Book review & interview : Fresh from the Fountain
English Writing in Luxembourg
"On his first day of school, the boy told them that his name was Stephen. There was some confusion, initially, because the forms clearly stated that his real name must be Tom, but he pretended otherwise with such conviction that by the second week his friends and teachers could not remember why they might ever have doubted his word." (Claudine Muno)
The latest book of Black Fountain Press is a mix of short stories and poems of authors living in Luxembourg and expressing themselves in the language of Shakespeare.
Pierre Joris, Cecile Somers, Agnes Marton, Terry Adams, Robert Schofield, Jodie Galgleish, Georges Kieffer, Jeff Schinker, Claudine Muno, Jessica Becker, Joanna Easter, Tom Hengen, Lambert Schlechter, Shehzar Doja, James Leader, Noëlle Manoni, Robbie Martzen, Wendy Winn, Ruth Dugdall, Tullio Forgiarini, Sandra Schmit, Susan Alexander, Jos Kayser, Françoise Glod, Jeffrey Palms, Jean-Marc Lantz, Jess Bauldry, Catherine Bennett, Dylan Harris, Pierre Joris.
For me, the mix of authors is as interesting as the mix of texts. As the subject was not given, everyone could express their thoughts freely. Besides holding a lot of passion and love the stories are in a sense, a journey around the world as the 29 texts are not all set in Luxembourg, but some are in Ireland, Bangladesh, Ukraine, the UK, Germany or the USA. This journey around the world is also reflected by the nationality of the authors.
I was astonished to read how easily all of the authors are juggling with the English language, a language that must surely still be less familiar to a lot of us than French. As the preface describes very well : "For non-native writers, the choice of a foreign literary language often goes back to transformative first contacts with English - the love of a person, a people, a culture, a literature, and by extension the shaping of a personal world through memories and associations. Since home means comfort, privacy, intimacy, the choice of a literary home is bound to include irrational factors like relief, pleasure, happiness or a sense of belonging. Home is the place where the self can safely be self."
This last sentence expresses a lot of the thoughts I had myself while reading this book. I can warmly recommend the book to everybody who is ready to experience a new horizon of thinking by escaping their usual reading in German, French or even in Luxembourgish.
Normally, at this point, I interview authors for my articles but this time (also because of the high number of featured authors) I decided to ask Anne-Marie Reuter, member of the editing team of Black Fountain Press, a few questions.
Fresh fom the Fountain is your third project. How did the idea come to see the light of day?
We wanted to show the Luxembourgish public how many people are writing in English here in Luxembourg. Many people think Luxembourgish literature means books in Luxembourgish, German or French, but there is a Luxembourgish literature in English. By asking 29 authors - Luxembourgers and Non-Luxembourgers - to give us texts about all kinds of topics, we wanted to show how rich the English language landscape is in our country.
As you explain on the cover, the book "is a collection of prose and poetry by 29 authors who made English their language or Luxembourg their home." How did you find these 29 authors? Did they contact you or did you contact them?
We contacted around 35 authors and asked them if they were interested in taking part in this project. The authors we chose to contact were people whose work we knew and appreciated. We left them the freedom to decide what kind of text they wanted to give us. They could give us a poem or a prose text. In the latter case they had to respect a limit of 2000 words.
Did you have more authors and therefore the possibility to make a choice or was it important to consider every single story and construct the book around them?
What happened was that many authors sent us more than one text and told us to choose the piece we preferred. So they gave us the freedom to pick the piece that was best suited to fit in with the other texts. That's why the collection is at the same time incredibly varied but also quite harmonious. There is a certain flow to the texts, there are recurring themes while there is also contrast and difference. That makes for an exciting ensemble, in my eyes.
What is your experience with English books in Luxembourg? Do they easily find their readers or is English still the third language after French and German?
I think English is gaining in importance all the time. Young people prefer writing in English rather than French or German. This becomes quite clear when you look at the submissions to literary contests like 'Prix Laurence' or 'Printemps des Poètes' or 'Concours littéraire national'. When we launched the Young Voices Award last year, we were impressed by the quality and the success of the pieces we were sent. But not just young people read and write in English. You have an important English-speaking expat community in Luxembourg. And English is the main language of communication for all those people who do not master French, for example Scandinavian people or Dutch people. French is certainly important as a language of integration next to Luxembourgish, but English also has its firm place in our country marked by the European institutions and the international business sector. I don't think it's any more difficult to find readers in English than readers in French or German. If there is a problem, it is a general problem: the one of finding readers, quite simply.
Thank you for all these insights. I’d like to know a little bit more about you now, if that's alright. What is your favourite book ?
I don't have a favourite book. Or if I have one, it is often the last book I have read. There are many books I love, many books that have been of great importance to me.
How did you become an editor? What inspired you to initiate this big project with Jeff Thill and Nathalie Jacoby?
By chance, I would say, like Jeff and Nathalie. Editing comes along with publishing. Before you publish a book you must proof-read it, correct certain details, suggest changes if you feel a passage could be improved. A piece is never perfect, and authors are often happy to have an outsider's perspective. It's important that somebody with more distance expresses thoughts on the book before it is published. Jeff, Nathalie and I decided to found Black Fountain Press, an English-language publishing house, because we noticed that other publishing houses were reluctant to publish books in English. We noticed a lack of opportunities for authors who write in English and we wanted to set up a platform for them.
What is the the message you will give to the readers to invite them to express themselves in English?
I think everybody should be free to express themselves in whatever language they feel most comfortable in. Why should people be invited to express themselves in English? They will choose English if they want to. And if they don't, it's not a problem. It means they don't need it; they have other languages and that is perfectly fine. Multilingualism is an important feature of Luxembourg and Black Fountain Press would never want to act against this. We love all languages.
Curious about the book? Ready to read an English book for a change? :) Then I have good news! You can win one by entering the giveaway of my Facebook page. All you need to do is comment on the matching post. The giveaway is open until the first of March. Good luck :)