Eva Leipprand, chairwoman of the German Writers’ Association, explains in an interview why she considers the discussion about Uwe Tellkamp to be fruitful.
Ms. Leipprand, what do you say about the reaction of the Suhrkamp publishing house, who has distanced himself via Twitter from his author Uwe Tellkamp?
Eva Leipprand: That’s an unusual reaction. One can certainly disagree on how to evaluate that. I think the publisher wants to preserve his image and feels responsible for what could radiate on him. In this case, I find the reaction of the publisher but not happy and not necessary. We have to remain open to discussion.
Is the Suhrkamp-Verlag responsible for the statements of one of its authors in a discussion event?
Leipprand: An author like Tellkamp should be able to express his opinion as he would like …
Without the publisher switching on publicly …?
Leipprand: That depends on the situation. At Tellkamp, I said it, I personally found the publishing reaction unnecessary. But think of the author Akif Pirinçci and his notoriously right-wing populist and Islamophobic remarks against which the judiciary then also determined. He was fined. That his publishing house distanced himself from him, stopped the distribution of his books and ended the cooperation, was necessary. The man wrote Katzenkrimis, but he appeared in public speeches with Pegida people and spoke of “concentration camps, which unfortunately are currently out of service.”
Basically, you do not deny a publisher the right to proofread his author outside of manuscripts?
Leipprand: The incident around Tellkamp shows how thin-skinned we are all at the moment. We feel that the country is in a split and want all, authors and publishers, that the discourse is conducted in democratic channels. I think Tellkamp has to have the opportunity to speak out – but the publisher, too, if he wishes. Especially Suhrkamp cultivates more than a business relationship with its authors.
But affects the unsolicited public distancing from Tellkamp by Twitter not very eager?
Leipprand: I find the discussion that is currently developing very exciting. This opens a room for important questions. How do we think about freedom of expression? The reaction of Suhrkamp fueled this debate. Can a publisher intervene or not with its author, who expresses himself politically? At Suhrkamp, where there are close, even personal relationships with authors and a clear publishing profile, the situation is certainly different than a purely commercial publishing house. Because Suhrkamp has a certain profile, he is chosen and appreciated by certain authors. And it is basically not bad if a publisher feels responsible for the author, but also his books. The freedom of expression must apply anyway. Maybe the parties get together again and discuss the matter.
Will not necessarily the work of Tellkamp, specifically Der Turm, be involved in the discussion and in the end – to the detriment of the author and the publisher?
Leipprand: On the contrary. The novel could meet with renewed interest. Tellkamp tells a story from eastern Germany. There was much to learn from the discussion in Dresden about the feelings that arose in the East of Germany when “Wessis” were talking in an insulting and blanket way about the people there. If an author like Tellkamp comments on that, he knows well, that’s not without weight.
Eva Leipprand, Federal Chairman of the Association of German Writers.
Image: Silvio Wyszengrad
Does the uproar about the Dresden discussion between the writers Uwe Tellkamp and Durs Grünbein, in which almost 1000 people participated, show that the voice of authors is more important than one thought?
Leipprand: The author’s political role has often been missed in recent years. And now we see that they exist, this political statement, and it is heard and used in the public discussion. This enormously raises the significance of the author status.
How do you explain that?
Leipprand: The social conflicts today are extremely culturalized, charged with cultural significance. It’s about attitudes, history, world interpretation, values, here, for example, about the image that people in the East get mirrored from the West. Writers are therefore particularly suited to such a debate, because they have a sense of cultural coding and look at the problems differently from politics.
So in the near future writers will remain important voices in the social discourse?
Leipprand: Certainly. There is a lot going on right now, we need new narratives. There is literature in its element.
Eva Leipprand has been the federal chairman of the 3600-member Association of German Writers for two years. The Erlangerin, born in 1947 and living in Augsburg for a long time, has emerged as a writer with prose and non-fiction books. Between 2002 and 2008 she was the cultural advisor for the city of Augsburg. Themes follow
Alliance 90 / The Greens