ON THE BLOG: Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones' speech at The London Book Fair
Literature Across Frontiers is a Welsh organisation which aims to develop intercultural dialogue through literature and translation and highlight less translated literatures. With University of Wales Trinity Saint David, LAF is lead partner in Literary Europe Live Plus, a Creative Europe-funded project looking to a new vision for literary Europe that reflects recent demographic and socio-political changes and acknowledges the growing presence of refugees and immigrants, including refugee writers and artists.
Literature Across Frontiers’ Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones gave a speech at the London Book Fair 2019 during the event, A Different Window onto the World, exploring Welsh, Basque, Gaelic and Catalan literature.
With a wealth of experience in European translation and collaborative working, we asked Elin to share her views on cultural cooperation and Creative Europe during Brexit.
There’s no denying that the result and the political interpretation of the (first) Brexit Referendum severely shook those of us involved in European and international collaboration in the creative and cultural sectors. For almost three years now, we’ve been trying to charter our way through chaos and commotion while at the same time, at a very human level, coping with sudden, disconcerting insecurities. The mental acrobatics required to navigate the practical implications for our sector of narratives such as ‘leaving the EU but not leaving Europe’ and that somehow that ‘Global Britain’ can ‘go it alone’ have been challenging to say the least. Buck up and be creative! Look for the positives and the opportunities that Brexit might bring! A big ask, when, overnight, colleagues become ‘migrants’ instead of fellow European citizens as UK nationals too, stop being European.
"...there’s really only one positive to Brexit: the realisation that our membership of the European Union is important to us, for all kinds of reasons."
Let’s face it, there’s really only one positive to Brexit: the realisation that our membership of the European Union is important to us, for all kinds of reasons. Luckily, those of us who are not bound by carefully scripted institutional and governmental communication can articulate unequivocally what the reality on the ground is. Do we really believe that a series of prospective bilateral partnerships is better than the current open multilateralism that we have? The exasperation – and the sense of paralysis – of being asked to undo the reality of what we have built and developed over several decades in pursuit of the cultural equivalents of ‘new trade deals’ has certainly put our recently conceptualised resilience to the test.
International working is about people, talking to each other across nation or state boundaries, identifying common goals, forming professional relationships and delivering projects, using their creativity and determination to do so. Marketing mantras like ‘People make things happen’ actually ring true in our part of the sector, that is literary and creative translation. Structures and strategies provide the context or the landscape – conducive or otherwise – and as we well know, these are immensely important. At the same time, resolute action requires human effort and determination, and indeed passion, knowledge and connections are at the heart of cultural exchange. International working is much more about exchange and mutual curiosity than self-promotion and shouting loudly about our own cultures. Fostering curiosity at home to discover and engage deeper with other cultures goes hand in hand with being open and welcoming about our own literatures. Our organization Wales Literature Exchange, like many of our European counterparts, carries the concept of exchange in its name.
"We need environments where people can ‘get’ your language and its literature and where being bilingual or multilingual is the norm."
Being European brings languages to the fore, even though it can be considered the least linguistically diverse world region. As a multilingual who has spoken Welsh since childhood, we need environments where people can ‘get’ your language and its literature and where being bilingual or multilingual is the norm. Even if the populations of our countries are largely anglophone, we can’t be international without multilingualism. Languages are not invisible conduits through which the real stuff of culture can pass: languages express culture, and through exchange and translation, we reimagine, reflect and re-articulate our cultures to each other.
Making Literature Travel
Since 2001, Literature Across Frontiers: the European Platform for Literary Exchange, Translation and Policy Debate (www.lit-across-frontiers.org) has led successive multi-partner cooperation projects and platforms, co-funded by Creative Europe and its predecessor programme, Culture. Our strapline ‘Making Literature Travel’ has happened not only within Europe but also as European in other parts of the world. During the past eighteen years, thousands of writers, poets, translators, publishers, literary and cultural agents and audiences of all ages have participated in our projects from Chennai to Riga and from Istanbul to Aberystwyth. The European context of our work has allowed us to lead these activities from west Wales, in the geographical periphery of Europe, living proof that Europeanness does not confine itself to capitals. In very practical terms, the reality of freedom of movement has meant that travel has no extra bureaucracy and that artists can be paid for their work. There is simply no appetite in the arts sector to spend shrinking budgets on increased administration and bureaucracy for travel arrangements, and artists, frankly, should be paid for their work, even that €100 for a reading at a festival.
"The question is not how can ‘they’ integrate into ‘our’ sectors, but how can the creative sectors make themselves open and inclusive enough to allow all writers to build and rebuild their careers."
Europe is changing and becoming more diverse as people seek new lives here away from war and desolation. Our current Creative Europe co-operation project ‘Literary Europe Live Plus’ works with festivals and their curators so that policies and practices of inclusivity take account of displaced, exiled and refugee writers and artists. The question is not how can ‘they’ integrate into ‘our’ sectors, but how can the creative sectors make themselves open and inclusive enough to allow all writers to build and rebuild their careers. How can the arts communicate this diversity creatively to audiences, fostering curiosity, building reciprocity of respect and encouraging cultural exchange? Today we need to be able to open minds as well as hearts, to learn more about each other. Now is not the time to be walking away from our Europeanness. On the contrary, now is the time to stand our ground and continue to make the case for even more open, inclusive cultural exchange as Europeans, with each other and with the rest of the world.
Photography courtesy of Literature Across Frontiers.
Article by Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones
03 Jun 2019