© Frankfurter Buchmesse / Marc Jacquemin
Slovenia will be Guest of Honour at the 2023 Frankfurter Buchmesse. We talked with Katja Stergar, Acting Director of the Slovenian Book Agency (JAK) and in charge of the Guest of Honour project, about Slovenia's aims in regard to Frankfurt, the Slovenian language and the importance of translators.
Congratulations on leading the project of Slovenia's Guest of Honour appearance at Frankfurter Buchmesse 2023! What do you think is the most important message of the Slovenian presentation to the international publishing industry?
It doesn't matter where in the world an author writes his literature, what matters is what kind of literature it is. It does not matter in which language one writes, it matters what one writes. Wherever we are in the world, it is the understanding of what is written and what is said that matters. Words stimulate curiosity and build bridges.
“Honeycomb of Words” is the motto of Slovenia’s Guest of Honour presentation. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
The advantage of our motto is that everyone can interpret it differently. For me, beehives and honeycombs are a metaphor for the world, the sounds and words of the whole world are intertwined, the world is never silent. But there is a linguistic order, there are rules to understand each other, even if each one of us is unique.
You also know the book fair from representing Slovenia in the European Network for Literary Translation (ENLIT). ENLIT’s mission is to increase the visibility of diverse literatures across and beyond European boundaries.
How do you assess the market for translations of Slovenian literature? What are the biggest challenges?
Slovene is a language with a small number of speakers, but it is also learned by people outside of Slovenia. It is important that members of Slovenian minorities in other countries have the opportunity to go to Slovenian schools, and it is also extremely important to have Slovenian lectorates and the opportunity to study Slovene at 58 foreign universities. Although the level of foreign language skills in Slovenia is high – we live at the crossroads of Slavic, Germanic, Romance and Finno-Ugric languages - translators are invaluable to us. Without excellent translators into foreign languages, the visibility of our literature would be negligible. That is why, in addition to study abroad, the Centre for Slovene as a Second/Foreign Language also offers basic education for foreigners at summer seminars, and the Slovenian Book Agency organises an annual seminar on translating Slovenian literature for the more experienced. Foreign publishing houses also choose to translate Slovenian literature because of incentives – calls for co-financing translations and calls for co-financing printing costs. In addition, representatives of publishing houses who present books to their foreign colleagues also play an important role.
At the moment, despite all our efforts, our biggest problem is the shortage of top-quality translators – everybody wants to have a new book of Slovenian author. But in a way, these are happy concerns.
With its involvement in the EU project “Every Story Matters”, Slovenia has taken on an active role in making books more inclusive to engage a more diverse readership. Can you tell us more about your aims and projects in this regard?
The EU-project Every Story Matters is one of the most beautiful and important projects, that I was ever involved with. Partners from Belgium, Portugal, Syria/Germany, Slovenia, Croatia and The Netherlands have decided to encourage the creation of more inclusive books for children and YA and give book professionals (authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians and editors) the tools and the strategies needed to become more inclusive. In theory everybody has a right to discover literature and to create stories, irrespective of their socio-economic or cultural background, gender, sexual preference or mental and physical abilities, but we were aware that this is not true.
We stimulate publishers to become more inclusive in book content. We started with workshops for professionals in book business, next we organised B2B meetings for publishers and established online B2B platform.
We also gave a chance to six young writers and illustrators from six different European countries to produce inclusive stories for children. The participants took part in workshops and online masterclasses to deepen their knowledge of inclusive storytelling and at the end they presented their books at the Frankfurt Book fair.
The project worked on exploring and understanding different concepts of diversity and inclusion. Therefore, we organised special workshops for librarians, teachers and other educators focusing on bibliodivesity. While discussing the charter on inclusion, at the end we decided for an inclusivity platform –– we noticed that similar workshops are needed across whole Europe.
The ESM project also presented the accessibility opportunities and novelties for book publishers and readers. When preparing books to be published, we have to think about diversity in the book format.
And last but not least, what are your aims and wishes for Slovenia’s 2023 Guest of Honour presentation in Frankfurt?
On the one hand, to increase the visibility of Slovenian literature, authors and Slovenian publishing houses, and at the same time to enable the world to enjoy our stories and our knowledge – in fact, our stories are the world's stories and our knowledge is often unique, which is why we like to share it.
Thank you for the interview!
Interview by Ines Bachor, Frankfurter Buchmesse