Sivuvalo – Spot it on the globe

Sivuvalo is literary activism at its best. The network/publishing company that works across national borders to promote non-Finnish literature from Finland is a fresh way for literature in a globalized world.

In a globalized world literature and the literary market are yet jetlagged. Slowly publishers and foremost independent networkers, writers and organizers are catching up on a development nobody can call recent anymore. Even big publishing companies that are specializing in the book market recognize the need to transform their portfolio to a broader and more international approach.

But this is still new and untestified ground for the literary world. For literature it can very well be said that it’s inhabited by coteries of increasingly problematic posts – post-colonialism, race, nation, gender, modernism, amongst others – when it goes international. And the hybrid spaces that are created by that carry the weight of weariness from the reader and writer as well.

When it comes to literature there is one more point that makes it hard to substantiate it with internationalism or even transnationalism. Literature is bound to language – even if you are fighting against the legacy of colonial history, English is still the dominant language. Everybody has to acknowledge that English has become a tool quite handy for communicating.

At its core literature is not communication. So the very fact that literature is composed in a certain language adds up to the weariness that is there in the first place. Who is actually to understand a novel written in several languages? Though attempts in writing in diverse languages are accepted with avant-garde publishing who force multi-language literature into the market, it has still not yet reached a big audience.

So how to deal with a globalized literary world? Sivuvalo, a Finnish literary network, turns things upside down. By declaring that their transnational literary network is part of Finnish literature they turn a blind spot into something visible. Swerving to a different route while having their roots in the South American guerilla publishing phenomena “Cartonero”, they produce literary events and works in as many languages as there are from foreign-born authors living in Finnland.

Roxana Crisólogo, a distinguished author of her own, who wanted to fight established concepts of literature, teamed up with designer and writer Daniel Malpica to run Sivuvalo. “What is a professional writer? It is very specific”, Roxana says. “We were talking about publishing books published by the big houses which have certain demands to become a recognized writer. We had to create accessisibitly. We all make Finnish literature, even though being from Peru, from Burma, from Iraq. We need to see the liberating aspect. It is a question of equal rights.”

When speaking of problems to get published or funding in Finland the current director of the ‘Poetry Moon Festival’ (in Finnish: ‘Runokuu’) Anna Ulvinen summarizes: “It’s not easy to be an author in Finland, and it is even harder when you are from abroad and not write in Finnish. I personally think it doesn’t matter which language you write in, as long as you write.”

She is also just astonished of Sivuvalo’s capability to bring the scene to life with non-conventional “Multi-media events”. “Cooperation has been super nice”, Anna says, “and they have produced a great program in our festival.” Roxana and Daniel put more emphasis on the need for expanding their literary practices: “We try to find ways to make a literary event more accessible for the audience. We had the possiblity to work with theater artists, with musicians, sound artists. We have done around 10 multi media events.”

And they are spreading. As a part of the network NolitchX (Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange) which is a Nordic scale networking project created in cooperation with associations and individual writers from Malmö, Reykjavik and Copenhagen, Sivuvalo is reaching beyond Finlands borders. “The most important thing for us is now to reach out”, Daniel says.

Though new approaches apart, Daniel and Roxana are very well aware of the fact that translation is also an important factor in their work. “For Finnish literature to work, it needs a lot of translation and an even greater network!” So stay tuned for what is to come from Sivuvalo in the future.

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