stories earned him the not entirely welcome title of Mafiologo, died in November at the age of 68. Luigi Barzini described him as 'a poet at heart, a great novelist and a compassionate but cruel lover of his people and his island'. Clear-eyed and unsentimental compassion mark Sciascia's strange, original oeuvre, characterised by the stories and interviews with him published in earlier issues of PNR.

Born in Racalmuto, a sulphurmining town in western Sicily, Sciascia witnessed the daily violence and exploitation of the then parochial institution, the Mafia. He abandoned work as a primary school teacher there in 1963 to devote himself full-time to writing. 1963 was the year in which his greatest extended novel, The Council of Egypt, was published.

Sciascia's preferred form for disclosing the venality of the Italian state, Church and Mafia was the detective novel - with a difference. Few have exploited the genre with greater skill and originality than Sciascia did. He transformed detective fiction into an analytical tool in the search for political truth.

In The Day of the Owl, the four novellas of Sicilian Uncles and in his most recent novels Sciascia creates protagonists whose native sense of reason and justice collide with the powers of institutionalized corruption. But Sciascia's scepticism did not keep him from entering the political fray: he served as a radical in the Italian and European parliaments.

Despite his Sicilian themes and settings and the Sicilian tutelary spirits of Pirandello and the aristocratic Lampedusa (to whom he relates in a fascinating, corrective way), his appeal is anything but local. His books are a living presence throughout Europe.

Death of an Inquisitor and Other Stories (translated by Ian Thomson) will be published in three months' time by Carcanet, and his brief last novels will appear next year. Paladin have an impressive Sciascia paperback programme.

Robert Penn-Warren, who died in September, was the last Fugitive; one of the group of Nashville poets including Allan Tate, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore and John Crowe Ransom whose early work appeared in the group's magazine. A reverential but decisive presence, Warren's editorial flair led him into collaboration with Cleanth Brooks at The Southern Review which, with their polemical textbook Understanding Poetry, effectively defined another great movement of the southern 'renaissance', New Criticism. Always wary of grand generalisations, Warren resisted attempts to homogenize the concerns of either group, although it was this very rejection of generalities, an ardent mistrust of aesthetic premeditation, which came closest to uniting them. He once described excessive research for a novel as an obscenity. Scholarship was to be tolerated if it led to a kind of Coleridgean synthesis where intellectual diligence would be rewarded by a creative 'dream'. It was perhaps this stubborn detachment which ensured the continuing freshness of Warren's writing, despite widespread public recognition and numerous literary prizes including three pulitzers for Promises (1957), Now and Then (1978) and the novel All the Kings Men (1946), culminating in his appointment in 1986 as the United States' first Poet Laureate.

The distinguished and prolific Hungarian poet Geza Kepes, born in 1909, has died in Budapest. Holder of a doctorate from Helsinki University, he took an avid interest in Finnish literature among others and will be remembered for his many translations as well as his original work.

The American novelist and poet Janet Lewis recently celebrated her 90th birthday. A chapbook of her new poems, Late Offerings, was published in 1988 by Robert L. Barth. A double issue of the magazine Numbers, due to appear early this year, will toast her ninth decade with the publication of new poems together with extracts from her novel The Invasion (1932), translations of Tanka poems by Japanese Americans and essays by Donald Davie, Thom Gunn and Timothy Steele celebrating her life and work.

Vaclav Havel was awarded the prestigious West German Peace Prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. At the time Prague radio claimed that the award was mischievous: his writings were still banned in his own country. In his acceptance speech, which uncannily foresaw the direction, if not the rapidity of developments in Czechoslovakia, he declared that he had lived in a system 'where the word can shatter all instruments of power, where the word can be stronger than ten divisions'. Havel donated his prize money to a project supporting the publication of banned Czech writers. The unacknowledged legislator is now in power. It is worth remembering that British readers were first introduced to his work, the short play The Memorandum, in the classic like Cape Editions series in 1967. The character Gross, in a memorable speech (the translation is Vera Blackwell's) says: 'Manipulated, automatized, made into a fetish, Man loses the experience of his own totality; horrified, he stares as at a stranger at himself, unable not to be what he is not, nor to be what he is.' Havel's writing has always looked both ways.

One of Germany's most distinguished literary awards, the Georg Buchner Prize, was awarded controversially this year to novelist and playwright Botho Strauss. Strauss's plays have been performed (to mixed reviews) in Britain, but to date his only novel published here is Tumult (Rumor is the German title) in Michael Hulse's translation. A difficult writer, he has addressed with remarkable directness the tensions between East and West in ways at once troubling and prescient.

Ty Newydd, the former Welsh home of David Lloyd George, is to be transformed into a writers' centre. A trust has been formed, and the agenda promises weekly courses to develop both English and Welsh literary skills. The centre will also be made available to schools and other organizations for their own courses. The Welsh Arts Council will contribute £25,000. The centre requires a further £50,000 and is inviting sponsorship, the money to be used for refurbishing the house and launching the programme. For £250 you can become a patron, but smaller donations are also welcome and should be made payable to the Taliesin Trust and sent to Gillian Clarke, Ty Newydd, Llanystumdwy, Cricieth, Gwynedd LL5 0LW.

In PNR 64 we reported that Jack Mapanje of Malawi was sent Poetry International's annual award to an imprisoned poet for 1988 and that often such recognition secured release. Sadly this has not been the case with Mapanje who, according to the Independent (25 September) is still in detention, uncharged. Born in 1943, and with higher degrees from London University, he returned to teach in his own country. His first collection, Of Cameleons and Gods (1981) included oblique criticism of the regime in Malawi. On the eve of the projected publication of a second collection in 1986 he was arrested and held incommunicado until this year when he was permitted to see his family.

As part of the University of Essex's 25th anniversary celebrations, a poetry weekend (23-25 March) will be held. The Literature Department has invited past and present staff to participate and readers will include Donald Davie, Ed Dorn, Elaine Feinstein, Michael Hamburger, Ben Okri, Michele Roberts, Andrew Crozier, Michael Edwards and others. There will also be readings of the work of Lowell and Berrigan. Assemblages, an anthology edited by Paul Currah, will be published to coincide with these events. Further details are available from the Department of Literature, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ.

Ted Hughes will be 60 this year. An international conference at Holly Royde Conference Centre, Manchester (details from Keith Sagar on 0254 822278) will be held from 15-20 July, at a cost (including full board) of about £180.00. Speakers will include Sagar himself, Ekbert Faas, Terry Gifford, Neil Roberts, Len Scigaj and Craig Robinson, as well as other contributors from various corners of the world. In addition to lectures and seminars, there will be films, videos, tapes, an exhibition and a tour of 'the Hughes country in the Calder Valley'.

The London Literary Society is mounting a Short Story and Poetry Competition with substantial prizes. For full details write to the Secretary, London Literary Society, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX, enclosing a SAE.

The British Centre for Literary Translation was founded in 1989 at the University of East Anglia, Norwich to complement similar projects in Spain, West Germany and France. The centre offers, with the support of the Arts Council, bursaries for translators engaged in studies of a literary or scholarly nature for periods of 1-8 weeks. Translators working both into and out of English are eligible. For application forms write to Mrs Beryl Ranwell, School of Modern Language and European History, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ.

An alphabetical checklist and guide to the fiction, theatre and poetry of Latin America in the post-colonial period from Agosín to Zurita has recently been compiled by Jason Wilson, lecturer at the Institute of Latin American Studies, London University. It includes 650 published translations of works by over 250 authors and promises to open up further to the English reader the rich vein of Latin American writing. The book, priced £5.50, is obtainable from the Institute of Latin American Studies, 31 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HA.

Inspired by the growing interest in André Malraux this decade, which culminated in a conference in Cerisy-la-Salle in 1988, the November/ December issue of Europe is devoted to a consideration of the novels, letters, and essays of this often controversial writer. There is also an exploration of a distinctively Jewish line in modern poetry, in Charles Dobzynski's article on Paul Celan, Umberto Saba and Nelly Sachs.

A new translation of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, was published in June by Oxford University Press. The translator, poet and World Service presenter Keith Bosley, abandoned the 'Hiawatha' metre of the original in favour of a less insistent, more supple prosody. The project has taken five years to complete.

The Whiteknights Press of the University of Reading are to publish Martin Bell's translations of Pierre Reverdy's Poèmes en Prose (1915) and two celebrated volumes of Robert Desnos: A la mystérieuse (1925) and Les Ténèbres (1926-27). An introductory essay, 'Absolute Realities', discusses the work of these figures still neglected in Britain. The volume will contain a brief memoir of Bell contributed by his literary executor, Peter Porter. Bell's policy of translating complete collections of poetry rather than selections has influenced the contents of what will necessarily be limited editions.

The Scottish literary review Chapman 58 includes a special tribute to Valda Grieve, widow of Hugh MacDiarmid. Valda Grieve was herself a poet who, had she wished, might have achieved much in poetry, but she directed her energies more towards her husband's career than her own. Nevertheless, she left poems of character such as 'Woven by Women' and 'Sea Girl's Cry'.

The all-female panel of judges for the First Annual Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize made the award to Professor John Lucas of Loughborough for his poem 'Studying Grosz on the Bus'. He has a new critical book out from Chatto in the new year entitled England and Englishness: Ideas of Nationhood in Poetry. His poems are published by Peterloo.

This item is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

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