The Afro-Asian Writers Association and Its Literary Field, 1958-1991
Based on archival research in the Foreign Commission of the Soviet Writers Union, this article offers the first historical reconstruction of the main platform of Soviet literary engagements with the non-Western world, the Afro-Asian Writers Association, its numerous international writers congresses, the multi-lingual magazine Lotus, and literary prizes and translation initiatives, which aimed to establish direct South-to-South literary relations that would bypass the (neo)colonial metropoles of Paris, London, or New York. Many of the writers associated with it—Sembene Ousmane, Mulk Raj Anand, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Mahmoud Darwish, Pramoedya Toer, Ngugi wa Thiongo, and Alex La Guma—are now seen as canonical postcolonial figures and their participation in such earlier, Soviet-aligned networks has been forgotten. Founded in 1958 in Tashkent, the Association aimed to be the literary equivalent of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Third World’s main political project, except that it was very much aligned: thanks to the Central Asian writers, Soviet cultural bureaucracies were able to claim a place at the Afro-Asian table. Their efforts, however, were not supported by Soviet readers, especially the elite Western-centric intelligentsia, who showed little interest in the vast range of Russian translations of Afro-Asian literatures those bureaucracies made available to them.