FarLit promotes Faroese Literature to publishers and creates visibility and presence of the book nation Faroe Islands on the international book market.
As most organizations in the Faroe Islands, FarLit joins the effort to show a united Faroese way to deal (in this case) with literature across governmental and cultural organizations, private and public. Writing and reading seems to be a widely shared passion in the small nation.
We ask Urd Johannesen, literary coordinator at FarLit, about the peculiarities of writing (and reading) in an out-of-the-way language.
- Do Faroese people read a lot?
There are no statistics about our readers here, but I can definitely say yes, Faroese people read a lot. After all we publish a lot of books here per year for such a small community: around 220 – 250 publications a year. Half of these are written in Faroese, the other half are books of foreign writers translated into Faroese.
A rather high share of the translated ones goes into children’s books, it is very important for children to read in their language in order for it to maintain. Also, our authorities are very interested in promoting and keeping our language alive, as so few people speak and write it.
- What are the local bestseller genres?
As per the top reading lists in the bookshops these are amazingly many non-fiction topics like cultural and history books, or about special topics related to life here — seafarers, fishermen, nature and mountains, but also crime series and novels.
We have 6-10 full-time authors here, and writing a novel takes a long time – hence the publication of contemporary novels differs from year to year.
- Beyond the local book market: what are the main international markets buying books translated from Faroese?
The main markets are our direct neighbouring countries, 1. Denmark (because of the history and similarity of language), 2. Norway, 3. Iceland.
Main markets outside the Nordic Region are 1) Germany, 2) UK, 3) Italy.
- Why is Germany so interested in books from the Faroe Islands?
Because the Germans are very open-minded when it comes to translated books (contrary to the UK, for example) and they love Nordic countries and stories. It seems that countries with English as their mother tongue feel they have enough books written in their own language.
- Why do local writers use Faroese language despite they could probably write in Danish language too?
Most Authors, regard less where they come from, express themselves best in their mother tongue as it is closest to their heart. We have a peculiar relationship with our language, as for many centuries it only existed in oral form, whereas Danish was the written public language. It was only around 1890 that Faroese students in Denmark started to fight for their own language. Hence, poetry as well as the first novels in Faroese language were written and published only in the beginning of the 20th century.
Even William Heinesen, our most popular local author, was originally writing in Danish, as he was brought up with this language, and so did Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen, whose novel Barbara (1939) became a bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany.
There are special Faroese words to express certain moods, nature, feelings and their connotations… particularly for the weather here there are many terms to express e.g., the type of wind or the diversity of the elements.
Same happens vice versa: I did some translation work into Faroese about volcanos, and it was a challenging task since the terminology for certain contexts or phenomena, e.g., volcanoes are very limited.
As they say about Greenland that they have about 200 different words for snow…. That can express best why authors prefer to use their own language.
- Who is translating books written in Faroese Language?
It seems that quite a few foreigners want to learn Faroese — translators are key to FarLit’s work sentence to get original Faroese works translated and published in other countries.
We collaborated with the University here on a seminar for translators in 2019, where we invited a group of them to experience the Faroe Islands and the locations they describe in their work. The visitors in the group came from as many countries as US, Netherlands, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Norway and Iceland. We want to give them a sense of architecture, literature, language, food, smells, nature and all what they translate but might not yet have a strong feeling about.
The University also offers the summer school to foreign students, where young people from all over the world come here to learn the language and culture, so that is another source for future translating.
- What do you do to bring the local literature closer to visitors —have you organized workshops or public readings for groups?
FarLit does not look after end users, as mentioned we promote to publishers and train translators. But you are right, there is a lack of options for visitors to get in touch with our literature. There are a lot of spots here related to e.g., William Heinesen which could be used for a very special tour, including reading and learning about the author.
May be with the new TV series TROM, visitors will want to follow the tracks of the stories…. All this —books and films — build such nice narratives around what we have in our islands!
- Who else (besides the University) do you join forces with to promote Faroes Literature?
We are visiting key book fairs in London, Gothenburg and Frankfurt, and work on various projects —e.g. the “Nordic Bridges” project of the Nordic Council of Ministers, where all art forms from our region will be showcased in Canada in a 4-city-roadshow, which has been postponed due to known reasons.
In 2020 FarLit has launched a film project TRANSLATION TEASERS with nine short films, each showcasing a Faroese book and author.
One project that I am aware of is to have a small library of translated books on Smyril Line ferries to and from the Faroe Islands. It would be great to have our books there as people have time and the leisure to dive into Faroese literature…
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