Unearthing Erotic Genius: On Rut Hillarp and Swedish Modernism

“Rut Hillarp was born 100 years ago this past Friday. She is one of the most unfairly marginalized authors in Swedish literary history. It’s as if we refuse to allow ourselves to discover just how damned excellent a poet she is.” — Bernur, February 23, 2014.

“Her lyrical prose is fantastic: so beautiful, erotic, dark, perceptive and intense.” — Swedish novelist Therese Bohman on her female role models, Kulturkollo, 2014.


A photo posted by Saskia Vogel (@saskia.vogel) on

Some discoveries are almost too delicious to share. We see an author’s name (on the web, on a shelf) and we decide we must read them. There was something to that name (the way the letters looked together or the paper’s grain). From the first line, the words tumble into an order, tantalizing and new, but somehow familiar. An echo we’ve heard before. The words tangle with our thoughts, become inseparable, and we, the curious reader, become devotees. For a time, perhaps forever, we keep the name to ourselves, guarding it as a jealous lover would. But some names ask to be spoken aloud, written in emails and on scraps of note paper with the addendum “must read.” One of those names is Rut Hillarp.

23s04hillarp2__mngl_20110923ab5x004,kul_1.indd_6388Rut Hillarp—who was she? The year of her birth, 1914, seems so distant, but the year of her death, 2003, still feels like it was yesterday. Five years ago, The Gothenburg Post called her a grand dame of the women’s movement. Rut Hillarp—one of Sweden’s great, yet overlooked Modernists—turns those whom she touches into devotees: her readers, lovers, students and mentees. She is a cult figure, an antiquarian bookseller in Gothenburg told me after I had learned her name and embarked on a mission to possess each and every one of her books. As soon as his shop gets one of her books in (rarely), it sells. None were in stock.

My romance with Rut Hillarp began this past summer when the Berlin-based publisher Readux Books was looking for one more piece to complete their Sex series which was to be published at the end of 2015. Since Readux launched in 2013, the publisher, Amanda DeMarco, has let me scout Swedish stories for their short, small format books, which include contemporary fiction, rediscovered classics, and essays about cities. My translation of Malte Persson’s short story “Fantasy” was my second translation ever—part of a gamble to see if I could turn my ability to speak Swedish, my mother’s second mother tongue, into a career. When I want to feel official, I say I am their Swedish editor. Mostly, I like to call it nothing at all and think only of the special pleasure of reading for love and with purpose, for Amanda.

Erotic culture is a special interest of mine (academically, professionally), and as her deadline drew near I berated myself for still having found nothing. In a fit of frustration (inspiration?), I typed something like “forgotten Swedish eroticist” into Google, thinking that my chances of coming across Sweden’s Anaïs Nin—or anyone vaguely comparable—were slim to none. But there she was: poet, diarist, experimental filmmaker, photographer, teacher, and novelist. And her novels, four in total, are how I would like to introduce her to you here—Blodförmörkelse (Blood Eclipse, 1951), in particular, from which the English translation The Black Curve (Readux Books 2015) is taken. I am not the first to love her, apparently, but I suspect I am the first to have brought her into my mother tongue. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only published English-language translation of her work.

1455734309252When her debut novel Blood Eclipse arrived in the mail, I barely dared touch it. A slim, brittle volume from an antiquarian bookseller in Stockholm. One of two available for sale online. Self-published in 1951. Number 27 in an edition of 500, with one of 50 covers hand-painted by the author and signed to Nils Ferlin (the poet, I assume). It was love at first line. I let the sun burn my shoulders as I devoured her words on the balcony wearing white gloves, so as not to mar the stiff, yellowed pages.

The novel begins with a man’s reply to his female lover’s letter:


It’s true, I didn’t come. I never intended to.
And I can’t accept the discreet excuse you offered me in your letter.
I don’t believe you waited long enough for me . . . I asked for you to wait as a period of gestation during which your desires would consolidate, your emotions coagulate. Until now any man has been able to satisfy these desires in you, but after this waiting period, they will be devoted only to Man.
Because waiting shapes his story and gives him his reality . . .
Like hunger, waiting is creative. It rouses new senses and needs, and so it offers Man an infinitesimal keyboard and a palette with metaphysical resonance.
Waiting entices the desired man, and he comes more quickly when he is late than when he is on time.

It is tempting to make a case for Rut Hillarp as Sweden’s Anaïs Nin. In response to Anaïs Nin’s notoriety, she wondered in a 1951 letter if she too couldn’t do just as well. Indeed, they have a similar erotic project. Like Anaïs Nin, Rut Hillarp’s works trace a map of the psyche’s movements through love, lust, and desire. One could align elements of Hillarp’s life (including a connection to Paris and creative intercourse with renowned cultural figures of her time) with Nin’s own. Whereas Nin’s fame was helped along by who published her in English and the censorship trials that added that tantalizing element of the forbidden to her work and life, Birgitta Holm offers no comparable story of scandal in her 2011 biography Rut Hillarp: Poet och Erotiskt Geni. Hillarp was a celebrated writer who traveled the world, took the matter of having lovers and being a lover seriously, and for whom desire was a way of becoming more receptive to her environment. One could try to spin sensation from the threads of her life—her joy in photos from costume parties, the cancer that left her with only one breast, the men and women who she invited to stay at her home, her masochism, her suicide—but that would do a disservice to a heart that beats with a singular rhythm. Holm, her former student and close friend, calls her an “erotic genius.”

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All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea

poster-of-the-KimsIn late 2014, I spent a few months immersed in North Korea, translating Magnus Bärtås and Fredrik
Ekman’s All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea into English.
da4cc5d9dd238a12d5b9b9e2b0bed598-w204@1xI loved everything about the book: the interwoven cultural and political histories (specifically: film history), the surreal reality the authors were navigating as part of a group trip through North Korea, the cultural and social history of North and South Korea and Japan. Yes, it’s about a high-profile kidnapping of two South Korean film legends, but it’s also a look at special effects on Godzilla…and the cultural lineage of Godzilla from Japan to NK to the US…and about how the dictator is created as a god/eternal icon, drawing from art history, world literature, and more.
Read an excerpt about a strange night in a (fake?) village and “culture shock” as a medical diagnosis at Literary Hub, and if you’re into reviews, here’s a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and a great review from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And here’s a taste of Pulgasari…Godzilla’s brother from another mother?


London Literature Festival News!

11745608_1048375738508949_1090609126980349689_nI’m excited to share that I’ll be donning two guises at the London Literature Festival this October: co-conspirator (pixels and sharp angles) and moderator/fangirl (spectacles and exclamation points).

For the next edition of Local Transport, Michael Salu and I have lined up a trio of exciting artists who will explore Data and Desire. What can all the data in the world tell us about the unknowable, the intangible, the essential mystery of life? Dystopian graphic novels, love at first sight, the S.O.U.L…. Give your weekend some byte.

Friday, October 9. 20.00-21.00. Festival Village below the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. Get more info and buy tickets.




bretRGB-300x460I’m delighted to be sharing the stage once again with Lina Wolff for the First Look Book Club, where you’ll get a preview of her excellent novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (translated by Frank Perry for And Other Stories). She’s one of my favorite Swedish authors. And her book. Oh. Divas. Death. Despair. Desire. Stories nestled into stories. From Mexico to Madrid. Check out an interview we did for Granta here.

Tuesday, October 6, 19.45, Foyer Spaces, Southbank Center. Get more info and buy tickets.

From “The Memory of a Secret”

215051bWhat do we know about our parents? They’re never anything but parents. They do what parents do, listen but never speak. Help you up but they themselves stay down. One day you’ll start to wonder who they are. Those people who’ve always just been there. You realize that you don’t know what they’re thinking about in their beds at night. You don’t know what they dream about. Your memories don’t provide any answers, they can’t reveal their true selves. You’ve never wondered. There was never any reason to wonder, until now.


Fragment, 1992

I remember a nightmare, perhaps one of my first. I’m in the pale pink nave of a church, close to the front near the altar. Four strange men with shaved heads are leaning over me. One of them is holding a mirror. There’s something about the atmosphere. Something that isn’t right. You have to look at yourself in the mirror, one of the men says. When I turn my face away, they hold my arms and legs down while one of them grips my chin. At the very moment that I’m supposed to meet my own gaze, the large church doors swing open. The men flee and my dad approaches me. You’re not allowed to look into this one, he says, raising the mirror high. Then he hurls it to the stone floor and shards of Dad’s image fly across the room.


Blind Alley, 2011

We take the E4 south, me and my husband. We drive along Lake Vättern with the light of the sunset on our faces, and veer off onto the country roads of Småland. Arriving at the red house by the meadows and the lake brings a kind of calm. This place has always welcomed me with a peace that I’ve not found elsewhere. But this time it feels different. The tractors plough through the fields. Black earth covers the cut wheat, which only a month ago was tall and swaying elegantly. It’s autumn now.

The house has its own blind alley that can be used for parking, but three years ago Dad got it into his head that he wanted to transplant his raspberry bushes and lay a gravel driveway. It took several weeks; Dad was so invested in that driveway that it became comical. I did think it was charming, that Dad’s stereotypically male characteristics were charming. There must have been something about them that I liked, because the thought of him losing them scares me to death.

I see Dad in the kitchen window. He doesn’t see us. Dad is cooking, moving in that jumpy way that suggests that he’s stressed. We walk into the red hallway. It smells like it usually does. It has just been cleaned. Jackets hang neatly in the hall. On the ground floor, you don’t notice. The threat is upstairs. We eat dinner and I stay at the table for a long time, stretching it out as long as I can. My husband carries the bags up and eventually I, too, will have to make my way through the house. My childhood home, once the safest place in the world, has become a minefield. I’m not safe anywhere. Anywhere and at any time they might make themselves visible  . . .  traces of the new Dad.

My translation of this extract of Ester Roxberg’s Min pappa Ann-Christine was first published in English on 1 June 2015 as part of Words Without Borders’ Queer issue. Read the rest here.

Lead image Copyright/fotograf: Lina Alriksson 


The Quietus!

A big thanks to Jen Calleja, Amanda DeMarco, Karl Smith for making this happen! Here’s the start of The Quietus interview. Read on, lovelies.

This month’s column swings the focus to the unsung hero – the literary translator – but just as much on contemporary Swedish literature and inventive ways of publishing literature in translation. (Portrait of Saskia Vogel by Richard Phœnix)


This month I read a book in translation every day for a fortnight. It might sound impressive/obsessive, but – as Berlin-based publisher Readux brings out single or groups of very short stories and essays, mostly in translation from German, French and Swedish in pocket-sized books that can be read in one sitting – it was close to effortless.


When founder and publisher Amanda DeMarco started planning Readux she was twenty-six and funding the project herself, so publishing four short books (of around 5-10,000 words) three times a year rather than full-length books was a ‘no-brainer’, though she actually regards Readux as ‘a magazine – incognito, exploded’.

Instead of telling you about all of the books – from Felicitas Hoppe’s absurdist nightmares, to Roger Caillois’ surrealist piece of psychogeography, to the revelatory story of a British poet becoming pen pals with an incarcerated Czech poet – I wanted to focus on Readux’s Swedish Series: not just because their short-form mini-book format is based on the Swedish publisher Novellix, who published the stories in Swedish, but because the three stories in this set were translated by the same person. They just so happened to also be the translator of another text that had recently made a real impression on me.

The trio of short stories that make up the Swedish Series was selected and translated by Saskia Vogel. Amanda Svensson’s Where the Hollyhocks Come From (excerpted above) was the first Readux book I read, drawing me in with the strangely menacing pink ice-cream on its cover.

It charts a young man’s melancholy liaisons with a Lolita-like girl in the countryside of southern Sweden and comes to a quietly traumatic conclusion. The story’s pull and that the girl’s looping speech snaps together so satisfyingly with the man’s preoccupied narration left behind the sense that this was translation at its best.

The narrator of Malte Persson’s Fantasy is a self-absorbed artist who infiltrates the team behind a failed fantasy film in an attempt to make a piece about their egotistical existences detached from real life; at times recognising her own hypocritical denial of how close she is to her subjects, her own self-importance and who’s using who. In The Lesson by Cilla Naumann, the most tense and ambiguous of the stories, a teacher’s inexplicable hate for a new pupil causes his control to slowly slip and has the threat of violence permanently hovering on the horizon.


I had come across Saskia a few weeks before when I read her translation of this excerpt from Pojkarna or The Boys by Jessica Schiefauer on the great platform Words Without Borders, and was left with a mournful wish that I had had the chance to read it when I was younger. The extract left a mark and the text itself was popping and as lively as the young girls in the story. Then I read the Swedish series and recognised Saskia’s name; this recognition felt like something to celebrate.

Literary translation is all too rarely considered an art, rather something more like an administrative task. It is part science, part mystery. It is engaged and impressive creative writing in its own right, and hopefully one day that will go without saying. Until then, I want to refract this idea through the prism of Saskia Vogel.

Saskia learned Swedish in her early teens when she moved from Los Angeles to Gothenburg to attend high school and went on to study English and film, followed by Masters degrees in creative writing and comparative literature in both the UK and the US. Her first editorial job was at AVN, a publisher’s weekly for the adult entertainment industry, but wanting to return to literature she found a job at Granta magazine in London, running their global events, PR and promotions. Now based in Berlin, she translates Swedish literature, is a writer in her own right, and is the co-founder and director of strategic communications at Dialogue Berlin.


Read the rest of this in The Quietus.

Just Be: On “The Boys” and reluctant womanhood


As a pre-teen in Southern California, I was terrified of the day I would have to wear a bra. As soon as you wore one, the boys would stalk you around school, sneak up behind you, and painfully snap the hook and eye closure against your back. It was a humiliating hazing ritual of sorts, with one foot in the innocence of childish play, and the other in the common attitudes about gender in the adult world, where women are often portrayed or treated as objects. And then there was the garment itself. Even the plainest of bras had something frilly sewn between the cups—no matter how modest the cut was, that alluring silk rose or come-hither bow suggested things about me that weren’t true, and that I didn’t want to be true. I wasn’t “that” kind of person. Not yet.

One day, the girls in my class were rounded up and given a strict lecture by our gym teacher on the medical dangers of kicking boys between their legs. Apparently someone had had enough of the bra-snapping. Whoever the unidentified assailant was, she was a hero to us all. During this fragile time, when the changes in our bodies were weighing so many of us down, and the uninvited gazes were making some of us want to shrink from view, I was reminded that standing up for yourself and taking control of your narrative is always an option.

How I wish that Jessica Schiefauer’s August Prize-winning young adult novel Pojkarna (The Boys) had been on my bookshelf when I was a young teen. It would have immediately become part of my YA canon, reminding me that my reluctance to slip into womanhood wasn’t unusual, and that just because I was being looked at in a certain way by men didn’t mean that their perception of me was a reflection of who I was.

In The Boys, Schiefauer gives three fourteen-year-old girls a magical way to take control of their narratives. Schiefauer says that “the gaze” is at the heart of her novel, that it is ultimately a novel about perception. Kim, Bella, and Momo are sexually harassed by the boys at school and feel uneasy about the attention that puberty has called to their door. These are imaginative, willful girls, who are also insecure and searching for ways to simply be in the world as people. How do they escape or neutralize the unwanted attention? One day, Bella plants a mysterious seed that grows into a resplendent flower. The flower’s nectar has the power to transform the girls into boys for about half a day. Through this transformation, the girls experience what it’s like to exist in the world outside the heterosexual male gaze. They now know what it is to be seen as a subject, rather than an object. Each girl uses this experience to reimagine herself in her own way.

This novel could also be read as queer literature for its tender treatment of desire (in this extract, note the moment where Kim feels a pang of attraction to Momo after they’ve turned into boys) and how it explores gender fluidity. For Kim, her female body is an alien shell, and she finds a home in her male body. The other girls are at home in their original bodies to varying degrees. I kept thinking of Cris Beam’s project on the increasing visibility of transgender youth in Los Angeles, as featured on This American Life. And of Brendan, the Internet-famous “teen diva” and LGBTQ activist who is the face of a recent American Apparel campaign. Or of Roscoe, the gender-fluid son of the main character in Showtime’s House of Lies that writer Matthew Carnahan based on children he has met. Let’s put the language we can use to describe this to one side: there’s something interesting stirring among young adults today. There seems to be a swell of young adults who perceive gender as a fluid concept. Who feel empowered to fundamentally question who and what and how they can be, however they were born. I wonder what Judith Butler has to say about this.

The extract in this month’s issue of Words Without Borders introduces us to Kim, Momo, and Bella on the eve of a masquerade in Bella’s greenhouse. During the party, they discover the magical power of the resplendent flower and have their first night out as boys. These chapters from the middle of the book showcase the simple richness of Schiefauer’s prose. There is something of Theodore Roethke in her sensual and fraught engagement with nature and the greenhouse. We see how she lays out the landscape of the girls’ lives and how they carve out safe spaces for themselves in this town near an untamed forest. We see how they blossom or shrivel in various environments. And in the moment when the girls first see their boy-bodies, you know you are in for a wild ride.

One of the translation challenges I faced was capturing Schiefauer’s magical tone. Through Kim, the narrator, the fantastical and the quotidian mingle, drawing the reader into the uninhibited imaginations of the girls as their extraordinary story plays itself out in an average Swedish town. There was a risk that Schiefauer’s easy flow between reality and fantasy would become jarring. Tube socks and the ceremonial drinking of a magical potion aren’t natural bedfellows, but I hope I’ve succeeded in bringing them together as seamlessly as they work in the Swedish.

As the lively current discussion of issues around sex, gender, and power show little sign of waning, I hope that every reader that identifies with “The Boys” will find comfort in this story and, regardless of how they are perceived, will feel empowered to just be.

This article was originally published by Words Without Borders on 18 December 2014. 

AudibleBlog.co.uk: It’s the End of the World, Again

727px-cafires_tas2003298_lrg-1Growing up in Los Angeles, there was always the threat of the end: the earth would shake and take the city with it. After the 1992 riots, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that the city could rupture again, at any time. The hills would burn, the land would slide. Or we’d use up all the water and then there’d be none. The current drought is doing nothing to dispel this fear. (Find out how much water California has left here.)

Of course, imagining the end isn’t anything new. The Mayans, Nostradamus, Mary Shelley, in every society, we imagine its end. But in this time, where we are more able than ever to truly annihilate the planet, what kinds of stories are we imagining and what do they say about our hopes and fears?

Read on to see the two books that frighten the bejeezus out of me.

Yawn No More: Americans and the Market for Foreign Fiction

As proven by the conversations at BookExpo America, American publishers, editors and readers may finally be coming around to embracing more foreign literature. Reposted from Publishing Perspectives.

By Saskia Vogel

Nose-guard. Knouse-gourd. Knausgaard. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s name was on everyone’s lips. Some were uncertain how it should be pronounced and said as much, other simply raved about the Norwegian author and his six-part autobiographical novel. From the evening cocktail parties with a view that stretched out to the Statue of Liberty to the climate-controlled floor at BookExpo America (BEA), Knausgaard inevitably would be mentioned. Down two floors in the green-glass giant that is the Jacob K Javits Convention Center, those who were most probably most heartened by the success of Knausgaard were gathered for the annual BEA Global Market Forum, this year focused on books in translation.

The Seeds of the Translation Boom in 9/11

Organized by BEA’s director of international affairs, Rüdiger Wischenbart, the program ranged from a seminar on funding programs available from a selection of European and Middle Eastern countries to discoverability and finding readers for new digital works.

Czech author Mariusz Szczgiel

To name of few of those on stage during the day: the immensely charming Polish writer Mariusz Szczgiel, author ofGottland, who compared writing a story to the art of strip tease; Susan Bernofsky, author, translator and Director of Literary Translation at Columbia University; and Baruch College associate professor Esther Allen, referred to by translator Antonia Lloyd Jones in the same breath as the UK’s Daniel Hahn, Ros Schwartz and Maureen Freely in terms of their excellence and determination in advocating on behalf of translators and works in translation; Joël Dicker, whose The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is set to be as unmissable as Knaugaard; Ahmed Al Amri, the director of the Sharjah International Book Fair, whose epic translation funding scheme is in part responsible for the rapid rise of the profile of the festival; Michael Z. Wise, co founder of New Vessel press; and a host of editors including Carol Brown Janeway of Knopf, which is having its centenary next year.

Janeway shared a short history of how Knopf came to be a leading publisher of translation. She recalls a conversation she had with founder Alfred A. Knopf. She once asked him how the company came to publish so much in translation, and Knopf began his answer simply: “Anti-semitism.” He proceeded to tell her how when he was starting out American authors preferred not to be published by a Jewish publisher, so Knopf turned its eyes to the Europeans. She also dispelled the notion that TS Eliot’s Cats was the main title filling Faber’s coffers. In fact, she said, for a long time a book on goat husbandry was the backlist bestseller.

The anecdote about how Knopf came to publish quite so much in translation relates back to another point brought up during the first panel: that in the years that followed 9/11, the political climate was the soil for the seeds that have led to the blossoming of translated work today. Susan Harris, editorial director of Words Without Borders (which turned ten last year) noted, “In the US, we know so much of the world through a political prism. Our interest is in publishing work from parts of the world that aren’t well-known.” Like countries from the “Axis of Evil,” as the Bush administration categorized them. “You might call it a first world problem,” Harris said of the identified need for more books in

Susan Harris of Words Without Borders

translation. “But it’s a first world problem that inhibits us from understanding the rest of the world.” So far, the online only publication that gets around 600,000 hits per year has published work in over 101 languages, produced 7 anthologies and know of 16 books that were signed on the back of excerpts being published on the website.

Peter Kaufmann, coordinator of Read Russia, was also on this first panel and was lauded by Wischenbart for running the program with an admirable range of activities and a strong continuity in ongoing efforts, including symposia, events, the Read Russia Annual Prize for Russian Literary Translation and translation grants. The program has a 20-year plan, and is on course to creating a new wave with Russian literature in translation. Kaufman stated that when he took on the job, he was clear that Read Russia would have to be free from political influence and that it could only succeed if the strategy was fully integrated with the digital age, in terms of content, data and building communities.

This brings us to the second panel about discoverability and finding readers for new works digitally. The conversation on this panel quickly turned to pricing and money. Javier Celaya, CEO of dosdoce.com, said, “Fixed pricing doesn’t work in the digital age. In analog world it protected the market.” He reminded us that pricing is one way to be dynamic in the market and advocated for dynamic pricing that fluctuated with supply and demand. After discussing the Net Book Agreement, Susie Nicklin asked Asymptote journal’s assistant managing editor Eric Becker about their volunteer-based publishing model, stating that editors and contributors do it for love, but surely the aim of all is to get paid, and then elaborated on the recent debate among UK writers about how they are being remunerated and the backlash against doing author appearances for free. Her question raised an interesting point.

With some publications sharing profits in lieu of a set fee for contributors to a number of book publishers trying out subscription models, in the vein of And Other Stories, to some publishers offering higher royalty rates to translators again in lieu of a set fee, how critical of these alternative models of monetization should we be? Asymptote, like Words Without Borders and new ebook publisher Frisch and Co, is a discovery platform for new writers in translation and new translators, they are all aware of the bottom line. But like the music industry had to evolve with changing content delivery models and the rise in piracy, publishing of course will have to adapt as well. Connu, Readux Books, Novellix, Deep Vellum, New Vessel Press, Restless Books are just a few new publishers in the US and Europe that are platforms of discovery and have an indie spirit. We’re still finding our comfort zone with digital content delivery, pricing structures and all the rest, not to mention the industry is still developing anti-bodies to Amazon. The ecosystem of publishing will achieve balance again. There is too much passion, creativity and intelligence in play for it not to.

Becker lamented the shrinking of space for intellectual debate, and Nicklin added that she’s noticed in the circles she runs in, people aren’t all reading the same books anymore. Everyone seems to have their own canon. In this light, these many discovery platforms seem more and more vital. Perhaps stories themselves are taking the place that this shrinking space has left open. Perhaps we must re-conceive the shared experience of literature, and look to technology, the media and book marketers to see how they are innovating in the current climate.

Ahmed Al Ameri of the Sharjah International Book Fair

For example, Sharjah’s al Amri pointed out that ebooks in the Arab word haven’t been well-supported and faced problems due to piracy, but now companies in the Middle East are creating their own ebook solutions. During the day one panelists predicted a rise in micro marketing as a result of the Hachette-Amazon contract dispute. Susan Bernofsky reminded the audience that change will also come from technologies that we don’t yet know of. Riky Stock, the director of the German Book Office said, “The future has already begun.” She added that with all the digital possibilities for communication and discovery, “getting back to personal meetings” has become increasingly important.

Foreign Fiction Viable in the US After All

The panel entitled “Successful Insights from Translators and Editors” returned to the theme of the digital age and discovering new work. Moderator Esther Allen kicked off the discussed by citing a New York Times article from July 2003 with the headline “America Yawns at Foreign Fiction.” The article argues that literature in translation is just not viable.

In the 2003 article, writer Stephen Kinzer wrote: “We’re the clogged artery that prevents authors from reaching readers anywhere outside their own country.” And continued: “It’s a great paradox of American life that on the one hand we feel very cosmopolitan, with Mexican restaurants and cab drivers who speak Swahili, and we feel that we inhabit a mind-boggling multicultural universe, but at the end of the day, it breaks down to different ways of being American.’’

Though English is seen as a gateway language, it’s still often one of the last languages that foreign-language books are brought into, including Stieg Larsson’s mega-success. An increase in translations between European countries was also noted during the day.

Not so anymore, was the point of the day and the opinion of booksellers, agents and publishers across the fair. Maria Campbell, president of Maria B. Campbell Associates, has observed that sample translations are getting better and the mechanisms for discovering work in translation have improved, along with publishers and readers being more adventurous, looking “everywhere from Portugal to Zambia” for new voices. Campbell seen an increase in submissions from Taiwan and asserted that it’s key for authors to participate in finding a good translator for their work. She cited the recently announced merger of Spanish-language super agent Carmen Balcells’s agency with The Wiley Agency as showing that there is a “real belief in having an international base.” “Now everyone in literary circles is talking about Knausgaard,” she said.

Author Marcos Giralt Torrente, author of The End of Love who now has three books out in English after years of having none echoed Campbell’s note about the business being about people. “I don’t think often of digital things, I think of physical translators. [Authors and translators] need time [to do our work], and time is bought with money,” he said.

Anthony Shugaar, translator, co-founder of Paraculture Inc, and critic, said that he still sees an amazing resistance to stories that don’t fit into the cliches of a country and identifies a tidal shift in interest in translation around 2007 when he started working for Europa Editions.

Penguin editor John Siciliano noted popular media’s rising interest in translation as well. He’s recently received two interview requests from Entertainment Weeklyabout translated work: around the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and on Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. He noted that the first Turkish classic that he published received a full-page review in the New York Times Book Review, the first time in his eight years at Penguin that this has happened. Returning to the question of whether translated literature is commercially viable, Siciliano said that almost all of his books have made money, and he’s watching Dicker’s Quebert Affair to see how it will do. He feels it has strong commercial potential.

Steps to Success: Nurturing Talent, Meeting People, Finding Funding

Susan Bernofsky

In “What Editors Need to Know: Successful Translations in English,” Susan Bernofsky has noted a rise in incorporating translation into MFA programs in the US. In terms of a talent pool, editors should be seeing more capable translators appearing on their radars. Bernofksy noted that when she started translating 30 years ago, her high school German teacher was her main resource for translation education, and that teacher mostly was concerned with semantics. “Editors are in a great positions to train translators,” she added. “But they shouldn’t have to.” Hopefully, this will help resolve the kind of problem that al Amri expressed: they couldn’t find a translator to work on a translation between Arabic and Thai, and so they had to first have the book translated into English. “Translators and editors are what is most important in the future,” he said.

Marleen Seegers of 2 Seas Agency noted a rise in fellowships for editors and ensures that her agency isn’t only an agency, but a resource for all matters of translation including grant listings and international tax issues.

The day wrapped up with a informational session featuring representatives fromHispa Books, The Romanian Cultural InstituteRead RussiaSharjah International Book Fair, the Italian Trade Commission, the NextPage Foundation in Sofia and the Spanish Ministry of Culture (whose new funding cycle will opens this month and is accepting application for two months), all outlining their current grant programs, information that can be accessed on their websites.

What each panel circled back to was the importance of people gathering, meeting, talking and serendipity in the discovery process. Nothing can replace the human element. Though translators may be early adopters of technology, polling their Facebook friends and forums to find the perfect solution to an elusive phrase, we are still figuring out where technology will take us, and that solution to pricing structures and more may unfold as the technologies evolve. And that moment we worried that Google Translate would take literary translators’ jobs? File that away with Y2K.

Looking ahead to 2015: BEA’s guest of honor will be China and they’re preparing a full showcase of seminars, dialogues between Chinese and American authors, and are exploring the ideas of exhibitions and films.

Granta Podcast: Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff ©Håkan Sandbring / sandbring.se©Håkan Sandbring/sandbring.se

‘I think in the beginning it was a crisis. I started to write because I felt the need to fit in, and not be an outsider… I have felt bound to an outsideness and an otherness.’

I was wondering where-oh-where this podcast had gone. Its arrival on Granta.com completely slipped past me amidst the whirling waltzes of late. I had the honor of translating Lina Wolff‘s short story “Nuestra Señora de la Asunción” for Granta 124: TravelWolff writes in Swedish, but this story and her debut novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs are both set in Spain. When she came to London for the launch of the Travel issue this summer, we talked about the tension between a rational way of being and a magical way of thinking, Lorca, Dante, literary travellers and their guides, irrationality and the artistic temperament.

Granta 124: Travel: The July Launch (and my translation)

945657_10151560250264055_54636770_nGranta 124: Travel is launching in London, New York and San Francisco this July. I’m particularly looking forward to this launch because Lina Wolff will be in town., Not only is she an incredible author, but I’ve had the honor of bringing her work into English. Come out and celebrate the new issue and meet Lina.

Liars’ League Presents Granta 124: Travel
16 July, doors at 6.30 p.m., event at 7 p.m., The Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3BL. £7, tickets include a copy of Granta 124. Tickets are only available at the door. RSVP to events@granta.com to reserve your place.

Travel: an encounter between a person and a place. From a river in the South Sudan to a Bulgarian forest, the Liars’ League, a live storytelling salon, reads new stories from Granta 124. Swedish author Lina Wolff, whose English-language debut is in ‘Travel’, joins us for the second half of the salon for a reading and conversation with translator Saskia Vogel.

The London Launch
17 July, 6.30 p.m., Foyles, 113 – 119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB. £3. Please book via foyles.co.uk/events.

Join Robert Macfarlane and Lina Wolff for readings and conversation with Granta editors launch the new issue. A drink reception will follow.

1012117_10152908966025258_1412679681_nPS Now that it’s in print, it’s for real, for real. The novel is coming….