Literature Funding in Wales
Zoë Skoulding writes in response to John Goodby’s ‘Dealing With the Dylan Thomas Centenary’
Dylan Thomas was capable of presenting a simplified view of Wales when wartime necessity demanded it. However, while a propagandist film script like the one he wrote for Wales – Green Mountain, Black Mountain (1942) is full of social and historical interest, it is not usually confused with the poetry for which he is rightly remembered and celebrated.
John Goodby’s article on Dylan 100 highlights a problem with some of Literature Wales’s current approaches. Dylan Thomas has been simplified into a brand, which in turn has been made to stand for ‘Wales’ – a version of Wales that does not accommodate the full complexity of the culture, particularly in its bilingual aspects. Aside from this, as Goodby points out, Literature Wales is concentrating many of its resources on the Dinefwr Festival and on literary tourism, projects which appear to be more concerned with marketing its own brand of literary Welshness, on its own terms, than with working openly and collaboratively to promote the growth and renewal of a diverse literary culture in contemporary Wales.
If funding were unlimited, this would not matter at all. However, it matters a great deal when Literature Wales’s other kinds of support for writers and their work, which cannot come from anywhere else, have been reduced. Its Writers on Tour project, which has been important for many years in enabling independently organised readings across the whole of Wales, now contributes a smaller percentage of the costs of a literary event, making it much more difficult for small organisations to access it. Writers’ Bursaries, which have been crucial in many Welsh writers’ development, have had a significant reduction in funding. Wales Literature Exchange, which funds translation of Welsh writing, and which has built strong reciprocal relationships with literary cultures around the world, has had its income from Literature Wales cut when it already had access to far less funding than equivalent organisations in even the most recession-struck European countries.
These valuable but endangered structures are those that enable the growth and confidence of literary communities by connecting personal, local and international participation in Wales as a living, complex, bilingual culture. They encourage individual and collective contributions without subordinating them to a single branded identity. They mean that new writers can come from all backgrounds, and that opportunities are not limited to those who can already afford to take time out to develop new projects, or travel and connect with other writers. They imply a level of trust in writers that has been one of Wales’s greatest cultural strengths, and they show an understanding of how literary communities are built at many different levels. Trust and support are needed to sustain the future achievements of Welsh writers, but both seem to be diminished in Literature Wales’s current vision.
Economic circumstances, as everyone understands, have meant a reduction in funding all round, but they do not fully explain what appears to be a change of priorities within Literature Wales. As readers and writers in Wales, we have a right to voice concerns about how public funding for literature is being used, and I share those raised by John Goodby.