ELNet June 2021 Newsletter: A European Literature House for the UK?

With the closure of the Free Word Centre in London, the closest we came in London to the European Literature House idea, I’ve been wondering why we have never been successful at sustaining the idea in the UK. As a Germanist, I cut my literary teeth on the literature houses of Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, and marvelled at how literature there is treated as integral to people lives and how German local, city, regional and national governments are committed to funding them. If I was in Germany to meet colleagues then more often than not we met (for a coffee, glass of wine, to buy a book, attend an event) at the Literaturhaus. The closest we have to this in England is Dragon Hall, the home of the National Centre for Writing in Norwich, a city which is itself a book hub. Additionally, several of the individual EU Cultural Institutes here in the UK have welcoming spaces. As our national lockdown gradually eases, I feel the need even more urgently to have a meeting place such as Free Word, a true Literaturhaus. If I had the money, the time and the support then I would create a European Literature House for England.

But here we are. The UK is still in a pandemic, we exited the European Union, we have no access to Creative Europe funding and the national narrative is that we should treat Europe in the same way we treat Asia or Africa. We are encouraged to enter into bilateral agreements with individual European countries. But who is overseeing this? Who are the gatekeepers? Where are the guidelines? All this is hard work. So much has been destroyed, especially in the massively underfunded literature and translation sectors of the Creative Industries, which to most people mean football, fashion, opera, theatre, music – and not literature. Add the word ‘European’ to the mix and you are doomed. I’m baffled at the short-sightedness of policy-makers in the UK because, undeniably, we are culturally European.

Thanks to you and to our #ELNetNeedsYou crowdfunding campaign, the European Literature Network continues, but for how much longer? We exist in order to promote and professionalise European Literature in the UK, to act, ideally, as a kind of literature house, a European networking hub or literary consultancy. We accept requests for help on a daily basis from publishers, authors, translators, students, academics, festivals, prizes, literary organisations. But the reality is that we have never received enough support to give you the help you deserve. We are, once again, this summer, applying for an Arts Council England grant, this time to focus on our publication, The Riveter

But, maybe you don’t think ELNet is delivering the help you need. Maybe it should focus more on events or its website or workshops or the magazine: what DO you think? We are running a short survey about ELNet and our work. Please, please, please fill it in. We’ll extend the deadline until Monday 7th June. We’d like to hold a virtual Networking meeting early in July (TBC Monday 5th July) to discuss the survey and to welcome you back into our virtual European Literature Home.

Meanwhile, don’t forget the announcement of the winner of the 2021 EBRD Literature Prize today at 4pm BST. Tomorrow, June 2nd, you can hear Jhumpa Lahiri give the annual Sebald Lecture. Also on June 2nd the winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize is announced. I’ll be interviewing the winning author and translator at the Hay-on-Wye Festival on Friday 4th June. On Saturday 5th at the Hay Festival I am also interviewing Mr. Iceland, Sjon, about his latest novel Red Milk, another Sjon-stunner. There is lots going on a Hay, it’s all free, and I’m rather excited to actually BE there In Real Life. Hybrid festivals are happening and it’s so much better than them not happening at all. The Institut Français held a mixed virtual-physical Beyond Words festival in May (I interviewed Maylis de Kerangal) and I must say that the glorious thing about filming these events is that you can reach even larger audiences – and watch them again. Also, if you missed our Debates on Europe Budapest & Beyond. Defending Intellectual Freedom you can watch them again here.

Even if we are not part of the EU, we are still part of Europe and it is essential that we participate in cultural exchange. Even post-Brexit. I’ll be chairing a debate at 10:00 BST on June 16th with the European Parliament and DCMS on how we can do exactly that, be part of the debate. I’ll make sure we report back on the findings – and if you can join us for the debate, please do.

We may not have a physical European Literature House in the UK but thank you for visiting this virtual one!

Love, Rosie the Riveter

Photo of Free Word Centre © Copyright Jim Osley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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