There is good news and bad news in for European Literature in the UK.
“That’s nothing new”, you’ll say, “t’was ever thus and none of us would be working in this field if we didn’t recognise the ups and downs”. True! So, if I mention personal examples here it is only because many of you have voiced similar concerns.
As far as the joys of European-Networking go, November ticked all my personal and professional boxes – a small selection:
The launch of The EFG London Jazz Festival (an international jazz fix for husband Max and me, both of us musicians); four days in Skudeneshavn, Norway training, lecturing and hosting the annual SILK International Arts and Literature Festival, meeting i.a. Stieg Larsson’s partner Eva Gabrielsson and interviewing the gifted Uzbekh author Hamid Ismailov (see December’s#RivetingReviews); then home to London to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the launch of the nationwide #ThinkGermanNetwork, under the auspices of vast networks of dedicated colleagues at The German Embassy, UK Universities and many more partners, all of us trying to jointly stem the receding tides of German speakers and language-learners in our linguistically-blighted country; at the FCO, meeting the inspirational Neil McGregor, the outgoing German-speakingDirector of the British Museum, who is making way for the incoming new German Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer; getting a sneak preview of the new Europe Galleries 1600-1815 at the Victoria and Albert Museum (re-opening this December after years of stunning redesign and rebuilding); chasing reviewers and bloggers for our website, reading a pile of translated books (as well as three unsolicited manuscripts in Italian and German), championing the great Kyrgyz writerChingiz Aitmatov and the Portuguese writer Rui Zink (so little known in the UK, so little translated into English); finding speakers for our ELIT festival 2016, holding meetings – also, in my role as judge and chair of European Literature Night brainstorming with the vivacious new ELNight director Jon Slack; attending the hot-ticketed, hotly-anticipated ‘Europe is Kaputt: Long Live Europe’ debate at the Royal Festival Hall featuring Slovenia’s most famous export, the Marxist clown-philosopher Slavoj Zizek, former Greek Finance Minister the charismatic Yanis Varoufakis and the teleported-in Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange. Every seat full for a debate on Europe – that’s what we all dream of! – but what a wasted opportunity: top marks for free speech but nul points for insight into Europe, rather an evening of radical rock star posturing performance politics. A Spanish artist made up for that disappointment, Goya at the National Gallery.
Another ‘European event’ this past month both deflated and elated me: the indefatigable poet and curator of international poetry events SJ Fowler organised ‘The European Camarades’, a mini-festival of 18 avant-garde poets from 12 European countries at our favourite Free Word Centre in London. Steven invited me to host the event, to interview the poets and to create audio podcasts of them talking and reading. He filmed it and I recorded it and photographed it; the poets collaborated in pairs on new poetry and performed it in front of a packed (yes,packed) audience. It was thrilling (see my photos here).
Only later after several conversations, did I learn that, even though we were all professionals and had given up days of our time, none of us had earned a penny. Free Word provided the venue for free; the event was free; most of the poets covered their own flights, transport, food, lodging. And if I look back over my own list of November activities, yes, they were enjoyable but only one of them was a paid job, and only one event was a free Press Ticket. Please don’t misunderstand my reasons for speaking out – I know you feel the same. I didn’t leave the BBC and an excellent salary to make my fortune as an arts journalist and ‘champion of international literature and languages’ (your words, not mine!): I knew what was at stake. Passion and conviction drive thousands of us in the ‘Creative Industries,’ although only if we made widgets or machines would we be respected as real industrialists. I am baffled and sad when themajority of stories I hear are of professionals – artists, writers, translators, musicians and performers – grinding away for nothing. It’s wrong. This year, our ‘European Literature Network’was lucky enough to earn an ACE grant of £15,000, as well as a few thousand from Creative Europe via our partners in Austria,ELIT. Previously we worked for free. Thank goodness the Arts Council has not been cut back in the Government’s Autumn Spending Review (the amount spent on culture was deemed too negligible to cut). Our grants mean we can develop new ideas (eg. an online Reviews magazine), fund a few events like ‘Euro Stars’ (and pay the participants, transport, venues and catering) and fund our wonderful free-access networking website (growing every month in users, activities, reviews, blogs, podcasts), print flyers and, very importantly, pay a little something to my right-hand woman Anna Blasiak, who happens to be Polish, an art historian, translator and poet, and to our brilliantly creative website designers in Romania S7 and to our video director Mihai Andrei of London Video Stories who also happens to be Romanian and to Max Easterman, husband, journalist, jazzman, reviewer, who does our business and finance and happens to be half Lithuanian-Jewish. It’s like a mini-European festival every day in our HQ-Acton London W3. And every day I meet inspirational individuals – publishers, authors, translators, festival directors, Grants managers, booksellers – who care as much as I do about cultural Europe and about professionalizing and promoting European literature in the UK. I won’t name you, but, in the words of our Prime Minister after the Paris terror attacks, ‘Je suis solidaire avec vous’. Yes, even Mr. Cameron recognises that foreign languages are important – maybe he’ll realise that Europe is too.
Rosie GoldsmithPS. Our next European Literature Network meeting is on Monday 14 December at Europe House between 6pm and 9pm. There is a lot to discuss, so please do come and share your news too. If you haven’t done it yet, hurry up and send your RSVPs to Anna at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.This December Newsletter will also appear on the ELIT literature house website