‘Have you just been to FILIT?’ – I’m being asked upon boarding the train in Iaşi on 22 October. As I respond ‘yes’, my fellow traveller nods in a knowing way and doesn’t as much as blink when I add that I had attended the festival as a translator. There aren’t many literary festivals that have a separate strand dedicated to translation, and even fewer that bring together an entire community of professionals in this field.
This year was the 11th edition of FILIT (Festivalul Internaţional de Literatură şi Traducere Iaşi), arguably the best loved literary festival in Romania and one of the largest in Europe, going from strength to strength and continuously expanding its programmes and audience base, as well as attracting considerable international participation (250 guests from 25 countries). Initiated by Dan Lungu, Lucian Dan Teodorovici and Florin Lăzărescu in partnership with the National Museum of Romanian Literature based in the beautiful Moldavian city of Iaşi, this UNESCO-endorsed festival is a genuine celebration of literature, not only because it attracts some of Romania’s top living writers but also because it nurtures the next generation of writers, critics and readers. Some will no doubt emerge from among the large group of enthusiastic volunteers – some as young as thirteen – guiding visitors and participants round the festival. In the course of five fully packed days, there were over a hundred events, ranging from bookish treasure hunts to concerts, workshops on literary improvisation and panel discussions with dozens of writers, among them Giulia Caminito, Franzobel, Ana Merino, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Ingo Schulze, alongside Lavinia Branişte, Lilia Calancea, Magda Cârneci, Cristian Fulaş, Radu Paraschivescu, Mihai Radu, Bogdan-Alexandru Stănescu and Radu Vancu. There was also an ardent debate, led by Marius Chivu, on the changing role and place of literary criticism, and the connections between academic and journalistic forms of reviewing and critical writing. All these events were accessible free of charge to over 30,000 spectators, and took place in a variety of venues across town, including bookshops, places of major cultural significance, such as the Vasile Pogor Museum and the House of Museums, and, above, all a huge tent erected in the centrally located Union Square known as Casa FILIT. Crucially, however, a great majority of these encounters were organised at local secondary schools, in partnerships with teachers of Romanian and Modern Foreign Languages.
Our group of literary translators, from the Romanian working into the languages of Catalan (Antònia Escandell Tur), Croatian (Goran Čolakhodžić), Czech (Jarmila Horáková), English (me, Jozefina Komporaly), French (Stéphane Lambion), German (Manuela Klenke), Hungarian (Ferenc André), Italian (Roberto Merlo), Polish (Joanna Kornaś-Warwas), Slovak (Eva Kenderessy) and Spanish (Elena Borrás García), was invited to three schools, to run translation workshops and conduct discussions on the craft of literary translation. In my over two decades’ teaching career in the UK, I have rarely encountered such enthusiasm and genuine interest in a text, and it was reassuring to hear that some students were actually considering translation as a possible ‘cool job’ for the future. We also held extended debates, chaired by Monica Joiţa with Monica Salvan, addressing the challenges faced by translators in our rapidly changing times, which offered an opportunity to compare notes across the different participating countries and draw on shared experience insofar as limited funding and lots of dedication are concerned. The great majority of translation projects from Romanian are supply-driven and initiated by translators, also acting as agents and cultural ambassadors in their target culture. Some of this work has traditionally been supported by the Translation & Publication Support Programme of the National Book Centre at the Romanian Cultural Institute, though some of us did manage to secure the odd publication without this funding. Going forward, it is clear that more concerted efforts and a vision for sustainability are needed in order to increase the international profile of Romanian literature.
Another tier of the festival, streamed online via a dedicated Facebook channel, constituted the highlight of each day: a conversation with a celebrity author, hosted by a top cultural journalist in the magnificent fin de siècle setting of the Vasile Alecsandri National Theatre. This year’s line-up included international writers Guzel Yahina, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Markus Zusak and Burhan Sönmez, who had all filled the venue to capacity, only outdone by Romania’s own candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mircea Cărtărescu. Cărtărescu is by far the most successful living author in Romania, whose books are constantly re-edited and widely translated. It was no surprise therefore that the prize awarded for the best Romanian literary work translated into a foreign language in 2022 went to a book by Cărtărescu, Solenoid, in the masterful translation of US academic Sean Cotter and published by Deep Vellum Press.
Although most of the festival centred on fiction, two of my favourite events featured other genres: the nearly 6-hour-long poetry slam, known as ‘The White Night of Poetry’ with improvised readings by over 45 poets (in a few cases in multiple languages), and the staged reading of a topical new piece for the stage by Irina Nechit, ‘I Spoke to Putin’, at the National Theatre’s studio. Both of these events demonstrated that there is an appetite for all aspects of literary writing, and indeed performance, and that partaking in reading and witnessing is not the privilege of an older generation. If anything, this year’s edition of FILIT has given me hope that there will be people reading books and attending theatre shows for years to come.
By Jozefina Komporaly
Photos: FILIT Iași
Jozefina Komporaly is a London-based academic and translator from Hungarian and Romanian. She is editor and co-translator of the collections How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients and Other Plays (Seagull, 2015), András Visky’s Barrack Dramaturgy (Intellect, 2017) and Plays from Romania: Dramaturgies of Subversion (Bloomsbury, 2021). She is author of numerous publications on translation, adaptation and theatre including Radical Revival as Adaptation (Palgrave, 2017). Her translations have appeared in Asymptote, The Baffler, Los Angeles Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Poet Lore, Words Without Borders, World Literature Today. Recent publications include Mr K Released by Matéi Visniec (finalist for the 2021 EBRD Literature Prize) and Story of a Stammer by Gábor Vida (Seagull Books, 2022). Her forthcoming translation Home by Andrea Tompa (Istros Books, 2024) was the recipient of a PEN Translates Grant. She is a member of the UK Translators Association. Website: https://jozefinakomporaly.com/