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Interview: Editor of Norwegian Granta

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Today marks the launch of Norwegian Granta, published by Gyldendal. The first issue, themed Collapse, features both past contributors to the English-language edition – including Alice Munro, Roberto Bolaño and Jennifer Egan – and writers from Norway. The Norwegian editor of this latest of Granta’s growing number of international editions, Trude Rønnestad, spoke to online editor Ted Hodgkinson about the joys of selecting a theme and where she first discovered the magazine.

TH: When selecting Norwegian writers to feature in this first issue of Granta did you want to give an insight into the range of styles and voices in your national literature?

TR: Yes, to an extent I have tried to make the issue span the full spectrum of Norwegian literature. There’s considerable variety here in terms of age and level of experience – but also in general outlook, choice of form, tone and even genre. We also have some very capable non-fiction writers in Norway – to me it was important to include non-fiction as well. Having said this, there are certainly strands of Norwegian contemporary writing that are not represented in this first Granta issue. I’ve made a point of selecting works that are open to the world at large – where the narrative is the principal thing: in short, typical Granta texts.

Do you see any shared concerns amongst the Norwegian writers in the issue, or are they more distinguished by their differences?

I’m not in the best position to answer that, I suspect – a reader abroad will probably recognize several traits that these Norwegian texts have in common; to me, however, they’re quite distinct: very different moods, different experiences, different literary projects. Nevertheless, I’m sure one can discern something like the outline of a particularly Norwegian mentality in several of these texts, even though the themes treated may be universal. And the physical context the characters find themselves in is certainly particularly Norwegian, whether it be suburbia, or the wilder shores out west.

The theme of ‘Collapse’ seems to place our current global situation on a human scale. How did you arrive at this theme for the issue and were you surprised by where the writers went with it?

We came up with several ideas for a theme, but what really had us fired up was ‘Collapse’. Not only because we live in the age of Collapse (or so many would have it) – be it financial, ecological or political – but also because the experience of 22 July 2011 is very present in our minds. These were events that shattered not only Norway, but also other parts of the world. Also this is a literary theme which can be approached from countless angles, leading to everything from explicitly political texts to intensely personal ones. Many of the Norwegian contributors write about a more personal kind of collapse – a shocking death, a hopelessly destructive family conflict. Perhaps this reflects that we have – thus far – been sheltered from more prosaic forms of collapse, such as the financial crisis of recent years.

There are several names here that English-language readers will be familiar with, but who are the untranslated writers you’re most excited about?

I find it hard, I must say, to single out anyone in this first issue. It’s a strong list – one which features several important literary voices. We’ve decided, I should mention, to translate all the Norwegian texts into English. We believe the quality merits this – these writers deserve to be read outside the country.

Can you tell us what your next theme will be?

Our next theme will be Work; one already used in the English edition, but one we consider too good – and too important – to pass over. There’s little emphasis on work in today’s literature.

What was the first issue of Granta you remember reading?

I remember that well, actually. It was Bill Buford’s A Literature for Politics issue – from 1983. I was seven at the time – so I didn’t read it on publication! But I came across it in a second-hand book store many years later – and it made a lasting impression on me. ■

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