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Translation Support is Back!
Helen Sigeland
Literature Officer, Swedish Arts Council (Statens kulturråd)

This article appeared in the 2008:1 issue.

It is now definite, to the delight of all the interested parties in Sweden: the Swedish Arts Council (Statens kulturråd) has assumed responsibility for the promotion of our literature at an international level. This is a stimulating task for any organisation, and under this new stewardship Swedish literature should enjoy enhanced opportunities for taking its place on the international stage. I am very pleased about my own move to the Swedish Arts Council to continue and expand my work in this field.

Today, Swedish literature enjoys great success abroad, with many high-profile names helping other authors make their breakthrough. By coordinating national and international initiatives, we will be in a better position to increase our effectiveness and improve our visibility and impact.

The past year’s discussions of the promotion of Swedish literature have concentrated on the translation subsidy scheme. While this is probably the most important ingredient in the state subsidy programme, it is closely linked to other activities: translator support; information about new titles; and project-based grants for literary events. The most significant professional target groups for those of us working in these areas are publishers, translators and event organisers. For all these groups, the new scheme means changes, but also considerable improvements.

To take the translation subsidy scheme first, Swedish and foreign publishers have been asking for a long time for its terms to be widened to include not only literary genres but also non-fiction, and it is therefore our pleasure to announce that non-Swedish publishers will now be able to apply for translation subsidies for this category of writing, including literary non-fiction. No particular subject areas will be given priority, but translation of academic theses and textbooks will not qualify for support.

We hope foreign publishers will also welcome the fact that Swedish authors will now qualify for travel grants in conjunction with the subsidy scheme. A foreign publisher whose application for a translation grant has been successful will be able to invite the Swedish author to take part in readings and presentations, with their travel costs paid for by the scheme. While publication of a translation could be seen as the final goal, author promotion broadens interest and prepares the ground for others to follow.

For the translators, there is a wider range of changes. They will still be able to apply for grants for trips to Sweden in connection with the translation they are working on, or to participate in the Gothenburg Book Fair “Bok & Bibliotek” or other literary events, but these will now be administered by the Swedish Authors’ Fund (Sveriges författarfond). This should not be seen as a fragmentation of resources, but rather as further co-ordination of our existing activities. The Fund already distributes grants to Swedish translators, who likewise need to travel abroad to work on translations, meet their authors or take part in events as part of their professional development. The Fund and the Swedish Arts Council will work together on application procedures and travel grants to ensure that information about who is translating what, and which publishing houses have had grant applications approved, is circulated to all interested parties.

We are taking another new initiative which we hope will please both translators and publishers: the introduction of grants for sample translations. Individual translators can apply to the Swedish Authors’ Fund for a grant for a project they think might interest not only publishers but also readers in the country in question. Translators often have their own views about which books have the capacity to succeed in their own country, and the fact that payment is now available for samples will encourage them to put their recommendations to the test in a more concrete fashion. They will naturally be expected to obtain permission from the Swedish copyright holder before starting work, and will also be asked how they plan to “sell” the book, that is, which publishers they will contact. Our hope is that this new support scheme will lead to increased dialogue between translators and publishers.

Under Swedish Arts Council management, the international promotion of Swedish literature will be a blend of demand-led and proactive approaches. Organisers of literary events will, as before, be able to seek funding to invite Swedish writers to take part. We ourselves will also initiate events abroad. We will, for example, continue the work begun under the Swedish Institute to encourage the next generation of French translators and stimulate French publishers’ interest in young Swedish prose writers. The next step in that process will be to invite translators and publishers to the Gothenburg Book Fair in September 2008. In association with the other Nordic countries, we will participate in the Tokyo Book Fair in July, and follow up that venture with a seminar for the Japanese translators. A similar project for Spanish translators is also on the agenda.

In this year’s letter of regulation, the Department of Culture has allocated international promotion of Swedish literature a robust, ring-fenced budget, but also given us a signal for the future. In August, the Swedish Arts Council must present its strategic plan for continuing this work in the longer term, and this is where you are extremely important to us. We need your ideas about how we can improve our programmes and become even more effective in our work.