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Guest of Honour programme an important boost to the further spread of Dutch-language literature

1 November 2016

The Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Flemish Literature Fund look back with satisfaction on the success of the Flemish-Dutch Guest of Honour programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which ended on Sunday. Both directors are pleased with the results already achieved, with more translations than a Guest of Honour has ever generated before and huge media attention in Germany for Dutch-language authors, translators and illustrators. They stress, however, that the process of realizing a second ambition begins only now: the Guest of Honour programme at Frankfurt will give an important boost to the international appeal and further spread of Dutch-language literature internationally in the future.

‘This Guest of Honour programme has not just presented new Dutch and Flemish literature and arts in a successful and original manner, it has extended the networks of the literature foundations, publishers and cultural partners,’ says Tiziano Perez, managing director of the Dutch Foundation for Literature. ‘These results will carry us forward for years.’

Koen Van Bockstal, director of the Flemish Fund for Literature, is also already looking at what the future will bring: ‘The amount of attention paid by the media and public in Germany to Dutch-language literature was unprecedented. That fact has not escaped publishers in the rest of the world. We expect that in the next few years it will act as a driving force behind new generations of authors and their books. The literature foundations will further extend the international visibility and presence of Dutch-language authors in bookshops and on public platforms.’

Minister Bussemaker onder de indruk van de nieuwe literaire game Puzzling Poetry van dichter Lucas Hirsch en studio Louter. Vlnr: Tiziano Perez, Minister Bussemaker en Lucas Hirsch

For the literature foundations, the Guest of Honour project began four years ago. Nothing was left to chance:

  • By means of a comprehensive bid book, the foundations persuaded the Frankfurt Book Fair to invite the Netherlands and Flanders to be joint Guest of Honour for the second time, in 2016, with even more authors and even more events at even more places in Germany. We announced that extra attention would be paid to the new generation of authors in particular, and to recent developments in literature and the creative industries.
  • Publishers’ tours were organized for all literary genres in 2014 and 2015, during each of which ten German publishers were submerged in Dutch and Flemish literature for a week. This resulted in more than 454 new publications in the run-up to the Book Fair, including more than 300 literary translations. The Frankfurt Book Fair has never seen anything like it before.
  • Throughout the year, Dutch and Flemish authors were presented on literary podia in Germany, including the three largest festivals: LitCologne (March), the International Literature Festival Berlin (September) and the Harbour Front Festival in Hamburg (September). In total more than 140 authors came into contact with their new readers. Book Fair director Juergen Boos expects that the same format will be adopted by future Guests of Honour.
  • In late August a whole series of press trips took place, with German journalists coming to the Netherlands and Flanders to meet our authors, translators, publishers and artists. This helped to prompt enormous media attention in Germany, the Netherlands and Flanders, with more than 6,000 articles and news reports.

Koning Willem-Alexander bezoekt het live tekenatelier Parade

A huge amount of German media attention was paid to Dutch authors, translators and illustrators, along with many reviews of the more than 300 literary translations published in the run-up to the Book Fair. PR bureau Artefakt Kulturkonzepte counted more than 6,000 online articles in the Germany language area. At the Fair itself, all German literary publishers had Dutch books prominently displayed on their stands, often an entire bookcase filled with them.

A few of the more striking articles and news reports out of the hundreds that appeared in the German media:

ARD Tageschau: TV news item about the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair (from 00:00:12)
ZDF & 3SAT: Extensive TV report (30 minutes) about culture and literature from Flanders and the Netherlands
Arte: TV report about Flanders and the Netherlands
ZDF: TV report about the Netherlands and Flanders as Guest of Honour in cultural programme Aspekte
Hessischer Rundfunk: TV report by an important regional TV broadcaster
● Radio coverage on Deutschlandradio Kultur: Spott über den verkrampten Diskurs der Integration (Making fun of the uptight discourse about integration). ● Radio coverage on SWR: Niederländer und Flamen erzählen (The Dutch and Flemings tell stories) .
● Radio coverage on WDR: Niederlande und Flandern - Ehrengäste auf der Buchmesse (The Netherlands and Flanders – Guest of Honour at the Book Fair). ● Supplement in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Wissen ist machbar, Herr Nachbar (Knowledge can be created, Mr. Neighbour).
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Interview with Bart Moeyaert.


The literary and cultural programme in Frankfurt, at the Fair and in the city, was extensive. On Facebook, Flickr and YouTube you will find reports and photographs of many of the 550 events that took place during the week.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is over, but the Dutch and Flemish Guest of Honour programme runs until the end of 2016. This autumn a campaign will be organized in German bookshops, aimed at attracting extra attention to the more than 300 titles translated into German. It includes another sixty readings by authors in bookshops. The cultural programme continues as well, including exhibitions by FIona Tan and Laure Prouvost, in Frankfurt’s MMK1 and MMK3 respectively.

After the huge success of Dutch-language literature in German translation this year and last, the Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Flemish Literature Fund expect a considerable rise in the number of translations from the Dutch into other languages in coming years. It was clear at the Fair that interest, stimulated by the Guest of Honour programme, was greater than ever.

Trojanow en Van Reybrouck

Contracts are generally signed only several weeks, months or even years after the Book Fair. But there have already been a number of concrete results.

  • Duell by Joost Zwagerman is already in its third printing. The German publisher now wants to publish a translation of Gimmick!
  • Moedervlekken by Arnon Grunberg (Muttermale in German) has been sold in Hungary (Gondolat) and the Czech Republic.
  • Arabic rights in Tegen Verkiezingen (Bezige Bij) by David Van Reybrouck have been sold to Al Arabi (Cairo), which has already published translations of De Engelenmaker by Stefan Brijs and Het diner by Herman Koch.
  • The German translation of Een woord een woord by Frank Westerman (Reden, Reden) was launched at the fair. French rights have now been sold to Bourgois éditeur, bringing the number of translations of Westerman’s work to fifty.
  • An English translation by David Colmer of Ik wou (Lannoo) by Toon Tellegen and Ingrid Godon will be published by Archipelago, the English publisher of authors including Hugo Claus, Willem Frederik Hermans, Louis Couperus and Gerbrand Bakker.
  • The German edition of Stella Braams’ Ik heb Alzheimer: het verhaal van mijn vader and the Italian edition of Jan Brokken’s Baltische zielen continue to sell and sell (20,000 and 15,000 copies respectively).
  • An anthology of Flemish poetry is to be published in Tamil by Kalachuvadu.
  • Mosaic Press (Canada) will publish an anthology of work by women poets in English translation.
  • American publisher Milkweed Editions will publish an anthology of Dutch-language poetry in English translation, compiled by Rob Schouten.
  • Arc Publications in Britain plans to publish a translation of De eenzame uitvaart, a project by poet F. Starik, having now been able to read the German translation.
  • A Spanish translation is being prepared of the Frisian experimental classic Leafdedea by Homme Eernstma, by Editorial Minuscula in Barcelona. The Dutch Foundation for Literature has also been in touch with a festival in Bremen concerning collaboration on appearances by Frisian and German writers.

Nina Weijers in Literaturbahnhof

The new generations of authors are proving hugely successful as well:

  • Remarkable success for Wytske Versteeg: Boy is already in its third printing with the independent small publisher Wagenbach, with around 8,000 copies sold. Boy, her second novel, has also been translated into Danish and Turkish and will be published in English in November.
  • De Bezige Bij did great business with Ernest van der Kwast. 35,000 copies of Die Eismacher have already been sold, partly as a result of a series of readings and appearances in Germany earlier this year. The German translation of Mama Tandoori is planned for autumn 2017. BTB used the Book Fair as an opportunity to buy German rights in his story collection Het wonder dat niet omvalt for a five-figure sum.
  • Een bruidsjurk uit Warschau by Lot Vekemans is in its third printing.
  • De Gorgels by cabaret artist Jochem Meijer and Dit is geen dagboek by Erna Sassen, who was twice nominated for the German Children’s Literature Award, have been sold to Turbine in Denmark and the graphic novel Toch een geluk by Barbara Stoks has been sold to the Korean publisher Open Books. There was also interest in Egypt (at Sefsafa) in Dorst by Esther Gerritsen and *De consequenties *by Niña Weijers.
  • Children’s author Anna Woltz – winner of the Gouden Griffel in the Netherlands – has made her breakthrough in Germany. Shortly before the Book Fair, Carlsen Verlag followed up the highly praised Mijn bijzonder rare week met Tess by publishing a German translation of Gips, and the translation of 100 uur Nacht is planned for 2017. Carlsen has now also bought German rights in Alaska.
  • The youngest authors in the Flemish-Dutch delegation have met with success as well. After her impressive performance during the opening ceremony, Charlotte Van den Broeck (b. 1991) has found a German publisher for her poetry, and publishing house Residenz has announced that the readings by Mano Bouzamour (b. 1991) in Germany and Austria were extremely successful.

The immense Guest of Honour project has been highly successful for both literature foundations and they will continue to capitalize on it in the future, with more translations, more Dutch-Flemish collaboration and more international appeal. We would like to thank the Frankfurt team and its many partners, without whom we could not possibly have achieved all this. (archive)