Sanja Lovrenčić (49) is a writer, poet, children’s writer, literary activist, and translator [from German, French, and English]. Moreover, she has produced radio-plays and audio books. Together with other Croatian artists she has founded the Authors’ House, an association aiming to create alternative space for artistic expression. Her last book of poetry, Night time, has come out recently. Ms. Lovrenčić talked to Southeast Europe: People and Culture about her writing, activism, the status of domestic authors in Croatia, and the challenges for modern Croatian literature.
What are you working on at the moment?
I would mention my new book of poetry, Night time [Noćno doba], which came out at the end of last year. To me personally, poetry is the most important of the things I do, so this book is really dear to me. In 2008 I published the first part of a fantasy trilogy [The Snakes of Nikonimor, Zmije Nikonimora, author’s note]; the second part will come out this year. I have always been writing a lot of non-realistic prose: some of it is for children, but actually the bigger part is literature for grown-ups.
In 2008 you published your novel Martin’s Strings [Martinove strune], a realistic novel. You managed to balance your work on a fantasy novel with work on a realist one?
Non-realistic prose is kind of soul food for me. On the other hand, Martin’s Strings is a realistic novel. Another book in this vein was the biography of Ivana Brlić Mažuranić [Searching for Ivana, U potrazi za Ivanom; a Croatian poet, author’s note] which came out in 2006. Realism is the dominant trend in Croatia. So I am kind of drawn to it, but at the same time I have that image in my head since early childhood that a writer is someone who can invent something, something which does not exist.
You are active in many different genres. You have been writing novels, poetry, radio-plays, children’s books, you have done documentaries. In which of these forms of artistry do you feel most comfortable?
They are all part of my exploration. For example, radio-documentaries have been a real challenge for me. A writer is a rather lonely creature. You sit in front of your computer and you do not have much contact with people. Radio-documentary work on the other hand is rooted in life, people and events, not only your own interior world. In addition, there is another form of liberty here, relating not only to the text, but also the sound... so it is a completely different experience. Some idea comes in the form of a poem, or in the form of a plot for a novel, and I try to develop it in the genre that the idea itself requests.
How does your work come about? Do you enjoy the process? Do you find it cumbersome?
I love it actually. Usually I have about an hour free in the morning only for writing. I then write down every idea that comes to mind, without any particular objective, without thinking whether it would be a poem, novel, or something else. Almost always something comes out of that, a sketch, some concept. I look on this free-writing as a sort of a mime from which ideas emerge; then once the idea has become clear, the real work on it begins. Emotionally it can be different, you are so happy when you manage to produce something you are satisfied with. On the other hand, all of my life I have had the fear that nothing will come to my mind. In some way I write as if to tell myself that such a terrible thing has not yet happened.
What is the treatment of domestic authors in Croatia today? Do they get the same publicity as foreign authors?
There are a certain number of foreign authors whose books are published and are popular thanks to the marketing effort behind them. This is not our marketing, it is also foreign; the movies, the commercials make everyone know the bestsellers. Domestic authors rarely get such media support. We are a small country and a person often wears several hats, he/she is a writer, critic, columnist, university professor. This creates entwined circles of interest which are then difficult for freelancers to penetrate.
On the other hand, I am surprised by the fact that all of us somehow manage to survive - because people read little, and culture is, despite the common rhetoric of its importance, rather marginalised.
Can you tell me something about the Authors’ House [Autorska kuća] project and your involvement?
It is an association of artists and we have conceptualised it as a sort of alternative to conventional publishing and literary mainstream. In a way it has carved out free space for artistic expression. I was able to do some of my exploratory work because I had the Authors’ House as an outlet. So within the House of Authors I founded my own little edition of poetry and texts related to poetry, it is called Little Bells [Mala zvona];
Another thing which is dear to me, are the reading promotion projects. I do the so-called picture-book harvests [berbe slikovnica] with the children. The first time we did it as a completely volunteer effort - we managed to get a donation of new picture-books from domestic authors, we hanged them on tree branches, called the children, authors and street-artists, and it was a real joy. The action became a tradition and we have been doing it five years now. Kids realise that books are something nice and fun and make the effort to read. Since I write for children, I am regularly invited to libraries to read to children, and always in conversations I ask the children if someone is reading to them. Lately, in the last couple of years, the answer is most often - no. Reading becomes something which is tied only to school and work. I think this is worrying. Reading is not something which gives writers something to do, but it is important for human development, it is an incentive to think.