Literature is at the core of a well-functioning democracy

How does literature affect us? And most importantly: if a society lacks literature, what happens? These are questions that occupy Elnaz Baghlanian, previously Alumna of the Year at Linköping University and now operational manager at Writers’ Centre – East.

Picture of Elnaz Baghlanian. “Literature is at the core of a well-functioning democracy. It has an enormous power simply because it puts words onto our experiences, and because it can raise questions”, says Elnaz Baghlanian, previously Alumna of the Year at Linköping University and now operational manager at Writers’ Centre – East. Malcolm Fallenius

Elnaz Baghlanian was appointed operational manager at Writers’ Centre – East in April 2021, while the coronavirus epidemic raged. The centre is a non-profit organisation with a membership of more than 700 professional authors whose purpose is to spread literature in society.

“The need for literary meetings may be greater today that ever before, and Writers’ Centre – East is an important actor here”, says Elnaz Baghlanian. Together with her colleagues, she works with booking authors for such events as visits to schools and libraries, and with reading and writing projects for children and young people. 

Her work as operational manager includes such tasks as to expand and improve the activities, initiate new projects, find sources of funding, and monitor the world around us.

“We see that those of our authors who write non-fiction don’t get as many bookings. But reading non-fiction improves our understanding of the world around us hugely. It also puts slightly different demands on us than reading novels, and enriches our vocabulary in a completely different way.” 

This is why the centre is planning a major initiative in non-fiction during the autumn and spring. 

“We plan to contact teachers and offer visits from our non-fiction authors to schools”, says Elnaz Baghlanian.

A common thread in literature

Elnaz Baghlanian has herself always worked with literature from a societal perspective. She studied literature at Linköping University and took a bachelor’s degree, with extra studies in sociology and gender studies. This was followed by courses in publishing at Lund University. 

These studies led her to work at Swedish Pen, as editor for a web-based newspaper giving publishing opportunities and a platform to authors and journalists who are not permitted to publish in their home countries. 

Her passion for freedom of speech led to the award of Alumna of the Year at Linköping University in 2014, of which she is extremely proud.
She worked at Swedish Pen until 2016, and then moved to book publisher Atlas as literary manager, leaving in 2018. Her path led her back to Swedish Pen.

“Once you’ve been involved in these questions, it’s difficult to let go”, she says.

Even so, after a period of parental leave, she decided it was time to move on, to her present position as operational manager at Writers’ Centre – East. In her new job, she particularly enjoys working with the reading and writing projects operated by the organisation. 

Elnaz remembers when she was in junior school, and the authors of the famous children’s books about Sune, Sören Olsson and Anders Jakobsson, visited her school.  “That author visit became an eye opener for me. I realized that anyone can write books. That is why I am very happy of the work Writer´s Centre – East is doing.”

Making literature accessible

Her driving force is based on a desire to make literature accessible.

“I can see the significance that literature has had in my life, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to discover it.”

Elnaz was born in Iran and came to Sweden when five years old. 

“I became an avid reader because there was a library in Åtvidaberg, which was the first place we stayed after coming to Sweden.” 

She visited the library with her father and younger brother at weekends, and it became something that they did together.

“I do not come from a home with books but reading and education have always been important to my parents and that we children should have access to it. And then when we moved to Linköping, I more or less came to live in the library at Ekholm School. This was before there were mobile phones, so my mother had to come to the school and tell me when dinner was ready at home. And I took home piles of books!” 

The books became a source of security, something she could rely on and a way to learn the language.

“It was a wonderful feeling to enter different worlds and stories. Everything felt close by and easy to reach in the library. Now, looking back, I wonder who I would have become if I had not been able to use a library.” 

Literature helps us understand the world

She also speculates about the effects on a society that does not have access to literature due to censorship.
 
“Literature is at the core of a well-functioning democracy. It has an enormous power simply because it puts words onto our experiences, and because it can raise questions.”
 
At the same time, we must never take it for granted, and never compromise on the freedom of speech we have.
 
“In some municipalities, politicians are trying to control who is allowed to come and hold lectures or exhibit art. It is a restriction on our freedom of speech.”
 
She also points out that literature can open other worlds and ways of seeing things, provide tools to understand our world and ourselves, make it possible to recognise ourselves, expand our empathy and communication skills, and increase our well-being.
 
Does it matter what you read?
“No. There are many different types of reading. You can read to educate yourself or for entertainment. It doesn’t matter what you read: what matters is that you read.”
 
She started to read to her own son when he was around four months old.

“Even if young children don’t understand what’s being read, they gain a lot from it. Their vocabulary is enriched, they enjoy a cosy period with another person, and reading becomes a habit and something natural. Now when it’s bedtime, my son goes and fetches a book himself.” 

The placing of the books is important. 

“They must be on the children’s level, so that they can get them and make discoveries in their own way, even if this means that some of the books get chewed”, laughs Elnaz.  

And again, we see how important accessibility is. 

Published her own book

She is currently in the news with a book about motherhood, migration and heredity, published by Albert Bonniers Förlag. 

Who did you write the book for?
“I didn’t write the book for any particular audience: I wrote it because I had to.” 

The narrative came to her around six years ago when she started to think about having children and starting a family. 

“Thoughts about my past started to come to the surface. What message will I give to my children? To turn the past into fiction, to make it into literature, has been one way for me to process it. It’s not an autobiography, by any means, but it is inspired by my own experiences and thoughts.” 

Tell us about a powerful reading experience you have had
“It was during the summer when I read Eufori by Elin Cullhed, a novel about the final period in Sylvia Plath’s life. The experience has stayed with me. It’s an incredibly powerful depiction of being a mother, partner and author. The language and the energy are amazing!”

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