Saturday 28 January 2012

Something for the Weekend

I shall be away for a week. In the meantime, why not read the Festival Neue Literatur reader? Six translated extracts for your delectation - either to make you feel better about not being able to attend or to psych you up for the big day.

I'm invited to a Happy Hour on 9 February at the Goethe-Institut New York but I can't go (wrong continent) - so if anyone wants to pretend to be me, just go ahead and hope you don't run into anyone I know.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Fantasy Launch List

The lovely ladies at Peirene Press recently shared an email they got from the editor Andrew Wille. In it, he praises the way they have been making their mark in their particular niche – European short fiction. And he adds that he's teaching a class of creative writing students and has given them the assignment of creating a fantasy launch list for their own publishing companies.

Now that got me thinking. And thinking, and thinking, and having a thoroughly good time thinking about setting up my own niche publishing house. The niche, as you might guess, would be excellent and innovative contemporary German-language fiction. And here's my very own fantasy launch list, arranged around the theme of coming of age, seeing as I'd be a fledgling publisher:

First off, an old favourite that still hasn't found a publisher in English: Selim Özdogan's Die Tochter des Schmieds. It's a beautiful, evocative and loving portrait of a girl growing up in 1950s rural Turkey. And it's part one of a trilogy, so there'd be lots to look forward to.

Secondly, Olga Grjasnowa's forthcoming Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt. Trauma, loss, survival in Azerbaijan, Germany and Israel, beautifully written and composed. A girl who asks all the right questions but can't find the answers. 

Number three would be Jan Brandt's Gegen die Welt. 927 pages of East Frisian gothic, as a friend of mine put it. A boy's youth is an absolute disaster, while the village he comes from lives and breathes in his descriptions.

Finally, number four would be Clemens Meyer's Als wir träumten. Lads living it up in Leipzig, before and after the Wall came down.

All in all, perhaps a tad melancholy. I'd probably have to find some more cheerful books for the next season. What would you put on your fantasy launch lists?


Also, if you happen to work in publishing and have a degree in economics and also speak German, the perfect job opening's come up: senior commissioning editor at Bloomsbury Berlin. Go here to download the details.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Festival Neue Literatur

It's nearly time for the Festival Neue Literatur, the perfect treat for book-loving New Yorkers! A host of Teutonic daffodils will delight your literary senses for three days in February: Germans Larissa Boehning and Inka Parei, Austrian authors Linda Stift and Erwin Uhrmann and Monica Cantieni and Catalin Dorian Florescu from Switzerland. Top celebrity moderators Daniel Kehlmann and Liesl Schillinger will ask them probing questions. And there will even be some writers you have actually heard of, to wit Chris Adrian and Francisco Goldman, to entice you to turn up in the first place. Oooh, and there's a literary brunch with "traditional German fare". Everything is free - even the food - and it's all in English!

Opening this fine example of how to organise a literary festival is my favourite event. Now if I were in New York I'd obviously go to all of the readings and eat the traditional fare and hang out with the authors in bars afterwards and all that, but this is the one I'd be most excited about: How German Is It?  Literary Voices from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. A Workshop in Collaboration with Columbia Students on 10 February at Colombia University Deutsches Haus. I think it's a great idea to have graduate students paired up with writers, and I also happen to have met two of them. So I know that they're agonising over the authors' work as we speak, coming up with totally new discussion points that nobody has ever thought of before. Please go along and show your support if you're interested in good writing. I know you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Awards to Özdamar, Zaimoglu

Two Turkish-born German writers have won major literary prizes over the past week or so. Emine Sevgi Özdamar, the author of Life Is a Caravanserei and The Bridge of the Golden Horn, got the Alice Salomon Poetics Prize. It comes with a post as guest lecturer and €6000, and goes to writers whose work addresses biographical, intercultural and social issues and thus play a particular role in Germany's cultural and social life, they say. Özdamar is a lovely lady (Emine is a kind of nickname and means something like "trustworthy", or at least that's what she told me once) and it's always a pleasure to hear her read. Her past in the theatre and also her excellent, delightfully quirky writing see to that. Sign and sight just posted a rather nice tribute by Harald Jähner that you might like to read.

And Feridun Zaimoglu, author of all sorts of things from Kanak Sprak to the Ruhrpott epic Ruß, just got the Prize of the Literature Houses. More money but you have to work harder for it - €11,000 plus a big tour of all the Literature Houses. See the official website for the impressive list of previous awardees.

The two of them do not get along.

Monday 23 January 2012

Turkish Translators for Human Rights

ÇEVBİR, the Turkish Association of Literary Translators, recently issued a press release about breaches of human rights in Turkey, which you can read on the CEATL website. Artists and intellectuals, academics, people working for NGOs, and citizens with a different religious or sexual orientation are now considered potential criminals there, with a rising number of arrests of writers and journalists. There is some discussion over the number of journalists in Turkish prisons, citings varying up to 68 as of December 2011. A total of 38 were arrested on one day in that month.

English PEN also writes: "There is widespread concern about the growing number of cases being brought against publishers and translators in Turkey who are threatened with imprisonment for publishing books which have been published freely elsewhere." The publishers and translators of books by William Burroughs and Chuck Palahniuk are all facing or under trial for obscenity - read more on the English PEN site. The publisher Ragip Zarakolu releases "controversial books from Armenian, Greek and Kurdish authors in Turkish editions, including books documenting the Armenian genocide" and was arrested in October under anti-terrorism laws.

You can take action by appealing to the ministers in charge, publicising the cases or perhaps following ÇEVBİR's example: "We therefore adopt the smile that journalist Zeynep Kuray wore as she went to prison as the best response to the climate of fear and repression that is being fomented."

Thursday 19 January 2012

Translation Competitions

Hooray! There are three different competitions for British translators to enter (or UK residents). First off, if you're very quick indeed, is the New Books in German Emerging Translators Programme. You have to be a "translator of German into English who has not yet published (or
been contracted to publish) a book-length literary translation, and who has not yet taken part in
the NBG Emerging Translators Programme". And you have to download and translate an extract by tomorrow.

This is such a fantastic initiative, as the winners attend a translation workshop with "leading translator Shaun Whiteside". They work on samples from new books for German publishers, so that it's not only them who reap the benefit but also the publishing world at large. If you can't make the deadline you can always enter next time around in the autumn.

Next up is the German Embassy Award for Translators. Again, you download an extract and translate it, in this case by 31 January. I'm so pleased they're running this competition again, because any UK citizen or resident (of three years) can enter and the prize is humongous - a month's residency at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and a trip to the Leipzig Book Fair and €1000.

Lastly for now is the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation. Again, it's British residents or citizens only, but you can translate any poem from any language into English. There are cash prizes and a publication and the deadline allows for plenty of time to tinker: 1 June 2012.

Update: Ruth Martin kindly pointed out in the comments section that I'd forgotten one! The British Centre for Literary Translation's John Dryden Translation Competition is open to anyone at all, for any literary text at all (as long as your translation is unpublished) and the deadline is 15 February.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Chamisso Prize to Michael Stavaric

This year's Adelbert von Chamisso Prize – "a literary prize awarded by Robert Bosch Stiftung since 1985 to non-German authors writing in the German language" – goes to the Austrian/Czech writer Michael Stavaric. €15,000! The emerging writers' prizes, worth €7000 each so not to be sniffed at, go to Akos Doma (German/Hungarian) and Ilir Ferra (Austrian/Albanian).

Stavaric is one of those people everybody seems to know except me. I'm told he's exceptionally charming. I believe I've seen him reading but not actually read any of his books, but I'm sure I'll remedy that very soon with his most recent, surreal-ish novel Brenntage. He also translates, I believe, and writes poetry, and won the emerging writers' prize a few years back. And he writes journalism and reviews. And children's books. So it's good to see him getting (more) recognition, even if it is the world's most patronising award. (At least in the way it's received, as a prize for people who manage to write in German even though it's not their first language. The foundation behind it does good work, I have to admit, sending writers to schools as role models, etc. and not stressing the whole "foreign but good!" aspect as much as the evil media in general tend to do. But I've stated my opinion on it what feels like ten times, so just click on the "Chamisso" tab to recap.)

I see that he was Max Kade Writer/Scholar in Residence at Rutgers in 2009 and had a couple of events in the States, but I can't find any hint that his work has been translated. Do correct me if I'm wrong!

Monday 16 January 2012

Germans Poach World Book Night

Official book godfather (or something) Jörg Pfuel is interviewed in trade mag Börsenblatt talking about the new German initiative for World Book Day, called Lesefreunde, which he admits is utterly plagiarised from the UK. But they do have permission.

So the idea is, lots of publishers give away zillions of copies of 25 specific books. You can see the titles behind the second link above, this time chosen by the publishers themselves, although Pfuel says they plan to get readers more involved in the selection process next time. I rather like the variety, and if you compare them to the UK list, you'll note that the choice is more international, unsurprisingly. I remember wondering why on earth it was called World Book Night at all, actually, seeing as it took place in a single country and gave away books written in a single language. But this year the Brits get Paul Coelho and John Ajvide Lindqvist too. So that's all right then.

The German initiative is now looking for 33,333 Joe and Johanna Bloggses to actually hand out the goods on 23 April. I believe you're supposed to give them to people who don't usually read, and I'm very tempted to join in. Especially because I'm celebrating my birthday around then and I could give other people presents instead of the other way around. I could have a big party and everyone would sit down in the corners and start reading. Perhaps not terribly communicative. The only problem would be lugging 25 books home from the bookshop or library where you have to pick them up.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Small Uproar over Hardcover-Only Bestseller List

It's terribly, terribly complicated. SPIEGEL magazine publishes the most prominent list of best-selling books every week, but the trade mag Buchreport does the actual compiling via an electronic survey of 350 bookstores every Saturday night. And like most countries, they have various different lists: hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction, children's, crime, etc. Don't ask me for more details, I don't pay much attention to such lowly matters.

Anyway it turns out they've been rather lax about the whole hardback/paperback dichotomy thing, what with all the in-between formats you get nowadays. Certainly my copies of Charlotte Roche's books, which gathered dust on the hardback fiction list for months, are more like paperbacks if you ask me, just with an extra flap. I know there's a name for that format but I can't remember what it is.

So now the Buchreport people have decided to pull themselves together and make darn sure only proper hardbacks get listed on the hardcover list. From July of this year, to give the publishers advance warning not to use these disgusting innovative freaky formats. Paperback-only publishers dtv are up in arms but playing along reluctantly - although not without warning customers that prices will go up (see Deutschlandradio Kultur).

There are actually some major disadvantages that arise here. The Spiegel bestsellers are often displayed prominently in bookstores large and small, and that's obviously a major sales push. So excluding non-traditional formats is pretty mean and not exactly forward-looking. Plus it exacerbates the artificial quality/mass-market divide. The black mark of "going straight to paperback" also means certain books just don't get as much review coverage, relegated to the "in brief" section from day one. And if you've ever met a writer you'll know they all spend weeks agonising over their books' format status. A loop of false-modest whispers of "hardback with full-colour dust jacket and bookmark ribbon" is the soundtrack in the corridor to literary hell's pride section. Imagine the extra headaches they'll have now.

Meanwhile, blogger and all-round cool person Johnny Häusler launched an experiment to plumb the depths of the ebook charts in Germany. He whipped up his own ebook I Live by the River and watched how many copies it sold. He seems to have shifted 3188 units so far and moved up and down the Amazon and Apple charts - you can follow his progress behind that link. He's hardly getting rich at 99c a pop, but the plan has certainly given us a little more transparency between the doom and gloom of German publishers and the blind optimism of the platform providers. Fun.

Tuesday 10 January 2012


3:AM magazine has a poetry section, I have just discovered. Called Maintenant, it covers a large range of European poets featuring interviews and translations of their work. The interviews I've read by SJ Fowler are well-informed and interesting (although proofreading might have done some of them good). I approve.

Check out the interviews with Ulf Stolterfoht, Anatol Knotek, Daniele Pantano and Ann Cotten from the German-speaking world. Unfortunately you'll have to search through of your own accord because there I can't find long links. One piece is also available at Poetry International, a fascinating interview with Jan Wagner - which, however, doesn't stand alone too well as it seems to locate him at the top of some imaginary pyramid of Young German Poets without the context of the other interviews. And although I personally find Jan Wagner one of the most accessible of Young German Poets, he isn't really quite the lone star he comes across as in Fowler's questions here.

Well worth reading.

Monday 9 January 2012

Unusual Translator Home Story

I rather like those glossy magazine "At home with..." features, where a journalist is shown around a celebrity's home, all neat and tidy with polished leather seating. You don't get that very often with translators though, do you? Possibly because, judging by all the translators I know, their homes are a bit too messy and shabby and full of less than photogenic bookshelves. Also, translators tend not to have the same interior decorating budget as your average celebrity. Or maybe it's because nobody's quite as interested in translators as they are in Pippa Middleton.

But the dam seems to be breaking if we're to judge by a recent featurette in Cicero magazine - Grazia for German intellectuals. Intrepid reporter Daniel Schreiber goes to visit translator-turned-literary agent Karin Graf and her partner Joachim Sartorius at home in Berlin. Sadly, the budget didn't stretch to a photographer. But we do get minute details of the way they arrange their library. Wisely, they waited a couple of decades before uniting their personal bookshelves. It's all rather reminiscent of MTV Cribs, with Sartorius quoting his own poetry to explain how literature keeps their love burning bright. 
Lining the white walls throughout the entire house are the plainest and simultaneously most gracious bookshelves one could imagine. The couple's libraries, which they kept separate for a long time, were so large that they required their own move before the furniture arrived in the house. Two booksellers were employed to pack up the books, weed out duplicates and put them all back on the shelves in Westendallee.
Am I tickling your envy bone yet? It gets better. Travel books and German literature in the spacious top-floor master bedroom, French, English and international literature on the first floor, art books alongside the art collection in the salon, non-fiction down in the basement.
In Graf's study are editions of the impressive number of books she has translated; including authors such as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Salman Rushdie and V. S. Naipaul. The books by the writers she represents are kept separately in her agency.
Sadly, Schreiber is too busy establishing the literary fluff piece genre to inform us of how Graf came to be living in such palatial surroundings after starting off as a lowly translator. She is not alone, however: Ulla Unseld-Suhrkamp-Berkéwicz, Harry Lindenstraße-Rowohlt and Denis Druckfrisch-Scheck have all translated in the past and are now dripping with diamonds, pearls and sycophants. So there is hope for us yet - provided we have wealthy parents, marry well and/or opt for a career change. I'm still open for offers for my own TV show, by the way.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Austrian Cultural Forum Translation Prize to Damion Searls

This year's acf translation prize goes to Damion Searls – translator of Proust, Rilke, Robert Walser, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Kurt Schwitters, Peter Handke, Christa Wolf, Stephane Hessel, Jon Fosse, Nescio and Hans Keilson – for his translation of Elfriede Jelinek's essay her not all her (on/with Robert Walser) [er nicht als er (zu, mit Robert Walser)], first published in 1998. I like what he's done with the title.

The award itself is made of Swarovski crystal and will be presented by Michael Orthofer wearing traditional Austrian dress, on Friday night in New York. The audience will be treated to speeches and apple strudel, followed by waltzing.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Books and Things I'm Looking Forward To

I'm back! And thinking about what excitement 2012 has to offer for German book lovers. Here are a few books and things I'm looking forward to in the coming months.

Benjamin Stein follows up The Canvas (coming out in English in September, trans. Brian Zumhagen) with Replay in January. Very different, very exciting, very well written. You may be surprised. That may be part of the point.

Then in February we get to read Olga Grjasnowa's debut novel Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt. Or rather, you do - I already have and was extremely impressed.

Next out is Franziska Gerstenberg's third book, Spiel mit ihr. I'm hoping to finally find a female literary fiction writer who dares to write about (good) sex. We shall see.

More in February, a rather busy month: my friend Oliver Bottini has a new crime novel out, Der kalte Traum, which he researched in Croatia.

Another friend shares that release date (perhaps some horoscope thing?): Tamara Bach's fan-blooming-tastic YA novel Was vom Sommer übrig ist. You will weep. I did. I believe there will also be a launch party, at which I will get drunk in public and stroke people's faces but hopefully not weep.

Followed the next day by Thomas von Steinaecker's new novel Das Jahr, in dem ich aufhörte mir Sorgen zu machen und anfing zu träumen. It sounds intriguing, playing with the present and the future and using more than the written word.

Along similar lines, perhaps, is Matthias Senkel's Frühe Vögel, dealing with aviation and storytelling and again using unusual media, funnily enough recommended by Thomas von Steinaecker. Out in March.

And then a wee birthday gift in April from Suhrkamp (you shouldn't have!): a new collection of short stories by Ralf Rothmann - Shakespeares Hühner.

I'm also looking forward to the Leipzig Book Fair and attendant prizes in March and the London Book Fair in April (another birthday gift - really you are spoiling me...) but sadly and contrary to stubborn rumours, I won't be going to the no doubt excellent Festival Neue Literatur in New York in February. I will have at least two translations of my own out at some point in the year though: Helene Hegemann's Axolotl Roadkill (fingers crossed for June...) and Sibylle Lewitscharoff's Apostoloff. Plus possibly the book I'm working on now, Inka Parei's precise, intelligent and haunting novel Was Dunkelheit war. "My" authors Inka Parei and Clemens Meyer will be out and about in the English-speaking world, in the USA, the UK and New Zealand, and if all goes well Helene Hegemann should be in the UK to launch our book too. Oh, and New Zealanders can look forward to all sorts of amazing German-lit related delights as quid pro quo for being the guest of honour at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.

Ah, who could fail to blush with anticipation in the face of all these treats?