So the Flemish-Dutch cultural house deBuren was tapping into a rich seam when it launched its Radioboeken (Radio Books) in 2006: stories written by Dutch and Flemish authors especially for the series, read aloud by the author and then published on CD and posted to their website. The readings were often recorded before a live audience. The series was the brainchild of deBuren’s director, Dorian van der Brempt.
In order to make Dutch-language writers better known to their neighbours, the stories were then translated, with the support of the Dutch Wereld Omroep (the equivalent of the BBC World Service), into English and French. Most of those are now also available to download.
The first was by poet and novelist Stefan Hertmans. He was followed by Flanders most famous writers, including Kristien Hemmerechts, Erwin Mortier, Peter Verhelst, Josse De Pauw, Herman Brusselmans, Saskia De Coster, Anne Provoost and Dimitri Verhulst. The series ran until No 100, which featured the Dutch literary TV presenter Adriaan van Dis.
And that’s where it ends, explains deBuren’s Xander Stroo, who runs the series. “We’ll continue with City Books and with a sort of derivative of the Radio Books, like stories for children and the Radio Books from South Africa,” he explains. The South Africa Radio Books, which were made possible with the support of the Flemish department for foreign affairs, were recorded last summer during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and are available on CD and to download. Read by the authors in English, there are also Dutch translations available.
“In the meantime, most of the 100 Radio Books are available in English and Spanish, and the French translations are catching up,” notes Stroo.
The stories for children were launched on 6 December as part of the children’s day at Flagey and featured stories in French, Dutch and Berber by Rachida Lamrabet, a Flemish writer with Moroccan roots; Thomas Ginzig, writing in French; and two-time Golden Owl winner Floortje Zwijgtman. “The turnout was reasonably good considering that it was Sinterklaas, and most children probably wanted to be home with their presents,” says Stroo.
City Books, meanwhile, concentrates on one city per season, starting with Ostend. Three authors – Antwerpenaar Jeroen Olyslaegers, Austrian writer Alselm Glück (who will be staying in Ostend for three months to paint and write) and Amsterdammer Christiaan Weijts – each wrote a story intended as a portrait of the city. Their work will be published in book form – in French, Dutch and English – and recordings will also be available.
In the spring, the turn falls to Utrecht. “We wanted to pick interesting cities rather than the obvious big ones,” Stroo says. Plans are also afoot to take the programme to Trieste and Chartres. “We’d like to see this become a real European project,” Stroo says. “We’re aiming for one city for each member state, but we need to find as many partners as possible to take care of the residency of the authors.”