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2017 Man Booker International Prize Q&A—Stefan Hertmans

By Eric M. B. Becker

Stefan Hertmans and his translator David McKay were longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for War and Turpentine

Words Without Borders (WWB):Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?

Stefan Hertmans: I was writing before I exactly knew what it was about—some romantic poems, keeping notebooks as an adolescent. Later on I studied philology and art philosophy and grew interested in professional writing during a decade of study and reading. I published my first book at thirty; literary theory of those days influenced me in the beginning. I was fascinated by the theories of the Frankfurt School and experimental literature, but soon decided to free myself and find my own way.

WWB: How do you see your writing within the larger context of your country’s/language’s literary tradition? What influences/writers/groups of writers there do you draw on, or what literary currents does your work disavow?

Stefan Hertmans: As a Flemish author living in Belgium, a country with three official languages but writing in Dutch, I draw on very different literary traditions, both from Germanic and Latin influence. I consider this eclectic cultural identity as an advantage and a privilege. 

WWB: What’s your favorite book from a literary tradition other than your own and how has it influenced your writing?

Stefan Hertmans: It is impossible for me to point out one book and omit others—I was influenced by writers as divergent as Hölderlin, Borges, Flaubert, Nabokov, Sebald, and Gombrowicz, to name but a few, and have been teaching literature and art theory for decades at an Academy of Fine Arts. Living in a multicultural context but adhering to a linguistic minority on the European level, I read widely in four languages and consider this a form of literary freedom. 

Read an interview with David McKay, translator of War and Turpentine

Read more interviews with 2017 Man Booker International Prize-nominated writers and translators

Published May 1, 2017   Copyright 2017 Eric M. B. Becker

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