Interview: Granta Sweden
The first issue of Granta Sweden, Borders, recently launched and features Haruki Murakami, Junot Díaz and A.S. Byatt alongside Swedish writers. Here the editor of Granta Sweden talked to Saskia Vogel about how pairing writers can create interesting frictions, how she first discovered the magazine and their Lynch-ian launch party.
SV: The theme of the debut issue of Granta Sweden is ‘Borders’. How did you come to choose this theme and what does this mean in a Swedish context?
JH: I was looking for an open but still intriguing theme for our first issue – something that could show the wide range of subjects that fit into Granta. Borders can be geographical, political, moral, psychological . . . The only consistent thing is that they cut the world in two exactly where something interesting happens, at the transition point where one thing changes into another.
Haruki Murakami, Junot Díaz and A.S. Byatt are all featured in this issue. Do they have any counterparts – brothers and sisters in style, theme or language – in this issue?
My aim was to include writers that represent a width of unique voices, and to find many different angles on the Borders theme. But now I keep discovering thematic correlations and connections between the texts. One could for example read Junot Díaz and A.S. Byatt alongside Swedish Amanda Svensson and Karin Johannisson, and observe how the four texts create a web of ideas about femininity, masculinity and the prison of gender roles.
How did you first come across Granta?
Before I was offered the role as editor of Swedish Granta, I had read and loved certain issues, like Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists and The F Word, but I hadn’t been a very heavy Granta reader. This obviously changed overnight, and the more I read, I was thrilled to realize that Granta stands for exactly what I’m always looking for in literature: great stories, skilfully told, that open up the reader’s world.
Murakami has had the same translators in Swedish since he was first published there. Can you tell me a bit about them and what it’s like working with them?
Murakami actually has three Swedish translators, and I think his publisher, Norstedts, alternates between them. Mother and daughter Eiko and Yukiko Duke, who translated his piece for Swedish Granta, have worked with Murakami’s texts for years. It was a delight to work with them, and obvious that they know his style and literary world as well as if it had been their own.
You launched with a high-profile event at Kulturhuset, headlined by Junot Díaz and featured readings on a stage that had a Lynch-ian vibe. Spot-lit on a dark stage, an author at a high table, reading. From this event to the national news and review coverage, it was a great success. Is this kind of event typical of Swedish literary culture? Are author readings common and popular? What distinguishes the Swedish lit scene for you?
Sweden has a vivid literature scene with book fairs like the national fair in Gothenburg and the independent Textmässan, literature festivals such as the Umeå Littfest in northern Sweden, and smaller venues for readings and talks. Kulturhuset, who hosted our launch event, has a very successful International writer’s stage, where I have had the pleasure to listen to authors such as Alan Hollinghurst, Siri Hustvedt, Lydia Davis and Karl-Ove Knausgård. But I think we could potentially do even better – especially when it comes to engaging the audience. When I attended your launch event in London for the Medicine issue, I was amazed by the passionate and well-informed audience that shot intelligent questions at the authors. Swedish readers are often slightly shyer . . . but Junot Díaz refused to leave the stage until he had received at least three audience questions!
There are three authors in the issue from south Sweden. Are there regional tensions or biases in Swedish literature, and perhaps a distinct flavour that comes from the writers in the archipelagos versus those who write from inside the Arctic circle?
Not really. If there are any tensions between Swedish writers it has more to do with style: writers who incline towards a more classical, epic storytelling versus writers who engage in more experimental uses of language.
There’s a Tomas Tranströmer exhibit on now at the Nobel Museum. Have you had a chance to visit and which part of the exhibition surprised you the most?
It is a biographical exhibition and displays collected artefacts from Tranströmer’s life: his childhood, travelling, the nature on the island Runmarö where he has spent all his summers. My favourite part was this amazing sound shower under which one can sit in a comfy chair and listen to Tranströmer himself reading.
Which piece in the issue was the biggest coup for you?
I’m very happy to publish all of them, but of course it is a special treat to see that Lina Wolff’s short story ‘Nuestra Señora de la Asunción’ was picked out by Granta UK to be translated and published in the next issue. Lina has a distinct voice of her own and a dark cool humour in her stories that I find fantastic. I hope that this will open doors for her in other countries.
Granta now has thirteen foreign editions, from Bulgaria to Brazil. How are you working with the foreign editors?
I’m using the network as much as I can! Without Spanish and Norwegian Granta I wouldn’t have heard about either Santiago Roncagliolo or Ingvild H. Rishøi, who are both introduced to Swedish readers in our first issue. I also try to tip off my fellow Granta editors about Swedish pieces that might be interesting for them and suit their upcoming themes. ?