“The Leipzig Book Fair is filled with an exceptionally positive literary energy,”
How long has Svět knihy been running the Czech stall at the Leipzig Book Fair?
For 12 years, though always based on a tender from the Ministry of Culture: it is not as though someone gave us the commission purely on our merits, let alone for our blue eyes. Of course it’s because we work with Czech literature, Czech publishers and authors the whole year long. We have a lot of, sometimes unique, know-how on how to represent Czech literature and the Czech book market abroad to the widest extent.
How large is the Czech stall? What do you offer visitors?
Its size has been more or less the same for the whole time that we’ve been arranging it for the Leipzig Book Fair, about fifty square metres. The Ministry expects, and it is also part of the tender, that the company which organises the stall also adds a financial contribution to it themselves. This means that part of the Czech presentation abroad is always commercial; there are publishers who are willing to pay for a special presentation here. However, that is obviously not an overview of everything that the book industry in the Czech Republic has to offer. We add to the book exhibition of children’s literature, for example, books which have won the Zlatá stuha prize. We also do the same for literary fiction, where we give a presentation of books which have received prizes over the past three years.
In what ways is the Leipzig fair different from the others which also present Czech literature?
Leipzig is aimed first and foremost at the visitors. However, the Leipzig visitor is slightly different from those at other book fairs and the tradition of the Leipzig Book Fair goes back centuries. The local visitors are open to literature from other countries, they are willing to listen and to watch, which I think is amazing, and I don’t think there’s anywhere else like it in the world. There are around one hundred and fifty thousand visitors, which is an enormous number, and every reading finds its listener. Naturally, sometimes there are fifteen, sometimes thirty, at other times eighty. As there are a whole host of authors from different countries you also get the agents coming to Leipzig and they go along to the readings and are on the lookout for new talent. This doesn’t mean that the author they find will be published the following year, but perhaps in two or three years – basically, they know about them.
Have you had any regular visitors over the years?
Yes, and this year we have our Japanese friend Kentaro here. He has stopped by here for the past three or four years as he really admires Czech and Slovak literature. He lives here in Leipzig and his relationship towards Czechs and Slovaks is due to a girlfriend that he had from Slovakia. He has learned, albeit broken, Czech and Slovak and we communicate together and he likes to listen to us speaking. I don’t think he has much in the way of money but on the other hand he seems so modest in his ways that he probably doesn’t need much. He’s basically a bit of a palavarer…
What is your immediate impression from this year’s fair?
For me the atmosphere was incredibly positive, filled with a special, let’s say literary energy. The Czech authors who came here and stayed in Leipzig for a while left very happy. It’s also really nice to see young people sitting at the stall, leafing through a book and asking if they can buy it or where they can find it in Germany.
Interview by Jaroslav Balvín