Friday, October 18, 2013

Department of the History of Czech Literature Abroad

How Famous Czech Authors Got Famous: A Post on the Margins of ALTA 2013

Česká literatura v cizině / Czech Literature Abroad was a lengthy, substantial discussion online in 2012, and those who read Czech (or feel at home with Google Translate) will want to spend some time with it, but meanwhile here's an excerpt, in rough translation, from one of Paul Wilson's contributions to the discussion that sheds a lot of light on how it was that famous Czech authors actually came to be famous. Lots of food for thought here, for every literary translator, or editor of literary translations:

Paul Wilson

"It seems to me the primary question isn't whether readings or similar events, whomever they're sponsored by, are an effective way to promote Czech literature in the West or not, but how does today's book market work in the West, and whether it would even be possible for a new Kundera to appear in this situation. The old model, if that's the right word, was pretty clear. I don't know how it was with Kundera, but with all of 'my' authors there was someone in the West on their side, sometimes more than one person. Havel had the agent Klaus Juncker, then director Joe Papp in the U.S., Sam Walters in England, and I don't know who else he had in Austria or Germany. (Also don't forget the influence of his friendship with Stoppard. The first harbinger of Havel's fame was Kenneth Tynan's profile of Stoppard in the New Yorker in 1968, I believe, where almost half of it was about Havel.) These were all people who were fans of his, who believed in him and could give him support, help him, stage his plays, promote him, not just as a one-time thing, but for the long run. (Havel also had a 'court translator' in every language and they created his distinctive 'voice' abroad.) Ivan Klíma had, among others, Philip Roth, and then Bill Buford, when he was editor in chief of Granta, and they ushered him into the literary mainstream, situated him, found him a good publishing house that was willing to promote him, not just print his books, but 'publish' them and all that goes along with that, including proper editing and publicity, in short who devoted attention to him as one of 'their' authors who they intended to have a long-term relationship with — warm, friendly, deep relationships for the most part."