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An interview with Pietro Biancardi, Communications Director of Edizioni Iperborea

1. How and why was Edizioni Iperborea created?
Edizioni Iperborea was officially established in 1987 by its founder and president Emilia Lodigiani (my mother), during a stay in France. Scandinavian and Northern European literature was already quite popular in France, and my mother thought it was a pity that few Northern European authors, apart from the classics, were translated in Italy. Therefore, it all began as a passion, even though today things have certainly changed. We are still passionate about our work, of course, but we also care about business. In fact, when you expand you can no longer ignore certain things and forget that a publishing company, even a small one, is always a business. Iperborea specializes in Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and Icelandic literature, plus a few others, and it survives for this reason. We have loyal readers because they know our publishing policy is quite strict: we only publish what we truly like.

2. What are the greatest differences between the cultural situations in Scandinavia and Northern Europe and in Italy?

I'd say there are many. The percentage of readers in the population in Italy is decidedly lower compared to those countries with which we do business. Furthermore, each reader in Northern Europe reads more books per year compared to Italian readers.
What also struck me is that Scandinavian and Northern European authors are much less commercial: their passion for writing comes first, and then comes money. Sometimes it seems they couldn't care less about money. For example, if they are asked to write a preface for a book, they even accept to do it free of charge if they are convinced of the book. Many authors have remained loyal to Iperborea, despite the attractive offers by other Italian publishers, and that says a lot. Another difference is that many Scandinavian authors come from the countryside. Therefore, nature is more important in their books than it is in Italy: in fact, you can't escape the climate. I have to admit, however, that Northern European literature is full of humor, even though it is, shall we say, extremely rigorous: it is therefore not necessarily pessimistic, like many are led to believe, and this is something you rarely find in our modern literature.

3. Therefore, their stories rarely take place in large cities…
Yes, also because it may be due to the fact that when you take away Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, there aren't other large cities in Northern Europe. Returning to your question about the differences between Northern European and Italian culture, I also noticed that people in Northern Europe pay more attention to and support libraries: consequently, they love books more.

4. Do you also publish poetry books?
Yes and no. No, in the sense that we do not specifically publish poetry books because the difference between authors and poets in Northern Europe is not so deeply rooted: a writers is also a poet and vice versa. Many authors that we published have also written poetry, and sometimes they are more famous abroad as poets than as novelists.

5. What are your future plans?
Despite 18 years of activity, we still have the same enthusiasm and passion as in the beginning. Perhaps what we lack - and I'm not sure it's negative or not - is a strictly commercial approach. We are still a bit backward in this sense and we will therefore have to focus more on this aspect. Consequently, we would like to strengthen relations with the bookstores that distribute our books and present interesting promotional projects. Furthermore, the Iperborea website (www.iperborea.com) will have a completely new look in June, and we want it to be not just a source of information, but also a place where we can keep in contact with our readers.

6. Do you agree with the people that say that the European Union must be, first and foremost, a cultural union?
A cultural union is extremely important, but that must not necessarily occur through boos or the culture of the "Muses". For example, I personally feel the single European currency is an important "cultural union", as is the elimination of borders. Of course, from a cultural standpoint, many things must be improved: an exchange between populations must be encouraged, not only through the arts, but also through reciprocal awareness and contacts. I think the Erasmus Program, which is a wonderful and very important project, should help more students, not just those who can pay for a year as an exchange student abroad. That means more scholarships, University funding and so on.

7. Returning to Italy and Milan, the city where Edizioni Iperborea is based, do you think enough is being done for culture?
Absolutely not. I'm very pessimistic, also because I've had a chance to travel and see European and Italian cities (like Berlin and Rome) where culture is more appreciated. Here in Milan, they care more about rebuilding sidewalks and giving everything a polished look: appearance is apparently more important than substance, and means are more important than ideas. On the other hand, there is a cultural renaissance, especially among young people. Milan is the fashion capital, but here too I do not see many opportunities to emerge and contribute something new, when there would truly be a need for it.
In Milan it seems it never rains, but it pours: the rich get richer. Here they rely more on someone with a name than on ideas.

8. Speaking about fashion, do you think Fashion and Poetry can get along?
It depends. Regarding the previous question, if we consider it something innovative and profound that is done with passion, then I agree. Both fashion and Poetry can be considered two art forms. However, fashion must be constructive and not have only a commercial end. As I said earlier, Northern European authors can really teach us something. They don't care much about money, even though they have to make a living. But what is most important is giving a sense to their works and being constructive. This is a philosophy that we always try to preserve at Iperborea, too.

Interview by Giampaolo Abbiezzi