Patrick Deville

Recreating a literary cosmopolitism in Saint-Nazaire

Patrick Deville is mainly known for being a writer. He notably wrote the novel Peste et Choléra (Plague and Cholera), 2012. He has also directed the Maison des écrivains étrangers et des traducteurs (the Foreign Writers and Translators House) in Saint-Nazaire (MEET) for 25 years. Join Patrick Deville to take a look into what has become a new home base for many authors and translators.

Published on 24/07/2020

2 min

Patrick Deville
© Astrid di Crollalanza

How did you come to be directing the Maison des écrivains étrangers et des traducteurs, which was created in 1987 ?

An Iraqi poet friend, Jabbar Yassin Hussein, introduced me to the MEET in 1994. He was there doing a residency himself, and knowing I was from the region he wrote to me to arrange for us to meet up. That was how I found out about it, and I started working with it myself a year or two after. One thing lead to another and I ended up as its head.


The very name of the House (MEET) seems to promote the idea of meeting. Is that an essential aspect ?

It’s actually quite problematic because no one can pronounce it correctly! I decided to use it by calling the annual international literary encounters I started organising in 1998 « Meetings », which take place in November. We also organise the Rencontres de Fontevraud, where we host writers from all over the world at the Abbey of Fontevraud in June. And there are also the monthly literary meetings that can have a connection to the residency. Beyond these meetings, we also run translationworkshops, in partnership with ATLAS (Association pour la promotion de la traduction littéraire), and each year we publish the bilingual works of writers in residence which can includenovels, collections of short stories or poems.


Where does your interest in translation come from and more particularly foreign languages ? 

I often did translations because I enjoyed it – for example for the Meet journal —, but rarely did so professionally. And I am particularly fond of Latin America, which led me to create the Prix de la Jeune Littérature latino-américaine (Young Latin-American Literature Prize), which has the particularity of being held in a different country of the continent each year, and is a sort of consecration for very young authors.


You highlight translations with the award of two prizes. What is the particularity of each one ?

The Laure Bataillon prize is our oldest prize: it brings together a jury of writers, translators, editors and critics. Olga Tokarczuk was last year’s winner, for Les Livres de Jakób (The Books of Jacob), translated from Polish into French by Maryla Laurent.

As for the classic Laure-Bataillon prize, it rewards either a classic, or the work of a recently deceased writer. Last year, it was awarded for the retranslation of Georgics by Virgil by Frédéric Boyer, with the title Le Souci de la terre.

A residency in all manner of its meaning: we do not put any pressure on writers.

What relationship does the MEET maintain with Saint-Nazaire ?

Saint-Nazaire has been a major transatlantic port for years, it’s a very cosmopolitan town, with up to 20 consulates, and has had an important place in international literature. MEET seeks to recreate this literary cosmopolitism which disappeared following the allies bombing which lead to the destruction of the port of embarkation. It was this former cosmopolitism that we wanted to celebrate in 2017, for the 30th anniversary of the House, by bringing together 50 texts, some of which date back to the 19th century, and presented in a bilingual edition with the title Saint-Nazaire est littéraire.


How do you assist your residents ?

Our residency is a residency in all manner of its meaning: we do not put any pressure on writers. If a writer wants to shut themselves away and not leave their apartment for two months, they are entirely free to do so ! Having said that, we give them the opportunity to intervene if they would like to at the university or elsewhere, to meet readers, for example in a library.


Has the health crisis had an impact on your residency programme ?

Some residencies have had to be cancelled, others cut short: Garrett Caples, an American poet who was there in March, had to leave the House suddenly before the borders closed, and Rodrigo Hasbun, who should have replaced him, couldn't leave his country, Bolivia. The three residencies planned for 2020 will be postponed until 2022, as the residencies for 2021 were already arranged. The Rencontres de Fontevraud in June have also had to be postponed until next year. They will be devoted to the work of Alain Corbin.

The Institut français and the artist

The Institut français supports the Maison des écrivains étrangers et des traducteurs de Saint-Nazaire (MEET) throughout the year.

This support is part of its creation of programs to support translation. The Institut français participates in the dissemination of French-language literature throughout the world, as evidenced by its programme of workshops, « La Fabrique des traducteurs ».

Find out more information about La Fabrique des traducteurs

L'institut français, LAB