“Books and doors are the same thing. You open them, and you go through into another world.” This is an experience many of us perhaps share with the British author Jeanette Winterson. It is certainly a belief which has inspired the work of Uppsala International Literature Festival.

A similarly important belief, which founder Kholod Saghir has championed since the festival’s conception five years ago, is to increase the interest in literature from cultural spheres outside that of the Swedish and Anglo-Saxon. Only a fifth of all books published in Sweden every year are translations. However, that already small percentage is largely dominated by literature of American and British origin. As a result, the needle’s eye which the rest of the world’s stories must pass through shrinks even further.

One of the main tenets of Swedish cultural policy has been to “promote international and intercultural exchange”. But due to the self-fulfilling cycle of commercial interests, media coverage and public demand, it has become difficult to promote a fair representation of the world and its diversity through literature. Media theorist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus”, a structure which consolidates public and personal habits, becomes apparent here: we base our current reading habits on our previous ones. Given that the commercial supply is dominated by Anglo-Saxon culture, it makes sense that we know more about English and American values and perspectives than any other.

Because of this, Uppsala International Literature Festival has through the years strived to increase the visibility of literature from cultural spheres less visible in Sweden. This has been done by showcasing female poets from the Arabic speaking world, through hosting conversations with authors from Russian-Jewish and white-Russian traditions, exploring literature in Yiddish and highlighting authors from Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and non-English speaking European countries.

Many of us are readers who, thanks to the stories of other human lives, fictional or real, have learned about the choices, motivations and situations which define the human experience. Research has shown that those who read fiction develop their capability for empathy and understanding. Therefore it is important, to circle back to Jeannette Winterson’s quote, to open more doors. To stimulate reading from the cultural spheres in which an increasing number of Swedes, have their roots. Uppsala International Literature Festival is a small but important contribution to this endeavour.

Throughout the years, the festival has been financed through the support of Uppsala municipality, the Swedish Academy and Swedish Arts Council. Their support has been integral to this contribution.