An Interview with Trafika Europe
By Niina Bailey, Oisin Harris, Toby Smollet and Kate Williams
Trafika Europe is a non-profit organisation that promotes European literature from outside the anglophone literary world. Their online journal and literary radio station (the first of its kind) aim to highlight the rich diversity of cultures and languages within the Council of Europe by sparking conversations about European literature in English and English translation. We spoke to Andrew Singer, Director and Editor-in-Chief of the project, to find out more…
Where did the idea for Trafika Europe come from?
Coming off the experience of a journal called Trafika, which had presented literature from the world in English translation in the 1990s, and living long-term in Central-Eastern Europe, coming to know not only the region’s remarkable literary prowess, but also some cultural high walls and blind spots, Trafika Europe began as a literary journal focusing on the 47 countries of cultural Europe. It now includes Trafika Europe Radio – likely the world’s first literary radio station – to create a more open and shared climate for literature across Europe.
Throughout this project, have you found yourselves interacting mostly with the big five publishers or independent publishers?
We work largely with independent publishers of European literature in translation, a field which has been growing tremendously over the past decade, as independent publishers seem most flexible and sensitive to a range of current work in a huge variety of cultures that are often overlooked due to insufficient support by the publishing conglomerates.
What is Trafika Europe’s overall aim in the short and long term?
Trafika Europe / Trafika Europe Radio seek to strengthen an overall sense of literary community across the forty-seven Council of Europe countries, including many lesser-known languages and cultures, to work towards greater mutual recognition and belonging in the long term, and of course for us in the anglophone sphere to better come to know this vast array of literary cultures. We’re avidly exploring the audio medium, with radio theatre, interviews and performances, participation with festivals and so on, as an exciting dimension of literature. Our radio live stream also features “literary music” and more from across Europe 24/7 – everything from Welsh post-punk to Armenian choral music! If you check it out, you may find it's a uniquely compelling experience.
What impact would you say Trafika Europe has had on translation?
Our impact on translation has been modest. Thus far, at least half a dozen or so literary works in translation that premiered in our journal have gone on to obtain full book publishing contracts in English. Trafika Europe Radio hosts many full-length audio conversations with literary translators, authors and others, hopefully providing a forum for the craft and minutiae of literary translation to be examined and appreciated in greater depth. By making a dedicated place for it online, we hope to curate a media space where sufficient amplitude and attention is given to literature in translation from Europe, as a counter to the vast media attention given to economic and political Europe.
Why would you say translation into English is so important?
Translation into English is especially important for cultural Europe, as English is presently its de facto lingua franca. Never before have a majority of people in a majority of the countries of cultural Europe had a common tongue like this – especially one that is relatively neutral and relatively respected. Furthermore, English is the main language into which works are translated that then go on to be translated into many more of the world’s languages.
Could you speak on the rich diversity of languages in Europe and about your project’s role in aiding the protection of minority languages?
We’ve worked with literature and authors from Welsh, Scots, Gaelic, Sami, Swiss Romansch, Moldovan, Catalan, Occitan, Galician, Romani, Estonian and many other lesser-known language cultures in Europe, as well as from the more well-known European languages, of course. Giving a wider international platform to such works in our journal and to authors on our radio, we hope to contribute to a climate of greater recognition and support. It’s also fascinating to learn about and share some of the gems of literature being produced in these languages today, which otherwise often have limited commercial viability. It feels like a valuable service to maintain a space where literature from all corners of Europe can enjoy recognition.
And finally, how do you find the authors and stories you want to highlight?
We look for new work at publishers of literature in translation to see what forthcoming titles they may be preparing, as well as the guest lists of some major festivals, literary award longlists and shortlists, literary agencies and a growing number of translators and cultural institutes with whom we’ve worked previously. We also accept direct submissions for consideration from translators, authors, agents and publishers. We like to maintain a mix of established and new authors in differing styles and genres. Submission guidelines are available on the Contact page on our site.