When SAND Journal joined CLMP’s ranks earlier this summer, we were intrigued by their unique position in the community. SAND is an English language literary journal, but they are based in Berlin, Germany – which gives them a different perspective on publishing, translations, and the community as a whole. We sat down with Editor In Chief Jake Schneider to talk about the challenges they face as a publisher in Berlin and what life is like across the pond.
What are some of the challenges you face publishing in English while existing in Germany?
Publishing in English in Germany is rewarding and gratifying. As an editor anywhere, nothing beats the feeling of a holding a freshly printed issue in your hands and remembering all the love and hard work that went into it. I’d like to emphasize that first.
On to the challenges. It’s fair to say that all independent literary journals are in precarious financial straits, but our location also rules out many of the usual fundraising strategies. In a country where a great many artistic projects are taxpayer-funded—where the arts are still mostly considered a public good—we are largely ineligible for that support, even as taxpayers. But because Germany’s public system functions relatively well, there isn’t the need for the same culture of donations as in the US. And it’s similarly hard to find advertisers. So, for nine years now, we’ve covered our printing costs mainly through issue sales and admission fees to our launch parties. I’m pondering these dilemmas, though. We want to raise more funds so we can start paying contributors at last.
But Berlin is not synonymous with Germany. Not long ago, and for nearly four decades, the city was occupied by four countries and two rival ideologies. West Berlin was physically walled off from both East and West Germany. This urban island, ringed by rivers and lakes, attracted artistic misfits of all stripes: draft-dodgers, muralists, clubgoers, musicians, squatters, punks, and underground poets. Their legacy remains: it’s not your standard European capital.
In other words, Berlin has a long history as a community of outsiders in creative isolation, a metropolis in between countries and systems. SAND sees itself within that history—not as more foreign occupiers, I hope, but as a creative community within this hotbed of self-driven artmaking. And literature in English and many other languages is thriving here. We’re proud to play a part in it.
What is the market like for work in translation? How do you think this is different from the market here in America?
Frankly, the US is on top of the global publishing food chain: the attention the world pays to the US and its books far surpasses the attention the US market pays to the rest of the world. When I moved here from New Jersey, I was ashamed to realize that everyone else had grown up learning about my country and I knew so much less about theirs. Some combination of the US’s physical enormity, its huge population, and its juggernaut entertainment and publishing industries have made it much more self-contained and, in crucial ways, sealed-off.
This imbalance has a big effect on translation. The Association of the German Book Trade calculated that 13.6% of first-edition German books published in 2016 were translations. Meanwhile, the Three Percent project at the University of Rochester believes that the share of literary translations published in the US is probably even lower than their name suggests. In terms of the literary-translation industry, the American situation seems to be improving, with growing translation studies programs, vibrant conferences, and visibility campaigns like #NameTheTranslator. What’s lagging there seems to be the readership: a much tougher nut to crack.
With nine different neighbors at their borders, Germans are habitually aware of being one country among many. Unsurprisingly, a large portion of translations published here are American mass-market books. But in Berlin specifically, I’ve seen an encouraging level of institutional interest in foreign writing, with annual awards and events such as the Internationaler Literaturpreis (Germany’s answer to the International Man Booker), the Internationales Literaturfestival, the Poesiefestival, Lyrikline, the TOLEDO project, and others. (These deal mainly with translations into German, of course.)
What are some of the challenges writers most often face when publishing outside of an English-speaking country?
As far as I know, it’s not any more difficult for writers living in the US, say, to publish their work overseas in a little magazine like SAND. They just submit online. Gone are the days of self-addressed envelopes and dodgy international reply coupons.
The greater challenge, as I see it, is for writers trying to make a career in their second country, especially across language barriers. Finding a publisher (usually in their country of origin) is just the beginning. Many prizes and fellowships have residency restrictions, and since these honors (and shortlists, and longlists, and nominations) have become such a crucial form of literary capital, these exclusions can stunt a writer’s professional growth. At the same time, foreign-language writers here are locked out of Germany’s cornucopia of local residencies and stipends, which allow many more German writers to subsist on their writing alone—although the city of Berlin recently introduced the very first work stipend for six writers working in other languages, a noble start.
Obviously, such writers also have fewer teaching opportunities, though Berlin now boasts two popular English-language writers’ workshops, The Reader and the Berlin Writers’ Workshop, which both provide opportunities for local authors to supplement their income while inducting the next generation in the craft. I also know writers who have taken breaks from Berlin to teach in Iowa, for example. But switching countries for a semester or two can be logistically tricky for anyone and nearly impossible for writers who are also parents.
Are your writers mostly native speakers, or does SAND translate? What is the process of working with these writers like?
Since we publish in English, most of our written work tends to come from Britain and its ex-colonies, including and especially the US (as well as countries it formerly colonized, such as Liberia and the Philippines). Britain once ruled a large part of the world from Trinidad to Singapore, and many of these places retained English as a language of education, communication, and, yes, literature. Postcolonial English is a giant, multi-continental blind spot in many Westerners’ awareness. Among the original English pieces we publish, I’m especially excited to see work by writers whose joint ownership of our common language is overlooked or dismissed.
We have also printed beautiful things by non-native English speakers, such as flash fiction by Avital Gad-Cykman, who grew up in Israel, lives in Brazil, and writes in English. Given the role of English worldwide and in our international city, I’ve met writers here from all sorts of places who choose it as their working language, just as some born-and-bred English speakers, notably Sharon Dodua Otoo and Isabel Cole, choose to express themselves in German. In my view, “native” is an unfair distinction. It’s all about the quality of the writing.
We tend to publish one or two translations per issue, though we would love to publish more. Since we don’t have the budget to commission translations ourselves, these are most often submitted by the translator as extracts from a larger project. We might comment on word choice and punctuation but, because the original has usually been previously published as is, we won’t accept a translation that we feel needs larger structural changes. We also find someone to proofread the original when we publish a poem en face—which can be tricky when the language is Macedonian or Vietnamese.
When you took over as EIC of SAND, what were some of your intentions? Where did you want to see SAND go, and how would you like to see the magazine grow in the next 5 years?
Becoming editor in chief caught me by surprise. I’d only recently joined the team as poetry editor, but I was already voicing grand schemes and suggesting improvements—and my predecessor, Lyz Pfister, saw my sense of vision even before I did. One day after a book fair, she took me for a long walk in the park and offered me her post. I didn’t have formal qualifications. But I did have big ideas, which have matured as I learned on the job.
In the next five years, I’d like to keep expanding SAND within and beyond our hometown, organize more of our own projects and events alongside publishing the journal, collaborate more with the literary scene in German and other languages, and further build our international base of readers and writers. And again, most importantly—not so romantically—I hope to find the funds to pay our contributors and, eventually, ourselves.
What is the community of literary magazines like in Germany? Do you feel isolated? How do you connect with other journals?
The community of literary magazines in Germany is smaller than in the US, but the shorter distances and the cluster of us in Berlin make it easier to meet. In the past, we mainly visited each other’s tables at various independent book and magazine fairs—such as Miss Read, It’s a Book, and Friends with Books—or crossed paths at literary events. Lately, I’ve seen growing efforts to bring the community together, both among literary journals (the Network of Independent Literary Magazines) and among indie periodicals more broadly (IndieCon). These initiatives both welcome publications in languages besides German, of which there are quite a few in Berlin. I’ve also recently joined the NFLB, the Berlin independent lit scene’s lobby to Berlin’s cultural funding bodies, and one of our planks has been to extend city funding to literary journals. Advocating for our common interests is a great way to connect.
We also have strong relationships with our fellow Berlin lit mags that publish in English, including Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, the Berlin Quarterly, STILL, and probably half a dozen others (some publishing exclusively online). I often chat with the editors of Alba, which focuses on Latin American literature in original and German translation, and recently made a contact in the local Hebrew publishing scene, which has three magazines of its own. And that’s just our “fellow internationals.” The advice of established German-language journals such as Edit has been equally invaluable.
So I don’t feel isolated at all, really. We are farther away from some things but so much closer to others. In less than three hours, I could fly to Moscow, Dublin, Malta, or Istanbul, and there are communities from all those places here in Berlin. In many ways, I felt more isolated back in New Jersey.
What European based magazines or journals (in addition to your own) would you recommend to American readers?
As well as the Berlin journals I just mentioned, we’re big fans of ICEVIEW, a bilingual journal based out of northern Iceland. Also, Poetry Salzburg has been publishing excellent global poetry in English for seventeen years, with a unique focus on poets from countries where English has no official status. And our relationship with fellow CLMP member Versal, out of Amsterdam, goes back almost a decade.
Two Thirds North is a Stockholm-based publication focused on great writing that crosses national boundaries. And the recently founded NANSEN, also based here in Berlin, spends each issue profiling one person and their migration story. The first issue is already sold out; I devoured it in one sitting.