Literature from Luxembourg in English – A Short Introduction

[About the article]
Literary researchers are fond of saying that literature from Luxembourg is not in one language, but in three: Luxembourgish, German and French. And indeed it is – a look at the online dictionary of Luxembourg authors shows that the vast majority of writers choose one of these languages. Of the 1266 authors presented on www.autorenlexikon.lu, almost 80% (1005) have published some or all of their works in German, half of the authors (682) have penned at least one book in French and over 40% (537) also write in Luxembourgish. 1 These numbers clearly demonstrate that most authors from Luxembourg are comfortable expressing themselves in more than one language. As I have pointed out at a colloquium in Sheffield this year, the first question for a Luxembourgish author is always: In what language should I write? 2 This situation arises from the fact that a Luxembourger's mother tongue is usually not the language in which they have received a formal literary education and in which, as far as writing conventions and literary traditions go, they feel most at ease. Adding to this the fact that almost half the population of Luxembourg is of a foreign background, the question of language choice is not as straightforward as in, say, Germany or France.
Due to the large percentage of immigrants during the second half of the 20th century, literary works from Luxembourg also include, in addition to the big three (German, French and Luxembourgish), some niche languages. There are poetry collections in Italian3, Portuguese novels by first generation immigrants4, and then there are works in English. Indeed, of all the authors included in the online dictionary of Luxembourg authors, 122 have published at least one poem or short story in English. That's almost exactly 10% of our authors. This may not be a landslide, but considering that English has only really taken off as a literary language in Luxembourg in the last few decades, the numbers are certainly remarkable. Therefore, I would like to take a look at who these people are, why they decided to write in English, and if there are different trends over time.
Broadly speaking, the authors fall into three categories: Writers whose mother tongue is English and who for some reason live and/or publish in Luxembourg, Luxembourgers who live in an Anglophone country and have thus adopted the English language as their own and, lastly, the most interesting category of all: Luxembourgers based in Luxembourg, who, for some reason or other, choose to write in English.
The English-speaking community in Luxembourg
The first group is probably the most obvious and homogenous: the native English speakers. The first books in English were published in Luxembourg in the late 1970s. They were poetry collections by Basil Mogridge, a British university teacher who, though he never actually lived in Luxembourg, was close friends with the Luxembourg author and publisher Cornel Meder. Meder was dedicated to giving young, dynamic authors a voice in the rather conservative literary landscape of the time. His series mol included two of Mogridge's poetry collections, namely fishbach etc and winter parasol. Mogridge was in close contact with other Luxembourg authors as well, and in 1979, he published the short-lived, multilingual literary review Reenbou, which featured poems by Anise Koltz, Claude Bommertz and Jemp Schuster, to name but a few.
Since that time, there have been over thirty authors from English-speaking countries who have lived and published in Luxembourg. Trying to classify their works, three broad categories emerge: poetry, novels and, above all, autobiographies.
For the poets, let's consider Anna Leader and Terry Adams. Terry Adams is an Irish IT expert who has been living in Luxembourg for over 25 years. In his poems, he draws heavily on Celtic history and mythology, interweaving them with family stories from Ireland, but also from Luxembourg. Anna Leader on the other hand is a young British American who attended the International School in Luxembourg and is currently studying at Princeton University. Despite her young age – she only turned 21 in October 2017 – she has already won several English language poetry awards. If Terry Adams is more focused on his native Ireland, Anna Leader has grown up in the cosmopolitan environment of Luxembourg City. In her poems and stories, she describes the world of a young woman in Western Europe.
Anna Leader is the daughter of James Leader, a British teacher at the European School in Luxembourg, who is a poet and novelist in his own right. His prose is rooted in the universe of the European School. His protagonists are mostly international students who move in a multilingual open-border Europe. His novels, featuring a mixture of coming of age, road movie and thriller, do not particularly dwell on any Luxembourgish specificities. Rather, he manages to casually embed Luxembourg in an international setting, instead of merely using the local backdrop for a picturesque, regional feel, as other authors of Luxembourg-based thrillers in English tend to do. In this context, Martin Thiebaut's Fresco or Chris Pavone's The Expats, both of which use Luxembourg as a backdrop to a gripping crime story, come to mind.
So while there are poems and novels in English, a solid two thirds of English language books from native speakers, however, are autobiographies. As this group of authors is, by its very nature, almost exclusively made up of first-generation immigrants, this might not really come as a surprise. Their autobiographic texts are especially interesting as they provide an outsider's view on Luxembourg. The books also show that the Anglophone immigrants who, over the last four decades, have chosen Luxembourg as their second home, have come here for a vast range of reasons.
There is John Dolibois, founder of the Luxembourg branch of the Miami University and US ambassador to Luxembourg. His autobiography, Pattern of Circles, was published in 1989. Then there is Janet Alldis, the daughter of Barry Alldis, a well-known Australian radio presenter with the English language channel Radio Luxembourg - Station of the Stars. In 1993, his daughter, who grew up in Luxembourg and still lives here, published an account of her memories of her father under the title Under the bedclothes, a reference to the way teenagers used to listen to their favourite music channel.
Diana Button, the erstwhile president of the English Creative Writing Club, recounts in Marrying it all (2003) how she moved to Luxembourg with her husband, and the difficulties of integrating into Luxembourg society. The same topic is treated in Mary Elvinger's autobiography and Ariel Wagner-Parker's Home from Home. The latter text won its author a third prize in the Concours littéraire national in 2007.
Another winner of the Concours littéraire national is the US American Dana Rufolo, who has been living in Luxembourg since 1982. With Diana Button, she was a founding member of the English Creative Writing Club and is regularly publishing English language poems, reviews, short stories and essays in Luxembourg media. Since the early 2000s, her plays have been staged in theatres in Luxembourg, either in the English original or in French translation. Her works often feature an immigrant's struggle to fit in and the newcomer's candid view on a foreign society.
Luxembourgers abroad
From an outsider's look on Luxembourg, let us now turn to the opposite constellation: native Luxembourgers who have emigrated into English-speaking countries. About a dozen of them have published literary works in English.
The first wave of emigrants left Luxembourg for the American Midwest in the mid-19th century. Far from their home, some of them felt the need to express their mixed feelings of dépaysement and hopes for a better life in a new country in verse. Nicolas Gonner, a newspaper editor from Dubuque, Iowa, printed his compatriots' literary productions in his small publishing house. Far from being fluent in English, these amateur poets wrote almost exclusively in Luxembourgish and German. There might have been the occasional English expression creeping into their works – like dat trubled mech, hien wëllt fir office rennen, Rasselschlaang, but apart from these rather endearing, and sadly ephemeral, additions to the Luxembourg language, there are no literary works in English from that period. 5
After the first and second world war, there was a new, albeit smaller, wave of Luxembourg emigrants to North America. For some reason, not many of them felt the need to put pen to paper. A notable exception is Ditty Bong, who moved with her Luxembourgish husband to Canada in 1952. In 1997, she published a collection of poems in which she reminisces about Luxembourg and tries to come to grips with her new life in Canada. Most of the poems are in German, Luxembourgish and French, but a few are also in English.
These early emigrants were mostly in search of a better life, leaving a poor or war-torn country behind. But there is another group of Luxembourg emigrants, which I would like to call intellectual migrants. They left Luxembourg later, often to pursue university studies. Only four of them seem to have pursued any literary aspirations: Hugo Gernsback, Liliane Welch, Pierre Joris and René Weis.
Within this group, Hugo Gernsback stands out as a bit of an outsider. An ambitious engineer, he left Luxembourg in 1904 for the United States. He patented many eccentric inventions and laid out his ideas in the science fiction magazines that he published. Indeed, he is even credited with inventing the word "science fiction".6 The other three authors are all teachers of literature at North American and British universities, writing and publishing since the 1970s. Liliane Welch taught French literature in Canada. In her poems, she talks about art and nature, but she also muses about the differences between life in Luxembourg and Canada. Pierre Joris is an English literature teacher and renowned translator at New York University. His own poetry is heavily influenced by the American Beat generation. Finally, René Weis teaches English at the University of London. He has published a number of biographies and historical novels set in England and France. Like Gernsback and Joris, Weis left Luxembourg as a young man and found a new home abroad. In their works, Luxembourg is hardly mentioned at all. Rather, they pursue their own specific interests. Their language of choice is English, the language of their new home country, by inclination and choice, but also, obviously, by necessity in their English-speaking environment. Turning back to Luxembourg, it appears less obvious why Luxembourgers in their home country would choose to write in English.
Luxembourgers in Luxembourg writing in English – a recent trend
English books published in Luxembourg are a relatively recent trend. As mentioned above, Basil Mogridge's English poems were published by Cornel Meder in 1978. But we have to wait until 1989 for the first literary publication in English, by a Luxembourger, printed in Luxembourg. The work in question is Georges Erasmus's How to remain what we are, a satirical history of Luxembourg as a nation. It was an instant bestseller, with numerous re-editions and translations into seven European languages.
In the twenty-eight years since, almost twenty Luxembourgers have published literary monographs in English, and a growing number of authors use the language casually within their German, French or Luxembourgish writings. A case in point is Nico Helminger, a long-time admirer of the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who makes extensive use of multilingual references and word plays, for instance in his play seven up & some down, which, despite its English title, boasts only a few short passages in English.
1995 was the year English as a literary language really took hold in Luxembourg. In this year, both Romain Eiffes and Christian Thiry published a poetry collection in English, or more specifically, in Eiffes' case, the lyrics to his rock songs. A year later Claudine Muno, who would go on to win the prestigious Prix Servais in 2004, penned her first novel, The Moon of the Big Winds. At the time, all three authors were young and new to the literary scene: Muno was only 16 years old, Thiry was 18 and Eiffes had just turned 30. This sudden spike in English language books illustrates a broader trend during the 1990s: English was becoming fashionable among the younger generation. The fact that both Muno and Eiffes were also musicians points to a certain influence of the English-language music and film industries. The rise of social media and the international connectivity which it facilitated only increased these tendencies during the next decades. In particular the publicity sector increasingly began to use slogans in English.
Nowadays, most major Luxembourg newspapers have an online version in English, the most well-known being wort.lu. There are several cultural online magazines in English, like The Luxembourg Review by Bangladeshi poet Shehzar Doja, founded in 2014. 7 This is especially interesting as there are no comparable online communities in French, German or Luxembourgish that I am aware of. Some English-speaking media people in Luxembourg are particularly engaged in bringing literature enthusiasts together. One such journalist is Jessica Bauldry from wort.lu, who is hosting the Writers who talk events. At these monthly meetings, authors present their work, in English, to a community of amateur writers and interested readers. These meetings generate a lot of interest, lately they've even had to change the venue to accommodate all the participants. Events like the English Evening organized in 2017 by the National literary archives in Mersch also regularly draw a large audience. 8
The Concours littéraire national is another good measuring stick for our authors' languages of choice. In recent years, more and more submissions have been in English, and a lot of them are of high quality. So high in fact, that they often find themselves among the winners. To name just a few: In 2014, Jeff Thill, one of the founding members of Black Fountain Press, won second prize for his historical novel about the Thirty Years' War. In 2015, Carine Krecké received a third prize for her Navigation Poems. I already mentioned Ariel Wagner-Parker who won an award in 2007 for her autobiographical short story. Then there are James and Anna Leader, who were awarded in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The late 2010s seem in many ways like a coming of age for the fledgling English literary scene in Luxembourg. Ian de Toffoli notes that in 2011 and 2012, of 185 publications only two were in English. 9 Between 2015 and 2017 however, of the 193 literary monographies published in Luxembourg, 73 publications were in German, 65 in French, 40 in Luxembourgish and a full 15 in English. 10 Thus, eight percent of all literary books are currently in English. English literature created in Luxembourg may still be a niche market, but the percentage of publications in this language is growing fast. Before the 1990s, years, if not decades, could pass by before there was even one new publication. Adding to this the fact that the number of English short stories and articles in magazines and newspapers has risen exponentially in the last three decades, there is the distinct possibility that interest in English literature is not adequately reflected by the relatively few monographies. Indeed, after her debut novel, Claudine Muno switched to German and Luxembourgish for her subsequent novels and children's books, possibly because this made it easier to find a publisher. 11 This is about to change with Luxembourg's first English-language publishing house Black Fountain Press, founded a few months ago by Anne-Marie Reuter, Jeff Thill, Nathalie Jacoby and Laurent Fels, who are all, in their own rights, published authors and literary researchers.
So is there a specific genre that English-writing Luxembourg authors are primarily attracted to? Traditional dichotomies, such as that Luxembourg poets prefer French whereas crime novels are most often penned in German and drama is the preserve of the Luxembourgish language, have never been all that clear-cut. These distinctions have definitely lost all meaning since the 1980s, when Luxembourgish novels (Guy Rewenig: Hannert dem Atlantik, 1985) and French crime novels (Tullio Forgiarini: Miss Mona, 2000) took off. As for productions in English, we note that in 2015-2017, there are eight prose works in English as well as six poetry books and one stage play. Compared to the overall literary production of these years, this seems a pretty even distribution without a favoured genre. English is thus simultaneously pushing into every corner of the book market, which bodes well for its overall development potential. It is worth noting that, as I only considered original literary works in these statistics, no children's books were added, even though there are sixteen plurilingual publications that include an English translation (e.g. Dany Gales: Minimaus, in German, English, French and Luxembourgish or Jean Greisch's Minerva series in French, German and English).
Exporting Luxemburg literature: translations
There is one more aspect to English literature in Luxembourg which ought to be considered: translations. There have been a number of translations of Luxembourg literary works done over the years. In the 1990s, the English teacher Janine Goedert translated several poetry collections into English.
Other translations were done by the authors themselves, like Milly Thill, who, in 2004, translated part of her autobiography into English. Several Luxembourg authors who preferentially write in English are also dedicated to translating works by their French-, German- or Luxembourgish-writing colleagues.
As an example, I might cite myself, having published two novels (A Winter Tale, 2005, and Rights of Spring, 2011) and published two translations from Luxembourgish (Nicolas Gonner's Prairie Flowers, 2013) and German (Guy Rewenig's Your Heart of Ice is Hot As Vice, 2016) as well as Anne-Marie Reuter, who, after her debut collection of short stories (On the Edge, 2017) is translating poems by Lambert Schlechter. 12
Unfortunately, there is as yet very little Luxembourg literature translated into English. On the other hand, there is a real demand for Luxembourg literature in English abroad. In particular, anthologies of European literature are eager to include works from Luxembourg, and they invariably ask for excerpts to be translated into English. 13 In order to meet this demand, the Centre national de littérature has teamed up with the US publishing house Dalkey Press, who, over the coming years, will publish a number of Luxembourg books in translation. Because, no matter what language Luxembourg authors choose to write in, in order to be heard in the wider world, we need to make sure that the best texts are available in English.

1 www.autorenlexikon.lu. These statistics were valid on 13.12.2017.
2 "The first question is always: In what language should I write" Reflections on Contemporary Luxembourg Literature. Colloquium University of Sheffield, 05.05.2017.
3 For a short overview of literature in Italian in Luxembourg, see Sandra Schmit ; Melanie Thill: Le fonds Franco Prete. Une perspective sur la poésie franco-italienne au Luxembourg des années 1970. In: Fundstücke / Trouvailles 2014/2015. Mersch: CNL 2016. p. 294-299.
4 Here, the Luxembourg-based writer Antero Fernandes Monteiro is especially productive.
5 For a more detailed description of this community, see: Nicholas Gonner: Prairie Flowers. A collection of songs and poems in our Luxembourg German Language. English translation and commentary by Sandra Schmit. Mersch: CNL 2013.
6 For more information on Hugo Gernsback's work, see: Hugo Gernsback. An amazing story. 1884 Luxembourg - 1967 New York. Exhibition and catalog: Luc Henzig, Paul Lesch, Ralph Letsch. Mersch: CNL2010.
7 https://theluxembourgreview.org
8 English Evening. Moderator: Nathalie Jacoby. Guest speakers: James Leader, Anne-Marie Reuter, Sandra Schmit and Jeff Thill. Mersch: CNL, 06.04.2017.
9 Ian de Toffoli: Des chiffres et des lettres. Quelques réflexions sur la publication littéraire luxembourgeoise des années 2011 et 2012. In: Fundstücke / Trouvailles 2012/2013. p. 140-151. Mersch: CNL 2014. See p. 147.
10 All Luxembourg-based publishing houses were taken into account, irrespective of the nationality of the author. As far as could be established, self-published editions were also considered. Bilingual texts are incorporated on a pro-rata basis. Omissions and oversights, especially towards the end of 2017, are possible, without affecting the overall trend.
11 Muno's publisher, Gollo Steffen, stated that an English language publication is a bigger financial risk for the publishing house than, say, a German novel. Phone interview, 2004. Other publishers have expressed similar views on several occasions.
12 A selection of translations are printed in this publication: Anne-Marie Reuter: Lambert Schlechter: One Day I will write a poem. Translation: Anne-Marie Reuter. Luxembourg: Black Fountain 2018; Sandra Schmit: Ian de Toffoli: Evil Eye. In: Fundstücke / Trouvailles 2016/2017. Mersch: Centre national de littérature, 2018. p 52-59.
13 E.g. Jean Back's award-winning novel Amateur. Translation of excerpt by Sandra Schmit. In: The European Union Prize for Literature. Eleven winning authors 2010. Brussels: European Commission, DG Education and Culture 2010, p. 108-122.