Thursday, 25 June 2015

"Feminisms" at Fischer & Suhrkamp

It's amusing. I can see the point of being inclusive, and by no means do I want to say men cannot and should not be feminists. But when I look at how the shared discussion of "feminisms" is shaping up at and Logbuch Suhrkamp, I can't help but crunching numbers. And so far there are more male voices in the conversation than female.

I can't say I'm surprised. If you scroll down past their fig leaf you'll notice that both publishers' blogs are stuffed full of men writing about men, or men writing about themselves, with occasional women writing about men and every now and then a woman (oddly, often American) writing about women. It's like they don't have any women in their catalogues – or are their female writers too busy?

I'm getting sick of feeling so cynical, which may explain why my blogging pace has slowed right down. Because I hate all this Eyoreish complaining I'm doing all the time. Right now I'm also translating the book I've wanted to work on for the past two years: Clemens Meyer's Im Stein, which will be published late next year by Fitcarraldo Editions. It's sucking me in and making everything else feel kind of insignificant. Yes, it's by a man.

Here's a piece by a man about publishing women, Alex Valente in The Norwich Radical on A Climate of Positive Thinking. I hope it helps me and others to think positive. Maybe all this talk of feminisms at Fischer and Suhrkamp will remind them to make their blogs a little more diverse as well.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize to Susan Bernofsky

Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days continues to reel in the accolades, this time winning Susan Bernofsky the coveted Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. The judges said:
Susan Bernofsky’s English translation, ‘The End of Days’, is a beautiful, poetic and persuasive work in its own right, intellectually engaging, and emotionally gripping. The lyrical richness and psychological depth of the original German are matched by a fresh, compelling English style in a publication that promises to bring both author and translator to the forefront of modern European literature known in Britain and America.
Congratulations! Susan gets £2000 and a big hug from a man in a gown and mortarboard. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Harry Rowohlt, 1945-2015

Germany's famous translator Harry Rowohlt has died at the age of seventy. He was the son of publisher Ernst Rowohlt but was never involved in running the publishing house before he and his half-brother sold it in 1982, although he did train at Suhrkamp Verlag and took an internship at Grove Press. He began translating from English in 1971 and was particularly loved for his live events, at which he would interrupt his readings with anecdotes and whiskey (he was apparently made an "ambassador of Irish whiskey" in 1996 and translated a number of Irish writers, including Flann O'Brien and Ken Bruen). And he also recorded hugely popular audiobooks, wrote occasional newspaper columns and played a tramp in the long-running Lindenstraße soap opera.

Readers were very keen on his translation style, which he applied to both children's and adult books. He had a hand for comedy, translating Frank Muir, Andy Stanton, David Sedaris and Robert Crumb, but also writers who are tough in other ways: Kurt Vonnegut, a little James Joyce and probably most famously A.A. Milne. I never met him; as far as I understand, he preferred not to keep the company of other translators. 

Harry Rowohlt made translators visible in Germany like no other, and did a great deal to establish an image for literary translators as creative writers with personalities of their own rather than dictionary-wielding robots. He will be greatly missed by his many readers.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Call for Submissions – no man’s land # 10 (Final Issue)

Contemporary German-language fiction and poetry in English translation.
Deadline: August 6, 2015.

no man’s land, the online journal for contemporary German literature in translation at, is seeking submissions for its 10th and final issue.

It’s been an exciting and rewarding journey since 2006. We’ve published work by over 120 writers and 70 translators. We’ve held too many readings, contests, workshops and Translation Labs to count. We’ve witnessed an astonishing renaissance of translation culture in the English-speaking world, and a surge of interest in German literature. We’re proud to have been a part of that.

With mixed feelings, we’ve decided that Issue # 10 will be the last issue of our translation journal. Of course, all the issues will remain available under Our monthly Translation Lab will continue as before, and we have plans to relaunch no man’s land in a new form as a forum for translation and German literature in Berlin and beyond. So stay tuned! But now we’re focusing on making Issue # 10 the best issue ever. And for that, we’re counting on you to send us your most compelling work to round out the spectrum of new German literature we’ve presented so far.

For prose, send up to 3 texts (stories or self-contained novel excerpts, max. 4,000 words each) by one or different contemporary* writers. For poetry, send work by up to 3 poets, each to a maximum of 5 poems. Electronic submissions only. No simultaneous submissions, please, and – with some exceptions** – no previously-published translations. The deadline is August 6, 2015, and we will inform contributors by early October 2015; the issue will go online by late November. We regret that we cannot offer honoraria.

Please include your contact information, biographical and publication information (for both translator and author) and a copy of the original. Also, please provide proof of permission from the original publisher and/or author – whoever holds the rights to the piece (this could be a scanned letter, or forward us an e-mail).

Please send submissions electronically to Isabel Cole at

To save time and avoid misplacing your work, we ask that you observe the following guidelines:

Please name the file with your translation as follows: pr for prose, ly for poetry_your last name_the author’s last name_e. So Anthea Bell’s translation of prose by E. T. A. Hoffmann would be: pr_bell_hoffmann_e.doc.

Name the file with the original the same way, but ending with _dt (pr_bell_hoffmann_dt.doc). Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Rilke poems would be ly_mitchell_rilke_e.doc, and the original would be ly_mitchell_rilke_dt.doc. 

With scanned originals, please put all the pages in one file.

Apologies if this sounds complicated, but it really is a great help!

For more information, see our “Translators’ Tips” on the no man’s land website, and feel free to contact us at the above e-mail address.

We look forward to reading your work!

The Editors, no man’s land

*Defined broadly as writers currently active, or active in the later 20th/early 21st century. When in doubt, query!

** We are willing to make exceptions for translations that have appeared previously in very limited circulation and that we feel deserve a new audience. Again, please feel free to query.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tanja Dückers on the Gender Gap in German Letters

The writer Tanja Dückers has a piece on the FAZ's blog by women, entitled Progress Is A Slow Stepper. She gives us some anecdotes and figures on the disadvantages women writers face in Germany, most significantly lower pay.
Germany's best-known agent, Karin Graf, owner of the large literary and media agency Graf & Graf, says without hesitation that publishing houses offer her less money for manuscripts written by women than for men's manuscripts. It is also easier for men to get their books published in hardcover than for women.
Women writers in Germany earn an average 25% less than their male counterparts. Dückers was once paid €100 less than two men on the same panel. Although things are improving in terms of prizes, German and Austrian literary awards have tended to go overwhelmingly to men. Dückers was the first writer ever to ask for help finding daycare for her children at an American writers-in-residence programme. The programme has been running for sixty years. A German Studies professor wrote in a newspaper review of one of her books (excuse the very literal translation): "With this book, Tanja Dückers has performed a poor blowjob."

None of this is particularly surprising for anyone with an eye for the issue. What I find particularly depressing, however, is that this is happening in German writing, the language that gives us Anglophones the highest percentage of translated literature by women.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

On Literary Events

Literary readings are a big thing in Germany. Audiences are incredibly patient and will sit through two-hour events composed largely of monotonous recital with hardly any shuffling of bottoms on seats. Then they will go home without asking any questions, not even the question-that-is-a-statement kind. Compare and contrast with the UK events I've attended, where the reading aloud parts are kept to a minimum and it's all about asking the author's advice on getting published. So it's little wonder, perhaps, that Berlin's literary event culture is split cleanly into German and non-German. That means that when an Anglophone writer is translated into German, their events here will usually have a largely German audience, while English events with smaller names will be packed to the gills.

I blame the format, which is fairly standardized for some reason (inertia?). Writer and moderator and actor share a stage. Translator is not present, or if so then only in the audience. Writer reads one page from the original, actor reads interminably long section from the translation while writer stares into space, moderator fails to mention translator, brief conversation between writer and moderator, which is translated as it goes along, while the actor stares into space. Actor reads another incredibly long passage. Everyone goes home. If you understand the original language you don't get a great deal out of this format – which is why, I suspect, audiences at the Berlin International Literature Festival are not usually very international.

So we're trying something slightly different at the Salon Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung. Under the heading "Literatur im Original" we're going to do events with Anglophone writers but without the actors. Because what's the point in having writers come all the way here if all they do is stare into space half the time? While I'm pretty certain most Berliners now magically speak much better English than twenty years ago, of course we can't expect everyone to follow complex literary texts, so we're going to project the translations onto the wall to help them understand – and also to showcase the translator's work and encourage people to buy the translations, which is kind of the point of these events. So there's more time for me to talk to the writer on stage and also more time for the audience to ask her advice on getting published.

We start with the writer and sociologist of art Sarah Thornton, who'll be talking about her fascinating book 33 Artists in 3 Acts this coming Wednesday. And in case you can't read the German blurb about the event itself, here it is in English, because I really want you to come anyway and meet German-speaking art and book lovers:
Wednesday, 10 June at 7.30 pm.

Sarah Thornton
33 Artists in 3 Acts
Moderator: Katy Derbyshire
The event will take place mainly in English

What does it mean to be an artist in the 21st century? Are artists entrepreneurs or entertainers? How do they stay “authentic”? In her book 33 ARTISTS IN 3 ACTS, the art expert and sociologist SARAH THORNTON takes us to the superstars of the international art scene, presenting 33 artists including Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic. Focusing on three aspects – politics, kinship and craft – she looks not only at their studios, but also at their living rooms and their bank accounts. She’s there when ideas come about and great works take shape. With a scathing eye for detail, she analyzes their many different answers to the question: What is an artist?

Cooperation partner: S. Fischer Verlag
Tickets: 8,- € /  6,- €
Reservations via: 030 29 777 89-10.
See you there.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Christiane Neudecker: Sommernovelle

Let me start this review, once again, with a disclosure: the book's author is a friend of mine. With the Anglophone literary world thinking about cronyism and the German-language literary world thinking about paid criticism versus unpaid blogs, that admission seems to fit the current mood. It's not only paid critics who have cronies. When I was looking for a writer to appear for free in an event about literary teenagers, Christiane Neudecker generously – and bravely – offered to read a passage from her as yet unfinished manuscript, in English translation. It turned out to be a great evening of conversation with Christiane and the American writer Brittani Sonnenberg, in which we shared our adoration for teenage girls' stubborn principles and wonderment at the world.

Returning the favour as an opportunity to relive that exhilarating evening, I agreed to moderate Christiane's book launch this past Thursday, and a joy it was; a celebration of friendships both in the book Sommernovelle and in real life, with an audience full of affectionate faces and Christiane's former flatmate Alexia Peniguel of a seated craft performing songs in between the readings and conversation. The climax? An adrenalin-inducing duet between the two of them.

So now you know two things: I am rather predisposed towards this book, and I've also followed its development from open-ended manuscript to printed book, have translated an extract from it, and thus know it very well indeed. Will it surprise you to learn that I'm a fan?

Sommernovelle is the story of two 15-year-old girls who go to spend their early summer holidays at an ornithological centre on a North Sea island. German North Sea islands, incidentally, are quite tame compared to the Scottish ones, more tourist paradises than wind-swept outposts, although there is plenty of weather in the book. Lotte and the narrator (we learn only her nickname, Panda) are looking forward to several weeks of explaining nature to visitors, rescuing injured owls and sunbathing, but in fact they are expected to do much more mundane tasks, cleaning, cooking and counting the local gull population. There's a lot of humour in their expectations and reactions to real life, and also in their high principles. The story is set in the late 1980s, with all the (West) German environmentalism of those times; the girls usually refuse to travel by car (pollution!) and vow to take plastic bags to the beach to collect litter. As Neudecker commented on Thursday, all most of us manage to retain of that idealism as adults is recycling our copious rubbish.

The book's language is not entirely that of a teenager, however. Sommernovelle features many passages of intricate nature descriptions, something not common in contemporary German fiction. Birds, of course, but also the sea and the beaches, marred as they are by commercialism (a crane lifts tourists up into the sky for bungee jumps; greasy tables gather around snack bars). The weather, prey and predators, nature's violence: pathetic fallacy.

For the humans at the centre are little better, it aspires. The largely absent professor who founded the place appears at last and Panda begins asking questions she probably ought not to, while Lotte embarks on a romance. Behind Panda's eagerness for independence, there is something she's running from, and Neudecker lets that narrative emerge gently. She has a similar lightness of touch with what the girls notice about their fellow volunteers and what they don't; while we readers might have a more experienced eye, verging on the cynical, Neudecker's narrator leaves some things unmentioned simply because she doesn't know about them. That, I found, was a delight that matured between manuscript and finished version.  

It is easy to consider every book about teenagers a coming-of-age story. For me, however, Sommernovelle is not about coming of age but about refusing to join the cynical world of adulthood, at least for a while. Deeply disappointed, Lotte asks: "When do we get like that?" The girls choose not to do so and as such, for me, the book is a genuine celebration of a difficult but in many aspects wonderful time in our lives: girlhood. It succeeds not by presenting a rose-tinted view full of "endless summer days" but by showing the weaknesses and the strengths of its characters, by taking an affectionate and respectful view of its protagonists but letting us laugh at those times. Do read it.