A nurturing environment

September 29, 2011

I want to correct a comment made by Uwe Schütte in his article about Max Sebald in describing the foundation of the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, since I was UEA's vice-chancellor from 1987 to 1995 and knew Sebald well ("Out of the shadows", 22 September).

UEA was distinguished by the number of active writers who were members of staff at the time (Malcolm Bradbury, Lorna Sage and Chris Bigsby immediately spring to mind) and had always encouraged such activity. So I was thrilled to discover that we had another writer in Sebald, who at that time was more famous in Germany than in the UK. We talked on several occasions because I was interested in why he chose to write here. He explained that he had to be outside his native country to be able to write about it.

To directly contradict Schütte, I gave Sebald every encouragement and chaired the promotion committee that made him a professor in 1988. It had two external assessors as members. The process was identical in every way to that used for external applicants, and the committee had no hesitation in recommending his promotion.

We continued to talk and in one conversation, which I remember vividly, he explained that he did not know how to handle the increasing number of visitors who wished to work as literary translators at UEA. It was my suggestion that we start a centre - and to get things moving, I personally authorised a set-up grant from UEA funds. This in turn led to a successful application to an external body and was the basis for the centre's success.

From start to finish, Sebald was encouraged and helped by UEA. There is no basis for the snide comments that Schütte makes.

Derek Burke, Norwich

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