Helga Stellmacher has just taken up a new post as country director at the British Council in Germany. Here she talks about the British Council’s work in publishing and translation, and its plans for the upcoming year.

Background and career

I have been fortunate to have had a wide-spanning career with the British Council holding a number of senior roles within the organization over the last 25 years, which include having lived and worked in South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Immediately before moving to Germany, I held the post of British Council country director Thailand, where I also led our work in girls’ education across the region and was the liaison point for cultural relations work in Cambodia, Laos, and Brunei. My senior regional roles included regional director in South Asia for our grant-funded and commercial programs in “Education and English” and regional director for our work in “Assessment in Europe.”

Having trained and worked as a teacher early in my career before moving to various academic positions, I am passionate about the transformational change that education and cultural exchange can bring about. I hold a BA Hons in Modern Foreign Languages, a PGCE, a TEFL Diploma, and an MBA.

The British Council at Frankfurt

The British Council attends Frankfurt Book Fair every year with representatives from both our Literature department in the U.K. and our office in Germany. We use the opportunity to meet with our international partners—getting project updates and hearing about the impact of past collaborations. We also use the time to attend Frankfurt’s excellent seminar program to stay abreast of the latest topics and issues the sector is facing. I’m also hoping to catch up with some of our International Publishing Fellows from recent years who are the most amazing group of talented publishers who continue to move the sector forwards in their own countries and challenge our thinking for the future.

In recent years we have supported a reception hosted by the British Honorary Consul Dr Andreas Fabritius, which honors eminent writers like Robert Harris, Abdulrazak Gurnah, and this year Sir Salman Rushdie. The reception creates a valuable opportunity for our key stakeholders from the U.K. publishing sector to meet with their international counterparts.

Working with literature and the publishing sector

Publishing is hugely important to the U.K. Creative Economy, and the U.K. is the biggest exporter of books in the world, so as a sector it is incredibly important. But, from our perspective as a cultural relations organization, we understand the value of a strong and interconnected global publishing industry in terms of both sustainability, and access to knowledge and ideas from around the world. Our focus at the British Council is to help publishers grow their international networks, broker connections to new and developing markets, and to encourage the inclusion of a diversity of voices across literature and publishing. The big issues the sector faces around equity, sustainability, freedom to publish, intellectual property, and AI can only be addressed if we can work together globally.

Literature programs in Germany

In September we had 10 British writers at the International Literature Festival in Berlin, including an amazing conversation with Sir Salman Rushdie, Daniel Kehlmann, and Bernd Robben. In November Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah will deliver the Schiller speech at the Deutsche Literaturarchiv Marbach.

In spring 2024 we will organize the British Council Literature Seminar in Berlin, our flagship event in Germany. Founded by the father of creative writing, Sir Malcolm Bradbury, in 1986, the Seminar continues to flourish and through being screened online, reaches literature professionals worldwide. Germany is a most fertile ground for British literature both in translation and in the English original. I am excited about the prospect of strengthening cultural bonds between the U.K. and Germany, nurturing mutual understanding, and expanding educational horizons, for which literature is such a fantastic, multifaceted vehicle.