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Iris Schwanck

Iris Miette Schwanck
Born February 2, 1950, Geneva

MA 1977 (Romance Philology), University of Jyväskylä
PhD 1994 (Romance Philology), University of Helsinki
Thesis La petite aventure dont le lecteur se souvient peut-être. Analyse linguistique des instrusions du narrateur dans huit romans (‘The little adventure which the reader may remember: A linguistic analysis of narrator intrusions in eight novels’)

Director of the Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI), Finnish Literature Society, 2001–2015
Director of the Finnish Institute in France 1999–2001
Assistant director of the Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) 1995–1999
Coordinator of international affairs at the University of Helsinki 1990–1995
Assistant in Romance Philology at the University of Helsinki and the University of Jyväskylä 1981–1990
Study trips to Uppsala (The Nordic Africa Institute), Paris (Paris West University Nanterre La Défense) and Brussels (Université libre de Bruxelles)
Publications: articles on 19th century French literature, French-African literature, the internationalization of universities and the exportation of Finnish literature.

Prizes and Special Achievements
President and member of the board at the European Association for International Education (EAIE) 1998–1999
Chair of the Lahti International Writers’ Reunion 2001
Alumnus of the University of Jyväskylä 2002
Comic of the Year award 2008
Comic special recognition award 2014
Knight in the Legion of Honour 2010
Knight of the White Rose of Finland 2005
High commissioner of the Finnish Cultural Exchange Season in France 2005–2008
Head coordinator of the Nordic theme project in the Paris Book Fair 2011
Project Director of Finland. Cool. at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair 2011–2014
Chair of the Finlandia Prize jury 2015

Photo: Heli Sorjonen
Written by Iris Schwanck (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by
Joe McVeigh

‘Professional translators are the key factors in literary exports’

At the turn of the millennium, there were only a few names representing Finnish literature in the world – Mika Waltari and Tove Jansson. The contemporary writer Arto Paasilinna was hugely popular in France, where translations of his works were looked forward to and read by everyone – children, students, researchers – regardless of age and gender. Paasilinna’s works were also followed by people in countries such as Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Even fifteen years ago it was very rare for a writer’s debut novel to be translated. This honour was given to Johanna Sinisalo’s Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (Not Before Sundown) and Reidar Palmgren’s Jalat edellä (‘Feet first’).

In 2015, Finnish writers and translations of their latest works were written about in newspapers in the USA, England, France and Germany. The new and active generation of translators has stepped into the ring. They are able to market their skills, to work directly as professionals for publishers in their countries and they are given assignments to translate our literature. Finnish writers are invited to appear at the world’s major book fairs, as well as the most interesting literary events and festivals. Their works are also increasingly among the winners of literary awards and on many lists of recommended reading. They are celebrated and interesting presenters and wonderful cultural ambassadors.

Today more than 300 new Finnish literary works are published annually around the world. As a small country, our trump card is that we have a strong bilingual literature and that many new and interesting literary voices will be published in Finnish and Swedish. Finnish literature also naturally includes works published in the Sami language and increasingly also literature written by professionals who come from outside of Finland.

FILI – the Finnish Literature Exchange – was set up by the Finnish Literature Society in 1977. FILI is the oldest active organisation in Europe providing international dimensions of literature. I had the honour to lead this organisation for 14 years. In each of the Nordic countries and in many others FILI is the organisation responsible for translating each country’s literature and marketing it to other countries.

Professional translators are the key factors in literary exports. Without their work Finnish literature would stay in Finland! In many ways FILI supports translators who receive too little attention for their work. Translator seminars, mentoring programmes, virtual communities, translation circles, traineeships, residency programmes, foreign translation prizes and travel grants are FILI’s methods.

High quality fiction and non-fiction translations are making the modern publishing world smaller. It is said that without the aid of translation, it is almost impossible for literature to cross borders. This method of operating is another key way of supporting literary exports. The marketing of a fresh translation also needs joint efforts.

Finland was the theme at the world’s most important literature and media trade fair in Frankfurt in the autumn of 2014 under the name ‘Finland. Cool.’ It took more than five years to prepare and the whole project succeeded beyond expectations. 130 translations of Finnish literary works appeared in German and their reception in the media, along with the theme of the fair, broke all the records. The international dimension of the theme showed that 30 new translations appeared in English-speaking countries in 2013–4. The results of this great investment now largely depend on the effectiveness of the sale of the rights and activity of actors in the field, and they can only be measured after a few years.

International publishing networks and personal relationships have been central to the selling and purchasing of translation rights. The renewed means of communication have not changed this fact in any way. Organisations such as FILI have an important role to play in supporting different ways of networking professionals.

Literary exports and translations of Finnish literature will ensure that our literature is part of world literature. By bringing literature from smaller languages to readers in different countries, we can participate in making the world better understood.

Photo by Katja Maria Nyman.​
Photo by Katja Maria Nyman.​


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