In recent years, modern Ukrainian literature is experiencing rapid development. Every year, latest releases in the two main forums of the country (Kyiv’s “Book Arsenal” and Lviv’s “Book Forum”) number in dozens. Some of them even filmed, such as the much-talked-about The Wild Fields based on Serhii Zhadan’s novel “Voroshylovhrad”. But not by domestic market alone, promotion in the international cultural field is equally important. We are talking not only about presentations at world book fairs (primarily Frankfurt and Leipzig book fairs) and translations, but also about the promotion of Ukrainian literature in the world in general. This is a tool of cultural diplomacy, the effect of which was described by one of the publishers as “strengthening the sound of Ukrainian voices in the world.”
There are no official statistics on the presence and sales of Ukrainian books in the world literature market. But abroad our authors are well-known, and their books are sold in more than 30 countries. The process of Ukrainian literature promotion in the world was unsystematic for many years: there was no clear state cultural policy behind it, everything was done by the hands of Ukrainian publishers and the authors themselves. Now the situation is changing, the state is beginning to join the process by establishing new cultural institutions.
In the absence of a government translation support programme, the initiative to create translations belongs to Ukrainian publishers, as well as to writers (but this is effective only when they are known abroad). “The initiative almost always comes from our publishers,” Anetta Antonenko, Director of Vydavnytstvo Anetty Antonenko, says. — We need this, so we strive for this”. And the writer Andrii Kurkov, in an interview with Focus, notes that sometimes the “lawyers” of Ukrainian authors are experts – for example, well-known translators from Ukrainian and Russian, who have weight among foreign publishers.
Regarding direct requests for the purchase of rights from foreign publishers, Sviatoslav Pomerantsev, President of Meridian Chernovitz Publishing House, says that they receive such requests too. “But foreign publishers can only be interested by the author, who is well-known in the country in question,” the publisher notes.
To translate a book and print a print run is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning. The next, no less important stage is promotion and distribution. How does it look in practice? “We arrange tours abroad for the authors we work with,” Sviatoslav Pomerantsev says. — We mainly focus on German-speaking countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France, Spain, Italy.” Most often, according to the publisher, such promotion tours are timed to the release of the book. “An example from practice: Suhrkamp, a large German publishing house, publishes the translation of Yurii Andrukhovych’s Recreation: we take this book, as well as Lovers of Justice in Ukrainian and are going on a tour across Austria and Germany with Yurii Ihorevych, Pomerantsev describes. — Germans, Austrians come to meetings with the writer, so going there with a book in German is a great idea. The presence of books enhances the effect of the writer’s visit, so we always carry a suitcase with books.” According to the publisher, such a combination of efforts is bearing fruit: the author receives a presence in the information field of a country, foreign publisher receives the promotion of a new book, and the Ukrainian publishing house solves the problem of the Ukrainian cultural presence in the world.
The experts who spoke with Focus are unanimous in the fact that today there is an obvious increase in international interest in Ukrainian literature. “This is associated with three factors,” Oksana Khmelevska, coordinator of the Book Arsenal festival and co-founder of the literature portal Chytomo, says. — Firstly, with the emergence of Ukraine in the global information field after Euromaidan. There is interest in the history of Eastern Europe and the future of post-Soviet countries (in particular, from German publishers). This topic is particularly interesting in an artistic, rather than a documentary context. Secondly, with the activity of Ukrainian publishers abroad and the emergence of worthy national stands at international book fairs. The effectiveness of Ukraine’s presence there is growing from year to year, and we are already seeing the fruit of this activity. Thirdly, this is the development of children’s illustration: in recent years, Ukrainian illustrators are confidently winning international competitions.”
Who among Ukrainian authors can be called leaders in their presence in the international literature market? It all depends on the segment and direction, but the two undisputed leaders are Serhii Zhadan and Andrii Kurkov. Kurkov’s books are translated into 37 languages: all major European, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, etc. The absolute record-holder of the last year was Serhii Zhadan: according to the literature portal Chytomo, in 2018, the translations of his books Boarding School, Voroshylovhrad, Mesopotamia, and poetry were published in 10 countries: from Germany, the Netherlands and the United States to Slovakia, Poland and Georgia. The German translation of Boarding School was awarded a prize at the prestigious Leipzig Fair.
The works of Yurii Andrukhovych, Oksana Zabuzhko, Sophiia Andrukhovych, Tania Maliarchuk, Kateryna Kalitko, Kateryna Babkina, Andrii Liubka, Andrii Kokotiukha are also actively translated.
For which literature is the highest demand? There is no definite answer – it all depends on a number of factors. “There are books that, by virtue of content or visual content, are of interest to individual regions, but there are also universal options,” Oksana Ziobro, a representative of Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva Publishing House, says. — A striking example is the books by Romana Romanyshyn and Andrii Lesiv (“Agrafka” Creative Studio): “I See that”, “Loudly Softly in a Whisper”, “War That Changed Rondo”, “Stars and Poppy Seeds”. The translations of “I See that” and “Loudly Softly in a Whisper” are released all over the world and even became winners in the category Non-Fiction in BOLOGNARAGAZZI AWARD 2018 – international award in children’s literature.
According to Ziobro, in 2018, “Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva” signed 38 contracts for translations of Ukrainian authors’ books with publishers from 24 countries (including from the USA, Italy, France, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Germany, Japan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Poland, Czech Republic).
There is no exact statistics on the number of printed copies and sales of translated Ukrainian writers’ books in various countries, but experts say that so far these figures are not commensurate with the sales of these authors’ books in Ukraine. “For example, the print run of the Ukrainian “Boarding School” is 25,000 copies, and the number of translations is much lower: I would say intuitively, it ranges from 2 to 5 thousand copies,” Sviatoslav Pomerantsev says. According to the publisher, foreign authors also start with modest print runs of 500 to 1,000 copies, but books by famous writers reach 50,000 copies and more.
According to Oksana Khmelevska, there are situations when the “well-known” fact that the print runs and sales of Ukrainian authors are higher in Ukraine does not always work. “For example, the cumulative print runs and sales of books by Agrafka Studio abroad could already exceed the Ukrainian ones,” the expert says. — Of course, the exact numbers is commercial information. We can only judge by the stable interest of the publishers and the print runs they have declared.”
To sum up, in order to succeed in promoting authors abroad, time, systemic efforts and a share of luck are needed. “We arranged tours for Serhii Zhadan in six European countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and France,” Sviatoslav Pomerantsev says. — Despite being well known in Europe, Zhadan’s books have not yet been translated into Spanish. This is a big market; it’s not so easy to reach out to that market.” According to the publisher, the determining factors for success are author’s popularity, the capacity of the literature market and the tastes of the local audience.
Oksana Ziobro also notes that “there is a long-term work behind each translated edition. Many factors must coincide: the right choice of the book, the reputation of the publisher in the international market, and the negotiation skills. The author’s activity also plays a role. But the quality and relevance of the work are in the first place. Together, these factors lead to success. For example, as in the case of the novel “Felix Austria” by Sophiia Andrukhovych, which has already been released in ten countries.”
Experience of others
Working with promotion of Ukrainian literature in the world is not only the task of publishers, but also an important component of the national cultural strategy. “Literature creates a cultural image of the country, without it, instead of an image there is an empty avatar,” the writer Andrii Kurkov says.
Most European countries have government translation support programmes. “Such programmes play a dual role: this is a protective buffer for a publisher who risks publishing a new author (that’s why financial support is very important for promotion of translations), as well as facilitation for literature of a specific country and the opportunity to be heard in the world,” Bohdana Neborak, Translation Programme Manager at Ukrainian Book Institute, explains the current trend.
In an interview with Focus, Neborak gives statistics on the work of such programmes in different countries. “For example, Norway, in 2017, supported the publication of 538 Norwegian editions in 44 languages, which is 538 stories about the country, its people and culture,” she says. — In Georgia, the translation programme has existed since 2010: in the first year, only two books were supported, in the second one – three, and in the fifth one – 41. In 2018, Georgia became an honored guest at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Such programmes also help identify the focus market and work for it – for example, by allocating more funding to English-speaking projects or, like Georgia, by promoting publications in German-speaking markets.”
According to Neborak, in general, the models of translation programmes are similar. Usually they involve the partial or full financing of the cost of purchasing rights, translation and sometimes printing of a book. “But the strategies that institutions use to popularize their literature are in some case really interesting, because they differ from each other,” Bohdana Neborak said. — For example, the Norwegians allow the support of translations “through mediation” of languages into which books have already been translated. This allows the expanding of the circle of potential applicants.”
For the city and world
How are things going with the strategy of promoting Ukrainian literature in the world? This is the responsibility of the Ukrainian Book Institute (UBI) – a specialized state institution established in 2016. Despite the difficulties with the regulatory framework and the change of two directors in the first year of operation, the institute still functions. And with the new director, Oleksandra Koval, in just six months it managed to hold a national presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair and an extensive public procurement of books for public libraries. In February, the UBI announced a new strategy, as well as the launch of a translation support programme, the analogues of which are successfully operating in different countries.
“We would like, following the example of foreign colleagues, to cover the costs of purchasing rights and translations, but we plan to leave the costs of printing to publishers so that they are also responsible for the fate of the book,” Bohdana Neborak says.
The programme’s focus areas include: cooperation with foreign Ukrainianists, translators, development of promotional publications, presentations at international book events. “The UBI’s mission is to inform the world not only about novelties, but also about our best literature, which is worthy of translations and can have an impact on the audience,” Neborak concludes.
Anetta Antonenko is confident that the emergence of a government translation programme is important at the reputational level. “The first question that foreign publishers ask us is: whether we have such a programme in our country,” Antonenko specifies. — Firstly, it is a marker of our country’s interest in its culture. Secondly, publishing a new author from a country whose literature is unpopular in your region is a big risk, including financial one. When publishers see that our country is ready to support the emergence of translations, it will produce results.”
Another state organization, the Ukrainian Institute under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for the country’s cultural presentation in the world, also has plans to support the literature sphere. “We focus on the support of creative and professional collaborations, and not only on the “export” of Ukrainian literature abroad,” Iryna Prokofieva, Head of Programme Department of the Ukrainian Institute, says. — In partnership with foreign institutions interested in cooperation with the Ukrainian cultural sector, we are developing a programme of literature residences. When it is formed, we will announce an open call for players in the Ukrainian book sector.”
Another opportunity for Ukrainian writers to be heard in the world is to take part in the European Union’s Creative Europe programme. This programme funds projects of cultural and creative industries, including translation and publication of Ukrainian writers’ works in the EU countries. As of the beginning of 2019, thanks to this programme, 12 books of Ukrainian authors have already been published in the EU countries. Among them are Voroshylovhrad and Boarding School by Zhadan, Letters to Ukraine, Lexicon of Intimate Cities and Lovers of Justice by Andrukhovych, Cult by Liubko Deresh.
It is necessary to pay tribute to the Ukrainian publishers, who have “watered ficus” for years: today their efforts have borne fruit. Ukrainian literature has successfully occupied its own, albeit small, but niche in the world literature market. Yes, so far professional publishers and translators are well-informed about it rather than a wide audience. But the promotion of Ukrainian authors and their works “to the world” ceases to be a movement by touch, without any consistency and state support. So, qualitatively new results are not far off. The main thing is to ensure the continuity of processes so that national priorities in culture do not change with each rotation of power.
By Anastasiia Platonova