Market share of world literature is dominated by U.S. publishing conglomerates and literary agents who, together with their British counterparts, are increasingly promoting celebrities rather than professional writers in order to maximize revenue and profits. Thanks to the former British empire and today’s U.S. preeminence, English has become the international language. An author can win the Nobel Prize in literature and be translated into 25 languages, but until their work is piled high in Barnes & Noble or Waterstone’s, s/he has not really made it on a global scale. To quote Pierre Lepape in Le Monde Diplomatique, íLiterary stardom reflects only the ability of a writer or a book to make an impression on the most profitable areas of the world market.ë The trend of giantism is offset by the growth of niche publishing, catering for a small and precisely targeted market—there are those who shun the red carpet.
Norwich is the home of the University of East Anglia where W. G. Sebald founded the BCLT in 1989. Haunted by the Jewish ghosts of Germany, his first book to be published for an English audience, The Emigrants (translated by Michael Hulse) is the story of four Jewish refugees. It is a rumination on grief and exile, loss and longing: íOnce you are under the spell, you have to carry on to the finish, till your heart breaks, with whatever work you have begun—in this case, the remembering, writing and reading.ë
Organisations like the British Council, the Arts Council network, English PEN’s èWriters in Translation’ committee, and UNESCO‘s Clearing House for Literary Translation provide vital support financially and/or towards the promotion of literary translation, for example bringing over authors to help their publishers promote their books. Good and effective publicity is essential to success.