Dorotea Bromberg - 'our job is still the same'

News - International Thursday, 14 March 2019

The London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement winner, Dorotea Bromberg of Swedish publisher Brombergs, told the audience at LBF that publishing was 'a way of living that makes my life meaningful'


It's such a surprise, and such a pleasure to be here today!

I wish my parents could be around to see me with all of you.

My mother because she was there when Brombergs was born. She was a biologist. Her passion was nature and the survival of the forest. But she was also a passionate reader, devouring more books than anybody in our family. So, if she could be here today, she would have exclaimed: well done, but have you thought about all the trees your books have consumed? Have you been careful in choosing the right authors, important enough to excuse more forests disappearing?

Maybe this prize is a sign that we have somehow succeeded in satisfying her austere literary criteria?

As for my father, Adam Bromberg, who started Brombergs together with me, I can see him smiling, waving from above, saying that this award is a lovely gift on his birthday, exactly what he expected me to deliver. Because, you know, 12 March is my father's birthday. His 107th! Don't ask me how the London Book Fair found out about it, but I can see that it's just further proof of my father's magic powers. He was an expert in making dreams come true.

That's how Brombergs came to be. Because my father was not only a dedicated publisher, having books as his only religion. He was also an incurable optimist, and quite an exceptional human being equipped with a belief that the impossible just takes a little longer. "Giving up" didn't exist in his vocabulary, whatever happened in his dramatic life. He went through the horrors of the Second World War, and several anti-semitic persecutions with terrifying consequences. Whatever catastrophe, he was always ready to build something new in the ashes of the past. In that way Brombergs was no exception. After four years of immigrant life in Sweden it was time to use my father's magic powers, it was time to start a publishing house in our new country, even if we didn't speak proper Swedish, had no money or any knowledge about the Swedish book market.

So, both my parents were of great importance in making Brombergs the publishing house we became. My mother with her strong, realistic and critical voice, an important reader behind the scenes of our publishing programme. No trees are going to disappear for nothing! And my father as the unstoppable force behind operation Brombergs; a believer, but also a gambler during our 18 years of working together.

So, what is it to publish?

It's a question I was talking about with my father. His publishing career being much longer, most of it taking place under different circumstances. As he had for many years been a publisher in Poland, where censorship was a big problem.

In Sweden this problem didn't exist. And that was also one of the reasons we started Brombergs with publishing several writers who were banned in their home countries. Authors such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Klima and Czeslaw Milosz. And my father's happiness knew no limits when we could introduce them to Swedish readers. Not to mention the joy he felt when a few of them also were awarded with the Nobel Prize. My father's dream came true, he succeeded once more in creating a publishing house with new important voices, often from Eastern Europe, from our part of the world.

After he was gone, in 1993, I wasn't sure if I could make it on my own. I missed his optimism, I missed his energy. Until I realized that he was there for me anyway. Quarrelling with me about each print run, about the new authors we were about to take on or the advances we were hesitating to pay. Always pushing me to go for it and make an even bigger effort in reaching out with our authors.

Forty- four years in the life of a publishing house involve so many books. I see a crowd of people pass before my eyes when I think of every book and the story it has entailed. A story that always starts out with our own enthusiasm when we find that very author or an idea for a book. A story about the labour of writing, about the book production with all the heroic contributors of editors, translators, illustrators, proof-readers, designers, and printers. And finally, salesmen, booksellers, librarians, book club staff and others.

The history of a publishing house can be told in many ways. But publishers are not meant to tell stories. Instead, we should find the best stories and see to it that they find their readers. The more the merrier. We should see the potential in a text or a voice and then devote all our enthusiasm, energy and inventiveness to giving that text an appropriate form.

An amazing task that has challenged me almost every day for 44 years! More than four decades, that for me have led to many exciting, important and often unforgettable meetings with people I would never have been introduced to otherwise, authors I would never have read. When I think of everything that I have been a part of, I am deeply moved and grateful. It is an adventure I would never have wanted to miss.

This is what I have been trying to do during my years in publishing. It hasn't been easy. After more than four decades I can say that independent publishing is still tough and our readers busier than ever with other media: films, social media, music, podcasts, and so on. Our job is to try to reach them and remind them how great reading is. That it's so much more fulfilling to experience reading a literary work of great quality.

The world around us has changed. But our job is still the same.

Our task is to find new important voices who make a difference, writers we didn't know existed, and publish books we didn't know the world needed. And the unique pleasure of discovering a new author is still the same. Because for me, reading is the best way to understand the confusing world we live in. The magic words hidden inside these books open our minds and can make the world a better place.

As with Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czeslaw Milosz, Umberto Eco, JM Coetzee, Oliver Sacks, Susan Sontag, Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy, Masha Gessen, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen or Patti Smith.

Just as for my father, publishing became the best of all professions, and I feel it's more important today than ever. It's also a way of living that makes my life meaningful, interesting and full of great surprises.

Like this one: an award given to a small literary independent publisher and a lifetime award I never could imagine receiving.

Thank you, the London Book Fair, thank you Jacks Thomas for making this magic moment possible in my life.

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