How many women are allowed to write mystery/noir novels in Sweden? At the Gothenburg Book Fair, a panel discussing whether an author's name is his or her "brand", the question came up. Sweden has had a number of successful male mystery authors, and yet for a long time, popular wisdom crowned only one woman at a time as the "deckardrottning", or "The Queen of Crime". Now there are twelve well-known women writing crime fiction. Is twelve too many? One male author, Leif G W Persson, criticized women crime authors as writing works more fit for a girl's horse magazine (say, perhaps, the Swedish equivalent of Seventeen) and not as good as the hard-boiled male writers. The debate became the flash point of the summer and fall literary debates. Do women write as well as men? Or is their financial success a result of dumbing down their material? Or, if they are not writing about single middle-aged men who drink too much, they are not writing "real" books? Gee, and I thought that Sweden was enlightened! Another panel took up a "chick-lit" debate. Here the question was, are women writers who are successful purveyors of "chick-lit" since their audience also tends to be female? Maria Ernestam and Kajsa Ingemarsson replied succinctly and persuasively that this was sour grapes on the part of some male authors, and that the men should be happy that women support the book buying industry, as their money is what brings men their livlihood. It seems to me that Swedish women, although one of their own, Selma Lagerlöf, was a Nobel prize winner in the past, still have a long way to go to be recognized for their work.
On the translation front, however, a new initiative bringing translation subsidies to translators is being put into place. The new initiative will no longer be run by the Swedish Institute, but rather by the Ministry of Culture, and it will begin in January 2008 with a pot of 7 million Swedish crowns. The government seems to have realized that if Swedes do not support their literature, who will? I applaud this initiative and am waiting to see how it will play itself out in real life. This is good news for all who would like to see more Swedish literature out in the rest of the world.