Humberto Ak’abal

In a special podcast from the Ullapool Book Festival, we have the great pleasure to include a reading from celebrated Guatemalan Maya Indian poet Humberto Ak’abal together with his Scots translator James Robertson and English translator Rosemary Burnett. Their new book Drum of Stone is now out from Kettillonia.

Presented by Ryan van Winkle. Produced by Colin Fraser. Music by Ewen Maclean. Twitter: @byleaveswelive & @anonpoetry. Mail:

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About Humberto Ak’abal

Humberto Ak’abal was born in 1952 in Momostenango, Totonicapán, Guatemala.

He left school at twelve to work with his father weaving the heavy woollen blankets for which Momostenango is famous. He is the foremost Maya K’iche’ poet, and has been recognised with awards such as the Quezal de Oro APG in 1993 from the Guatemalan Journalists’ Association, an honorary degree from the University of San Carlos, Guatemala, the Blaise Cendrars International Poetry Prize in 1997, the UNESCO ‘Song of America’ Prize in 1998, and the Pier Paolo Pasolini Poetry Prize in 2004.

He was decorated by the French Ministry of Culture with the order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2005. In 1994, he refused to accept Guatemala’s highest literary award, the Miguel Angel Asturias Prize, because it is named after a writer whose work Ak’abal considers to have encouraged discrimination against the Mayan people.

About James Robertson

James Robertson was born in 1958 and grew up in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire. A poet, editor, novelist and publisher, he is an active and prolific writer, enjoying stints at Hugh MacDiarmid ‘s cottage, Brownsbank, near Biggar, Lanarkshire, and as the first Writer-in-Residence at the Scottish Parliament.

He set up Kettillonia, a small pamphlet press in 1999, and is general editor of Itchy Coo, the successful Scots children’s book imprint at Black and White.

His novel Joseph Knight won the Saltire Society Book of the Year in 2003 and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year award.

James Robertson lives in Angus; his novel, The Testament of Gideon Mack, was published by Hamish Hamilton in June 2006. He has also translated Roald Dahl’s classic novel The Fantastic Mr Fox as The Sleekit Mr Tod. His forthcoming novel is And the Land Lay Still (Hamish Hamilton, August 2010), which takes its title from an Edwin Morgan poem. He has also recently been appointed Writer-in-Residence for the Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University.

About Rosemary Burnett

Rosemary Burnett, who made the English translations of Ak’abal’s poems in Drum of Stone, studied Spanish at university, and subsequently went on to become Scottish Programme Director of Amnesty International. She has lived and worked in Guatemala amongst the Mayan people.