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Latvia Aims for Guest of Honor Title at the Frankfurt Book Fair

2019, May 2

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Monday, 29th April, at the Friends Room, the National Library of Latvia, the “Latvian Literature” platform hosted a press conference “Is there Life after London?” attended by the Minister of Culture of Latvia, Dace Melbārde, director of the platform, Inga Bodnarjuka-Mrazauskas, director of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, Andris Ozols, and illustrator and writer Rūta Briede. During the conference, it was revealed that Latvia has set out to participate at the Frankfurt Book Fair as the Guest of Honor in 5 to 6 years.

The aim of the press conference was to look back at what “Latvian Literature” platform has achieved in three years while preparing for and participating at the London Book Fair alongside the other two Baltic States as the Market Focus countries, as well as book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologne and Leipzig. Inga Bodnarjuka–Mrazauskas emphasized that the platform’s strategy has been aimed not merely at making Latvian book industry shine at the various significant international events but also at laying the groundwork for long-term export possibilities for Latvian literature abroad. During these last few years, the platform has organized seminars on book copyright trading, international conferences on book design, translators’ meetings, international poetry and prose translation workshops, as well as publisher and media visits to Latvia; 117 writers and industry representatives have traveled to various countries representing Latvia in international festivals. As a result, 45 copyrights have been sold on books to be translated into English, and on 111 books into 30 other languages. Altogether 99 events dedicated to Latvian literature have taken place in the United Kingdom alone.

Foreign media (including The Guardian, BBC, The Irish Times, etc.) have published over 300 articles and features about Latvian literature. The #iamintrovert campaign has received several awards for its conceptual and visual solutions, many Latvian authors and translators have been recognized with international prizes, writer Nora Ikstena’s success abroad being among the highlights. During the conference, the panel also discussed revenue from the publishing industry and copyright sales wich has grown almost 40 times within the three years. Andris Ozols pointed out that although publishing and printing industries add financially to the economy, the success should not be measured only in sales numbers. Ozols further elaborated: “We are finessing our identity, bringing Latvia out into the world, and attracting tourism. Our strategy relies on our “golden horse”, the Trojan horse’s virtuous counterpart — representing our aim to export the culture of reading and the power of knowledge. By proudly presenting these cultural values abroad we are creating our national identity in the world. We should definitely keep supporting an industry that has so much to give in return.”

Unfortunately, the “Latvian Literature” platform’s future is still uncertain – it requires 455,000 euro operating budget. By comparison, Finland allocates 1.2 million euros, whereas Estonia 732,000 euros annually for publishing their literature abroad. The Ministry of Culture is planning to request 277,000 euros from the state budget, as well as partially support literature exports with the government funding already set aside in the budget for the International Writers’ and Translators’ House.

Dace Melbārde commended the work of “Latvian Literature” and Latvian authors, promising to persuade her colleagues in the government of the necessity to continue supporting the efforts financially: “Cultural products are unique as part of the overall international trade since the gain is twofold: they provide economic, and, more than other types of exports, immaterial value. Creative industries help in sending a powerful message about Latvia, spreading a perception about our people, and ensure our country is recognizable and attractive globally. We still lack s systemic approach and firm state support in this field. Currently we are operating with the combined funds from the Ministry of Culture, the State Cultural Capital Foundation, and the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, as well as the investments from the organizations themselves, but it would require a steady source of funding from the state budget in order to ensure a timely and focused planning when it comes to exporting Latvian literature.”

Rūta Briede admitted that just a couple of years ago it would not have been possible to see her books translated and available at Tate in London. She especially emphasised the contribution by Latvian children's’ writers and illustrators who are able to bring something new into the already saturated children's’ book market. Bodnarjuka-Mrazauskas revealed that the new consensus in the industry is to move towards a common goal for the upcoming five to six years, which is to earn the Guest of Honor title at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Photo by Oskars Artūrs Upenieks.

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