The INTRE:FACE Digital Conference (06.02.2016-07.02.2016), organized by Katharina Deloglu and Tom Bresemann, hosted by Andreas Bülhoff, tackled many important questions regarding digital literature. In a series of articles we bring you the speeches and discussions held at the INTRE:FACE Digital Conference, dealing with problems regarding digital literature and different tools used to construct it, for example how can digital tools be used to offer new approaches to production, what digital tools already exist and how are they structured, to more applied problems, such as how can literary activists use digital means to connect with one another, how we can make most of digital material and many other interesting topics.
Elena Schmitz, the Head of Programmes for Literature Wales has been working with the organization for 7 years and was presenting the organization, its mission and aims. Literature Wales was created in 2011 and is a Revenue Funded Organization (RFO), funded by Art Council of Wales. It is tasked with leading the literature sector in Wales while actively collaborating with organizations and individuals who contribute to the promotion, creation and enjoyment of literature in Wales.
In its mission statement Literature Wales states: ‘Literature belongs to everybody and can be found everywhere. Through words we discover new worlds. By working with others in a wide range of communities, Literature Wales can make literature a voice for all.’
As such it aims to improve opportunities for all to participate actively in literature wherever they live in Wales. They do so by providing platforms for children and young people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to create and enjoy the literary world around them. They also develop and support writers at every stage of their writing journey to achieve their full potential and work in partnership in order to raise the profile of the writers and writing of Wales.
Literature Wales provides funding to different community based literary projects, events, workshops and initiatives around Wales, for example an annual online project Her 100 Cerdd in which four poets write 100 poems over 24 hours. What they produce is published online. The project engages with up to 500 people and you can hear about the project in the Welsh language media. However, as the project is offered only in Welsh, it does not tend to attract the attention of those outside of the Welsh-speaking world. Another such example is the magazine Y Neuadd, a literature magazine published online. It’s popular in the Welsh language community and a good platform for writing stories, poems and other literary works. A project called Dylan’s Great Poem was delivered directly for the Welsh Government´, as part of Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday celebrations. Dylan’s Great Poem was an online competition to which children could submit up to 8 lines of poetry. These lines were then edited by 2 poets and then all brought together into one big poem.
Another goal of Literature Wales is to improve digital skills through engagement with literature. For example, they ran a digital workshop in which a group of pupils in a school in Wales paired up with a group from the USA and showcased work to each other via Skype or Google Hangout. The session lasted about an hour and it was an interesting way of getting groups together which could not otherwise meet in person, but which may share similar experiences in their environment.
Information about other digital projects can be found here:
A small selection of cross artform/innovative artists:
- Martin Daws (spoken word poet)
- Mab Jones (spoken word/performance poet)
- Sophie McKeand (bilingual spoken word/artist/performer)
- Rufus Mufasa (bilingual spoken word/rap artist)
- Aneirin Karadog (trilingual spoken word poet: Welsh, English, Breton)
A small selection of interesting Welsh organizations:
- Literature Wales’ Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre
- Welsh Books Council
- New Welsh Review
- Welsh Literature Exchange
- Literature Across Frontiers
- Wales Arts International
- Hay Festival
- Wales Pen Cymru
- National Theatre Wales
For more information:
@LitWales & @LlenCymru
What role does the Welsh language play in your work?
Elena Schmitz: All of our work is bilingual. Both English and Welsh are official languages now in legislation in Wales – you have the right to conduct any work with an organization in the language of your choice. We promote perhaps the Welsh language more than other government initiatives as we work directly with literature and therefore with language. Though Welsh is now a minority language (with only 0.5 million speakers), there is a long welsh literary tradition and many forms have remained unchanged.
When discussing digital media, we think of the Internet and networks that cross international borders, and where borders are crossed, language barriers become an issue. Are small language groups, such as Welsh, rather isolated because of this? Is it hard to find translators between minority languages and languages spoken by a larger reachable public?
Elena Schmitz: The ‘Welsh Book Council’ support publishers to publish Welsh language books. Without their funding, it would be impossible to publish welsh language books. Welsh is different, to say, Finnish, for example, as, although both may be spoken by small populations, Welsh is spoken in a country in immediate and constant contact with another language, i.e. English. Nevertheless, the Welsh language is often considered as a key part of the ‘Welsh identity’ – some say that you can’t be fully Welsh unless you are a Welsh speaker, and thus you do see a certain desire to maintain the language.
It was also asked whether the phenomena of leaving out orthographical elements might be linked to the advent of digital tools for writing. Tom Bresemann noted how the use of the German ß is becoming less frequent and this may indeed be due to the restrictions that the QWERTY keyboard imposes on orthography.
What festivals does Literature Wales do?
Elena Schmitz: We do a range of festivals from small scale to large – often they are held in Cardiff Bay and sometimes the Cardiff Millennium Stadium. people often approach us with their projects to have them facilitated. At the moment, we are currently celebrating the Roald Dahl centenary, and therefore lots of our current events are connected with this this year.
Is there an experimental scene in Wales?
Elena Schmitz: I would say the Welsh language scene is more traditional. The English language scene has a lot of open-word, stand-up and rap. Digital writing is almost non-existent. You realize you’re very much on the periphery in Wales. In London, Welsh writers are not known – even if they are published by London publishers, often they are not connected with Wales.
Could digital literature offer a way for smaller scenes to put themselves out there and connecting with others that they’d otherwise be isolated from?
Elena Schmitz: The Internet is international and it is available for everyone. But then again, this leads us back to one of the running questions – can literary networks exist without personal interaction? After all, this was the idea beyond the OMNIBUS reading tour – that it would provide a certain amount of real experience to the CROWD network.
Although Laura Serkosalo said that the most popular event Nuoren Voiman Liitto did last year was the most experimental, it was also noted that for those in more traditional literary scenes, it can sometimes be difficult to attract an audience to experimental literature events.
With this in mind – how should we make digital means accessible for technophobes or when they are simply complicated?
Elena Schmitz: Presenting an event online before an event (on Facebook for example) can be a good way of creating ‘a relationship’ between the public and an event. It breaks down the barriers between people and the literature event – make the event seem more familiar, accessible. At least, this is the impression we have, although whether or not this actually has an effect is yet to be proven in the numbers.
But then again, should we be so concerned with attracting audiences? Steven Fowler said how, for ‘The Enemies Project’, he actually embraced the fact that no one was going to come to the reading from outside of the group concerned.
Elena Schmitz appeared at the CROWD INTRE:FACE Conference with the support of the British Council in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich, UK as part of the International Literature Showcase.