2022 in Review

Our now traditional round-up of the year from SELTA chair Ian Giles

Dear SELTA members,

Another tumultuous year in the world, but I hope that this message finds you well. I’d like to begin by thanking you for another year of gott samarbete in SELTA and for helping to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. 

Our membership remains robust – we end the year with a membership tally of 84, a decrease of only one compared to last year. This year we have said goodbye to four long-term SELTA members who have opted to retire, while welcoming a number of new members, including both emerging and established translators. I’m glad that our members continue to appreciate what we do.

In last year’s round-up, I promised you untold festivities for 2022 to mark SELTA’s 40th birthday and I hope you feel that we delivered. Collectively, we had a “residency” on the Translators Aloud YouTube channel, which saw SELTA members reading from their own translations of contemporary and classic Swedish literary works. Kate Lambert worked hard to compile a series of new profile pieces for the website, in which various members reflected on what SELTA has meant to them over its 40-year existence, as well as a brief update to Tom Geddes’ comprehensive history of SELTA from 2006. A piece by me examining the way Swedish books make it into English translation also featured in The Bookseller’s first ever translation focus issue.

However, perhaps the most memorable part of our 40th anniversary year came just a few weeks ago. It was wonderful to come together in person on 30 November at the Swedish Ambassador’s residence in London to celebrate the occasion with due pomp and circumstance (aka lots of drinks and canapés, very generously laid on by our hosts). It was especially gratifying to share this evening with such a large number of you, as well as friends of SELTA and other stakeholders from the arts and publishing worlds. I was particularly delighted that Dr Terry Carlbom (Cultural Counsellor at the Swedish Embassy 1979-1983), who facilitated SELTA’s founding, was able to join us for the evening. Our heartfelt thanks to both the embassy and the Swedish Arts Council for their support in organising this event, and for their enthusiastic backing of what we do over the years.

The icing on the (celebratory) cake was a letter from Mats Malm, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, that we received in late November, informing us that SELTA had been awarded the Academy’s Prize for the Introduction of Swedish Culture Abroad – worth a handsome SEK 160,000. Of course, we are all delighted at this recognition of both SELTA’s hard work on behalf of its members over the years and our efforts on behalf of Swedish literature and culture as a whole.

We’ve held a number of other events this year. We finally returned to a physical London Book Fair after a 3-year absence, although with the Literary Translation Centre relocated, numbers of exhibitors and delegates down, and no Nordic stand, it did feel a little different. We were delighted to be hosted by Pia Lundberg for dinner and to meet the new(ish) ambassador – but we are holding our thumbs that LBF 2023 will see a return of the Nordic cultural bodies to the event too. 

Most other events took place virtually. In the early spring, our friends in DELT welcomed us to two events they ran at the business end of literary translation, including a workshop on negotiation with Owen Witesman. A number of SELTA members took part in  these, and I know that many have since taken the opportunity to catch up with the recordings. In September, we hosted a virtual event in partnership with DELT and Swedish Book Review that focused on the challenges around translating Scandinavian children’s literature. There was a good turnout for these and plenty of food for thought – again, recordings are available to watch for SELTA members. Our AGM took place virtually this year, but this did not prevent spirited discussion on a range of topics. On a personal note, I would like to thank Kate Lambert and Alice Menzies who both retired from the committee – they served for 6 and 7 years respectively. I’m also pleased that Sophie Ruthven and Kathy Saranpa have joined the committee, and thank them for offering their time.

SELTA continues to maintain an ongoing dialogue with our good friends at the Swedish Literature Exchange. Notwithstanding their generous financial support, which helped to mark our anniversary, they also continue to support the activities of Swedish Book Review. Having supported the 2022/2023 Emerging Mentorship Scheme run by the National Centre for Writing (mentored by Nicky Smalley), funding has once again been made available to support a Swedish mentorship run through ALTA (with Kira Josefsson serving as mentor). One gratifying edition of the Swedish Literature Exchange’s series of översättarsalonger took place just a few days ago with authors familiar to SELTA including Jonas Gren and Anneli Jordahl participating. We do know how to pick ‘em!

Our colleagues at the Swedish Embassy in London also take an active interest in our work. Pia Lundberg (Counsellor for Cultural Affairs) was thrilled to finally welcome us back for our annual dinner at her flat during LBF in the spring, and we were delighted to hear that her contract in London has been extended to the summer of 2023. Pia has been a tremendously supportive figure for Swedish translation during her tenure, and we are very lucky to have her. There is some uncertainty about the long-term future of the cultural counsellor role in the London mission, but we will be doing our utmost to emphasise how important such a figure is.

The shortlist for the 2021 Bernard Shaw Prize included many familiar faces from SELTA. On it were: Neil Smith for ‘Anxious People’, Deborah Bragan-Turner for ‘To Cook a Bear’, Sarah Death (twice) for Hagar Olsson’s ‘Chitambo’ and Tove Jansson’s ‘Letters from Tove’, and Nicky Smalley for ‘Wretchedness’. At a virtual event held on 10 February, Sarah’s translation of ‘Letters from Tove’ was announced as the winner, while her translation of ‘Chitambo’ was joint runner-up. Congratulations! The next Bernard Shaw Prize will be in 2023 (awarded early 2024).

Also during the year, Peter Graves’ translation of Marit Kapla’s ‘Osebol’ was shortlisted for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, while the same title was co-winner of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. The Petrona Award celebrating the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year went to Agnes Broomé for her translation of Maria Adolfsson’s ‘Fatal Isles’ (while several other SELTA members featured on the longlist and shortlist). It’s great to see the work being done by our members across a range of genres and publishers being appreciated more widely.

Swedish Book Review has once again done sterling work, with new issues published this year and more in the pipeline, as well as virtual events and in-person engagement with stakeholders. It’s all too easy to lay on the superlatives, but Alex Fleming really does do a great job as editor (as do the team at Norvik Press) and we’re ever grateful. Thanks are also due to Darcy Hurford, who took to the role of SBR’s reviews editor like a duck to water.

As yet, I don’t know what 2023 holds for SELTA and its members, but we have various irons in the fire. We have begun to explore the possibility of staging an event in partnership with the BCLT. I’ll let you know when there is more news to share on that front. We also plan to hold our next meeting in the spring in person and in conjunction with the London Book Fair (scheduled to take place 18-20 April). Thanks again for a great year – I look forward to seeing you in the coming months at a SELTA event.

Gott nytt år,

Dr Ian Giles

Chair of SELTA