In conversation with Clara Burghelea, award-winning journalist Rosie Goldsmith shares her passion for languages and work in translation, exploring how being multilingual changes one’s perception of the world and shapes identity.
Clara Burghelea: You are a champion of international literature and works in translation. What motivates you in promoting writers worldwide?
Rosie Goldsmith: Mainly because they absolutely deserve it – if a publisher has gone to the trouble and expense of publishing a book in translation then it will usually be worth the read – but partly also because I am flabbergasted (one of my favorite words) that they are not better known. I’ve lived in countries, like Germany, where often the majority of what they read is in translation – I felt a much more rounded reader when I lived there. I can guarantee that I don’t work like this for the financial rewards – there are few: again, I am flabbergasted that organizations behind international literature do not put more into the promotion of foreign books and authors. What on earth is the point of publishing a book in translation if readers don’t read it?
Another reason I do this is because I really like the people involved in this world of international literature and translation in the UK. I genuinely feel I can do some good and help with the skills I have. I worked as a staff presenter and producer at the BBC for 20 years before I went freelance – these skills are so helpful for chairing and curating events and festivals.
Clara Burghelea: How does reading rewire the brain? Is work in translation a reward in itself or do we need the empathy that any books teach us to survive?
Rosie Goldsmith: If your brain is open and you read a lot, you don’t need rewiring. Reading expands the imagination and personal creativity – that’s a fact. A book in translation has to be good – as good as any other book – but what you will experience is a widening and broadening of horizons with translated literature: different names, geography, history. You will travel widely and think differently. Is that always comfortable? No.
Clara Burghelea: You are also a former journalist who specialized in international affairs. How does this inform your current preoccupation with the arts? Is it related to you being multilingual?
Rosie Goldsmith: I am ALWAYS a journalist – it is my foundation garment. I write and edit and use my languages every single day. I wish I had time for my own writing and cultural pursuits but I live vicariously – I have always been there professionally to report on the world and culture on behalf of other people, and to convey my deep love of the arts, languages, travel, Europe, foreign affairs.
Clara Burghelea: As the Founder and Director of the European Literature Network, how would you describe your role? What current projects would you like to share?
Rosie Goldsmith: Creating the European Literature Network – and various other offshoots (such as Swiss, Dutch, Romanian Networks) was a complete no-brainer. No one had ever done it before and when I left the BBC in 2009 it made sense. I needed an outlet and 100s (1000s?) of people in the UK needed one too. We are still going strong over ten years later. The problem is that we have no funding. That saps energy and passion – especially now when we leave the EU and frankly, we are needed more than ever and have an enormous network and reach. Anna Blasiak and West Camel (my core team, both professionals) work with me for free. Our Riveter magazines go from strength to strength (most recently The Romanian Riveter and coming up in March, The Dutch Riveter), our reviews are quoted, we run new blogs (currently The Italianist and Poetry Travels), our events are brilliant, we inform people of what’s going on, we networked and share. And from the outset we have filmed, recorded and photographed everything, and shared our media on our website for free. As a broadcaster, presenter and editor, recently I have been able to turn around everything we do at ELNet to suit our new hybrid or digital lives.
Clara Burghelea: You are an experienced radio producer as well. How is this medium surviving the pandemic times? I am curious to know whether younger people bother to listen to the radio and if so, are cultural shows still catchy?
Rosie Goldsmith: See above! I am a broadcaster, performer and presenter in my bones. My goal is always to make culture more interesting – it is for me and I want to convey that in all I do. I don’t think, sadly, that young people do listen to the radio as much as I did but I know they do listen to podcasts. ‘Culture’ is a funny thing – especially in this country. Often compartmentalized and designated elitist – it’s hard. Radio, audio, is a great medium – but there’s nothing wrong in enhancing it with visuals. It’s a great multi-media world and I love operating in this media world.
Clara Burghelea: What can you tell me about the recent Romania Rocks initiative of the Romanian Cultural Institute in London? Also, about The Romanian Riveter magazine?
Rosie Goldsmith: For that, dear Clara, I’m going to direct you and your readers to our website: we produced four weeks of non-stop interviews and workshops for all ages and all interests and they are ALL subsequently available for free online http://www.icr-london.co.uk/article/romania-rocks-romanian-british-literature-festival.html. I was flabbergasted (!) at how well it went, because, quite frankly we all just worked incredibly hard. In a pandemic! We were ambitious and all kinds of famous names from both countries responded to that ambition with generosity and a pioneering spirit. This was a first in so many ways: the first ever magazine of Romanian literature in English, the first ever Romanian-British literature festival. All hail to the RCI in London and ELNet! Romania Rocks!
Clara Burghelea: You used to hold the ‘riveting workshops’ aimed at literary journalists, publishers, editors. How do isolation and social restrictions change our literary lives?
Rosie Goldsmith: I love training and sharing knowledge – the BBC taught me so much and I keep up to date with most media and training innovations. I would happily run more ‘riveting workshops’ but sadly they cannot be run for free (especially as we have no money) and I am becoming rather fed-up with people expecting professionalism and expertise (such as mine) for free or for tuppence. I confront this meanness often in the arts and freelance media – as though they are frivolities or luxuries and not worth supporting. It is perfectly straightforward to run workshops and communicate online – even in this terrible time. We have to. We can’t stop networking now – especially not now.
Clara Burghelea: How do you explain your constant advocacy for languages and foreign cultures? Is this related to your childhood travelling?
Rosie Goldsmith: I have always become easily passionate and switched on when I discover things I love or causes where I can help or found people who inspire me. I wouldn’t be this engaged if it were for sport or party politics – I don’t see how I could make an impact. I’ve always loved languages – being another person, gaining insight into other cultures, enjoying a broader experience. I have been travelling since I was 6 weeks old, when Mum and Dad bundled me into the back of their car and we moved to South Africa. My Dad was an artist, musician, teacher and traveler and my Mum is a generous and community-minded person: that is so important to me. Also, I think my language love and facility are because I grew up in a musical household: they feed off each other. Of course, also because my comprehensive school in Cornwall taught languages. Not a given these days.
Clara Burghelea: In one of your interviews, you confessed that ‘a language is a cognitive door to a deeper sense of yourself.’ How do we best accommodate different languages and cultures and forge a deeper sense of identity?
Rosie Goldsmith: This is so important and I believe this totally. Cognitive thinking is facilitated by language learning. You asked previously about re-wiring our brains – languages definitely do that. I am astounded at how speaking a different language changes me each time, even when I’m speaking it. Lots of different versions of myself I wouldn’t have discovered if I didn’t learn languages. I am fascinated by psychology and identity and creativity – languages are a source of insight into all these.
Clara Burghelea: Can you recommend the best work in translation of 2020?
Rosie Goldsmith: Of course not – that would be a terrible betrayal! But I can tell you which one I enjoyed reading most for my own pleasure (not for reviewing, not interviewing, not work): The Lying Lives of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein.
Clara Burghelea: Thank you, Rosie, for your generosity and for taking time to answer these questions.