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  • German lit that’s not German: Jake Schneider


German lit that’s not German: Jake Schneider

INTERVIEW! On Aug 22, Berlin's English-language lit journal "SAND" hosts SAND Open-Air, an evening of live readings on Tempelhofer Feld. We sat down with editor Jake Schneider to chat about the city's thriving non-German lit scene.

Image for German lit that's not German: Jake Schneider

Photo by Carleen Coulter. Sand editor Jake Schneider on why non-German literature is German too.

Jake Schneider took the helm of Berlin’s bi-annual literature and art journal SAND in 2017. We sat with the New Jersey-native for a chat on their 19th issue, his take on the Berlin expat lit scene and printing in the digital age.

When SAND was founded in 2009, it was pretty much the only English language literary publication on the Berlin market. Now, as many as seven online and print magazines qualify. What sets SAND apart?

The journal has evolved over the past 10 years with the successive teams. Since I took over as editor, my focus has been under-represented voices – perspectives that you wouldn’t normally find on your book shelf. We make sure to publish at least 50 percent women, because that’s something that is so horrifyingly deficient in most literary journals. We pay particular attention to writing and art by LGBTQIA+ people, people of colour, and this broader idea that I have of geographical marginalisation – some places are closer to prestigious publishing centres than others. But it’s not just a system of blindly ticking boxes. So, while the team is based in Berlin and physically involved in the community here, SAND has published authors from at least 40 countries.

Is Berlin still the haven for expat writers it’s supposed to be?

Berlin is just miles ahead any other city I know when it comes to its support of non-national literature – i.e. literature in languages besides the country’s official language. This year, the Senat opened applications for writing stipends for non-German-language authors. Do you know of any other city that gives foreign authors a salary for a year to write their book in their own language? It’s only open to six people per year, but they receive €2000 tax free every month! We don’t have the same pressure to conform to what people are doing in the UK or US. Obviously rising rents are a huge issue, but despite the expenses, the writing here is becoming much more sophisticated – maybe a little less avant garde. When I first arrived, there was an English book launch three or four times a year. There’s so much going on now that you’re constantly missing stuff, which really says a lot.

In the latest issue of SAND, the theme is “Out of Place” and in your editor’s note you invite readers to “drop place altogether”. But wouldn’t you agree that a lot of literature produced here has emerged from this very sense of Berlin as a unique place?

There’s a lot of extremely place-specific writing that’s coming out of Berlin because the city almost automatically inspires an interest in the archaeological onion peels of its successive and simultaneous identities. But the theme of this edition was sparked by these posters in Berlin which offered to pay foreigners to “go home”, and the political uproar over the xenophobic takeover of the Interior Ministry. We have this crisis with what it means to be a Berliner. The fact many Berliners don’t identify as German despite having a German passport isn’t just a reflection of their failure to integrate; it’s also a reflection of Germany’s failure to include them in its self-definition. In the city that accepted the most refugees in 2015 and has been the site of an international literary renaissance, we are at the frontline of these questions as to what it means to be out of place.

Do these issues trickle down into the pragmatics of the publishing scene?

The language barrier makes it harder to integrate into the community of an artform that is still very national. Every country holds up its national poet or playwright, and when you’re publishing in one language and ordering coffee in another, this disconnectedness kind of violates people’s ideas of who literature belongs to. I’d love to see more interaction between German speaking and non-German speaking literary landscapes. We need more public funding for individuals and projects like SAND. The Deutscher Literaturfonds only funds German language literature, not literature from Germany. They’ll fund Austrians, but they won’t fund people like us. That’s an injustice that needs to be rectified. We represent German literature, even if it isn’t in German.

There’s so much talk nowadays about print publishing being a dying industry; does this ring true for Berlin’s journal scene?

Print is no longer the default medium, so if you choose to publish on paper you should have a reason to – it’s something special. More people are appreciating design and materiality – all the inks, paper shades and shapes – and the different ways of presenting information that are beautiful and functional, and that underscore what’s already created by the text and the images. Going to art book fairs like Miss Read made us realise all the possibilities in terms of design.

Any summer tips for book lovers and writers?

In terms of literary events, I’d highly recommend the Hopscotch Reading Room on Kurfürstenstraße, the Fiction Canteen in Prenzlauer Berg, and the artiCHOKE at Kotti for more experimental poetry – these reading series all share the values of SAND in terms of the depth and breadth of people they invite to read, both locally and from elsewhere.

SAND Open-Air, Aug 22, 19:00 | Tempelhofer Feld, Tempelhof – FREE!

Image for German lit that's not German: Jake Schneider

Photo by Lydia Goolia

Jake Schneider studied creative writing and languages in New York before receiving a US National Endowment for the Arts fellowship to translate Ron Winkler’s German poetry collection Fragmented Waters at age 23. He has lived and worked in Berlin since 2012 as a German to English translator and in 2017 moved up the ranks from poetry editor to editor in chief of Berlin’s biannual literary journal SAND.