1 May 2024

Reflecting on a shared vision

CELA Staff Meeting in Madrid, by Laurenz Rogi

CELA Staff Meeting in Madrid 2024

As I sit down to reflect on the recent CELA staff meeting in Madrid, the discussions and exchange of ideas still resonate vividly in my mind. From April 16th to 18th, literary professionals from eleven participating institutions across Europe gathered in the heart of Spain’s capital, at Casa Árabe – a space well chosen, as it is dedicated to communication and understanding – to shape the third edition of CELA; a convergence of minds committed to transcending linguistic barriers, celebrating cultural differences as well as similarities, and nurturing emerging talents in European literature.

The energy in the room was palpable from the beginning. Maybe it was the sunny Spanish spring lifting the moods, maybe it was the coffee, most probably it was the feeling of being part of a project together with so many luminaries in their fields, many of them friends, many friends to be. It was the feeling of a reunion, more than that of a conference, echoing in friendly laughter and hearty welcomes.

The task at hand is not an easy one: connecting 66 writers with 99 translators across 11 European countries, organizing reading events, classes, workshops, and ultimately meetings with editors. CELA is a very ambitious project. But CELA’s people are experienced and apparently fear no thing, so calendars and notebooks were swiftly pulled out and work was gotten to.

The agenda also included workshops aimed at delving into the core values of CELA: inclusivity, diversity, and internationalization in European literature. Participants fervently discussed strategies to break down barriers and amplify underrepresented voices, recognizing the importance of ensuring that European literature reflects the rich tapestry of cultures and experiences across the continent. Internationalization was another key focus, with participants exploring ways to expand literary exchange beyond national borders, fostering cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.

A highlight of the meeting were the panel discussions, where experts shared insights in their fields. One panel delved into "solidarity in outreach," challenging the notion of the author as a "splendid individual" and advocating for a more collective approach to literary endeavors. The discussion further underscored the importance of understanding and giving room to different perspectives, promoting inclusivity, and embracing solidarity through literary projects. From Ukraine's burgeoning poetry scene to declarations of hope, the conversation illuminated the power of literature to transcend boundaries and realize positive change in society.

The second panel discussion explored the vital relationship between writers and translators; the importance of personal connections and sometimes friendships in capturing the essence of literary works. CELA's role in facilitating these interactions between translators and publishers was hailed as instrumental in bridging gaps and enabling meaningful collaborations. The discussion also touched on the transformative impact of translators, the invaluable contribution they make to the literary landscape as well as the painful absence of recognition and representation.

After and between meetings, workshops and panel discussions, there was enough time to exercise and bring to life those values that were theorized on during the meetings. Because CELA brings together not only literary professionals, but also just humans from all over Europe, who would then sit under the Spanish sun, sharing tapas, talking about politics and the literary landscape in their home countries, as well as biking vacations, opinions on acoustics in opera houses or second-hand clothing, to name just a few things I’ve overheard.

Looking back on the CELA staff meeting, I am filled with a sense of optimism for the future of European literature and community. It is heartening to see such a diverse group of people coming together with a shared passion for promoting cultural exchange and understanding. The conversations sparked at the meeting will undoubtedly reverberate far beyond the confines of Madrid, shaping the literary landscape of Europe for years to come.