After the success of Flirt Flamand: time for a lasting relationship
With the slogan ‘Flirt Flamand’ Flanders was the guest of honour at the Foire du Livre de Bruxelles in Tour & Taxis from 14 to 17 February 2019. Flanders Literature, which managed the project at the behest of Culture Minister Sven Gatz, received an overwhelmingly positive response from the media, policymakers and public. The organisation hopes that Flirt Flamand will be the first step in an ongoing cultural dialogue between French and Dutch language authors and publishers, as well as between readers on either side of the language divide.
Visitors to the Foire du Livre certainly could not miss this year’s guest of honour Flanders. With its big theatre made out of bookcases, bright colours and around-the-clock programme, the Flemish pavilion clearly stood out from the other stands. Literature was really brought to life here. Behind a curtain with ‘Flirt Flamand’ in pink neon letters, nearly 40 events featuring over 60 Flemish authors, illustrators, graphic novelists and translators took place over the course of four days.
The Flirt Flamand stand attracted a lot of interest from Francophone visitors, but Dutch-speakers from Brussels and surrounding areas also found their way to the Foire du Livre for the first time. French and Dutch speaking visitors all expressed their appreciation for the Flemish presence at the Foire du Livre. ‘At long last’, was a frequently heard phrase, and ‘hopefully this will happen every year from now on’. The Flanders guest of honour campaign revolved around the theme of Valentine, with Flemish literature seeking to seduce the Francophone reader, and the two communities embracing each other in literature. These metaphors were welcomed with open arms, also by the (Dutch and French language) press.
Visitors to the Foire du Livre were excited about Dutch-language literature at the fair, as sales figures from bookseller Salvator clearly suggest. Operating a stall on behalf of the Antwerp Book Fair right beside the Flirt Flamand theatre, the shop sold mostly books by authors who made personal appearances: recent Dutch-language work sat beside French translations. And that worked. Best-sellers included The Melting (Het smelt) by Lize Spit, Will (Wil) by Jeroen Olyslaegers, Cleansing (Zuivering) by Tom Lanoye and The City of Belgium (Het amusement) by Brecht Evens. It was striking that many Francophone readers bought the original Dutch versions of the books, even when a French translation was available, ‘to keep up their Dutch’.
The Antwerp Book Fair has already agreed with the Foire du Livre in Brussels to have a stand at each other’s fairs for at least three years. Following the immense success of Flirt Flamand there is a good chance that Flemish authors will appear in Brussels again next year.