March 13, 2018
The Knowledge X, the Unknown Treasures of Nordic Literature
The impulse and inspiration to NolitchX (Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange) came from Roxana Crisólogo, Peruvian poet who might not have gained the reputation she is well worthy of because of the fact that she lives in Finland and writes her poetry in Spanish. The work she has done founding the multilingual literature project Sivuvalo, Is this Finnish Literature? in Helsinki, and gathering immigrant writers in Finland in a network of collaborations was the impulse to try to do the same on a Nordic level. In February 2016 in Malmö, three poets and translators, Lalo Barrubia, who’d won Uruguay’s national literature prize, and Azita Ghahreman, on of Iran’s most beloved poets, together with myself, Petronella Zetterlund, had started the cultural association Tre Tärningar (‘Three Dices’) to be able to do events with writers who, just like Lalo and Azita, live in Southern Sweden and write in a language that is not Swedish. When we decided to start NolitchX after a workhop in Malmö in June 2016 in which Tre Tärningar, Sivuvalo with Daniel Malpica, Elizabeth Torres (Red Door, Copenhagen), Éfrin González (Casa Latinoamericana, Copenhagen), and Mazen Maarouf on Skype from Iceland participated, we were guided by a hunch really, based on the experience of Sivuvalo in Finland and a few friends in Sweden, Denmark and Iceland: that there would be a lot of writers in the Nordic countries who write in other languages than the main languages or the official minority languages (in Sweden and Finland). We set out to look and present to a wider audience the Knowledge X, the unknown treasures of the Nordic literature.
Writers Are Writers; Language Is a Tool
One of the aims of NolitchX is to work with writers because they are writers –and not because they are individuals who are victims of warfare, forced migration, oppressive regimes, or persecution of any sort–, and let them present their literary work to Nordic audiences, –instead of talking about their personal history, which was the impression and experiences we had gathered as immigrated writers and from talking to others. In 2016, as we worked on the draught for the project description of NolitchX, I came upon the term “immigrant languages” for the languages spoken in Sweden since the 20th century (Parkvall, 2016), and we immediately adopted the term for the writers of the network we were starting to create. Well aware of the fact that it was a term used exclusively for Sweden, I thought it ought to be applicable to the whole Nordic region, even though immigration at a larger scale started in the late 20th century in the cases of Finland and Iceland. Talking about “immigrant language literature” and “immigrant language writers” allows NolitchX to put focus on the language as a working tool and means of expression, rather than on the citizenship or national background of the writer.
The NolitchX Network and Mapping of Immigrant Language Writers
The term “immigrant languages” is the result of the fact that Tre Tärningar as administrator of the project NolitchX is based in Sweden, an aspect that coins other parts of NolitchX’s activities and attitudes as well. Sweden is the biggest country in the Nordic region, and travels are expensive. For economic reasons, during the first year of the project we were not able to visit as many cities, organisations, associations, and individuals as we had hoped for, and there is still a lot of work to do to include more writers from the smaller cities in Sweden into the NolitchX network and activities. Also, Swedish authorities do not aloud records and archives related to mother tongue (which Finland’s government does), because it can be used as a tracker of ethnic and national origin. As soon as I started talking to local fund givers in Sweden they expressed concern about how NolitchX would keep the records of the writers we work with. This is the reason why you on this website won’t find any names of writers other than the ones that have participated directly in the project or in one of our multilingual readings.
In the beginning of 2018, more than a year after NolitchX was founded as a Nordic literature project and a network of writers, translators, editors and other representatives of the Nordic literary field, the hunch that gave the impulse to found NolitchX has proved certain. Thanks to the funding of Nordic Culture Fund and Nordic Culture Point, the NolitchX network now counts around 160 writers in Finland (more than 50), Denmark (more than 30), Iceland (around 15), and Sweden (more than 60), and this is a result of a “mouth to mouth” method – via emails, facebook, and personal meetings –, and still we have the feeling that we have only scraped the surface. NolitchX is still hoping to be able to do an empirical mapping of immigrant language writers both in Sweden and Denmark, and we are currently applying for funding for these two projects.
The Importance of Professional Translations
During the work with NolitchX in 2017, Roxana Crisólogo and I as coordinators of the project and network, have learned a great deal about immigrant language literature, the different situations in which writers find themselves when they work in a linguistic environment which is not the one of their writing, and the literary fields in the Nordic countries. The situation is, of course, different in each Nordic country –especially Iceland makes an exception, and can to some extend serve as an example for new approaches in the rest of the Nordic region–, but, in general, we can talk about similar contexts for immigrant writers in the Nordic region.
The most striking thing, as Roxana and I see it, is the difficulty for immigrant language writers to find competent translators for their work, to even be able to begin to look for an editor for their work. The only country where you have the possibility to apply for a grant to translate into the main language is Denmark, and one region in Sweden, so cultural politics in Finland and Sweden are making it difficult for immigrant language writers to integrate into the literary scenes of their countries of residency, and to meet a readership there. This leads to a lack of knowledge about “how things work” in the Nordic literary scenes. For example, few of the writers that we met during 2017 know what literary reviews and magazines exist in their country. Only 15-20% of the writers in the NolitchX network has published any work in any of the main languages of the Nordic region.
So, going forward, NolitchX will more actively try to provide translations and to send the translated texts for publication to magazines and editors, and we will also function as editors ourselves, with the nolitchx.com website as a window for visibility for immigrant language writers.
NolitchX Nordic Co-Coordinator