Frankfurt 2016: Dutch & Flemish Focus

By Marleen Seegers – first posted in August 2014.

Earlier this year it was announced that in 2016, The Netherlands and Flanders will be joint guests of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

We are of course very excited about this—2 Seas Agency has strong links to The Netherlands & Flanders. Co-founder Marleen was born and raised the Dutch city of Maastricht, at merely a stone’s throw away from the border of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. Our client list sports several Dutch publishing houses with fine, talented authors, the latest addition being the independent publishing house De Geus.

In view of the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair focus, we take a look at world history, language, geography, culture, and how these all tie into the literary landscape of two European countries. Get ready to brush up on your global publishing knowledge! Firstly, the Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces, two of which make up Holland. Amsterdam is a city in northern Holland, as well as the country’s official capital. Everyone from these places is Dutch, and so is their language. Belgium is divided into two primary linguistic groups: the Flemish (Dutch speaking) community and the French-speaking (and reading) population. Belgium’s region of Flanders borders on the Netherlands. Historically, the country of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands were known as the Low Countries. Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830.

“Ours is a literature that clearly shows the influence of both the outside world and cross-pollination”

For the 2 Seas Publishing Industry Insight series, our Dutch-American guest contributor Babette Dunkelgrun interviewed Bas Pauw, in charge of international literary events at the Dutch Foundation for Literature, and Koen Van Bockstal, Director of the Flemish Literature Fund, about the differences and similarities between the two literatures.

Babette Dunkelgrun: Please tell our readers! Why are we talking to both of you today?

Bas Pauw: In 2016 the Netherlands and Flanders have been invited to represent their “country” at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It will be the first time since 1993 that this linguistic region will be in the spotlight during the #1 international publishing event. The combined work of Dutch and Flemish authors is considered as Dutch literature and makes the distance between the Netherlands and Belgium much smaller than in other areas, where they are more often considered two separate countries.

Babette Dunkelgrun: What is the main difference between the two countries in terms of the literary landscape?

Bas Pauw: Historically the reading culture is a tad stronger in the Netherlands, including more publishing houses, independent bookstores and libraries. The same can be said about differences between Northern and Southern Europe in general, but it seems to be slowly changing. This is one of the many consequences of the current transitions in the publishing world.

Babette Dunkelgrun: How do both sides look at their own authors versus others?

Koen Van Bockstal: The media, booksellers and readers are primarily interested in national authors. However, both countries do enjoy global translations. Our region belongs to those with the highest number of annual translations into our language (Dutch), which demonstrates a wonderful openness to international literature.

Babette Dunkelgrun: Where can we find similarities between the two cultures when it comes to literature?

Koen Van Bockstal: Thanks to our open and curious societies, ours is a literature that clearly shows the influence of both the outside world and cross-pollination. I chalk it up to the fact that both areas are connected to the North Sea and we have always seen a lot of influences from overseas thanks to our harbors. In addition the fact that these are flat countries further ensures easy access geographically.

The Netherlands is a little bit more influenced by the Anglophone world, which is noticeable in other societal realms as well, whereas Flanders is closer to the Latin countries including France, Italy and the rest of Southern Europe. Moreover, the discrepancies between a protestant history in the Netherlands and a catholic background in Belgium create an additional invisible border. The fascinating part about our shared language is that it allows these differences to be enriching, harmonious and inspiring rather than problematic.

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