In memoriam

Joost de Wit

14 November 2014

Joost de Wit has passed away at the age of seventy-five in his home village of Muntendam. De Wit (1938-2014) was director of the Foundation for the Promotion of the Translation of Dutch Literary Works, the forerunner of the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch literature (NLPVF).

In that capacity he travelled the world promoting Dutch literature to foreign publishers. He always had sample translations with him and by granting subsidies he was able to reduce the financial risks involved in publishing Dutch titles.

In an interview for VPRO radio in 1989 he described his work as ‘relentlessly nagging and making a nuisance of myself at trade fairs’. He believed that was the main reason for the remarkable amount of attention given to Dutch literature in those years. ‘If you nag long enough you eventually get noticed.’

As director of the Foundation he had a pioneering role in forging links with foreign publishers and he functioned as a point of contact for Dutch literature internationally.

Christoph Buchwald, former editor at Hanser Verlag and now publisher at Cossee, remembers Joost de Wit as ‘a friendly man who could tell a great story. He didn’t see literature as a product, or as something academic, but as stories that have a direct connection with our lives. Literature as a mirror of our time was the notion he always propagated. The canon seemed less important to him than his personal experiences as a reader.’

De Wit quickly made Buchwald familiar with the world of Dutch publishing, introducing him, for example, to the then publisher of Harry Mulisch at De Bezige Bij, which ultimately resulted in the publication of a German translation of The Assault in 1986.

In the early 1980s, when Mobil Oil chose to draw attention to minority languages through its Pegasus Literary Prize, De Wit was asked to name a few names. He proposed installing an independent jury, which in the end chose Rituals by Cees Nooteboom, thereby giving a significant boost to Nooteboom’s international career.

In 1990 the decision was made to discontinue the Foundation for Translation, for which De Wit had worked since 1964. No suitable role could be found for De Wit at the new foundation, the NLPVF, and in 1991 he set up the literary agency TransLit. From 1995 onwards he worked as a translator from English into Dutch, translating some forty books in total. He had been seriously ill for some time.

‘Relentlessly nagging and making a nuisance of myself at trade fairs’