I remember the first time I heard the phrase “portfolio career”. I was a student, talking to somebody about fifteen years older than me, and I was immediately beguiled by the idea. It seemed pretty alien to me, given that my parents each stayed in one profession (and largely one workplace) for their entire working life, but it struck a chord. It wasn’t until – about fifteen years later – somebody described my career as “portfolio” that I recalled that conversation and realised that, yes, in a roundabout way I’d achieved exactly that.
I’d like to describe myself as a freelance Germanist, but whenever I do, people think I’m saying “journalist” and much confusion ensues. It is nonetheless pretty accurate: a lot of my work revolves around German, and my love affair with the language and literature fuels the work I do in outreach and university access. Having gained so much from the opportunity to learn languages, I am devastated at the current crisis in the UK education system and more motivated than ever to do something about it.
I’m also rather keen on the title “cultural activist”, which somebody kindly called me recently. This covers a lot of my portfolio – running the Stephen Spender Trust and the Translation Exchange at the University of Oxford, which are both about moving literature across borders, opening readers up to other cultures; and my former positions as editor of New Books in German, as researcher, editor and translator for the ‘Writing Brecht’ project at Oxford University, and as founding coordinator of the Oxford German Network.
I live in Oxford with my husband and two young children, but travel regularly to London. I visit Berlin often, for work and pleasure, and attend the London and Frankfurt Book Fair every year.
Before moving to Oxford, I completed a PhD in Modern German Literature at University College London (2003-2007). My thesis was on the German-language, post-Holocaust poet Paul Celan, and his translations of French poetry. This was the basis of my monograph, which was published in 2010.
My undergraduate degree was in German and French at Cambridge University (Selwyn College, 1997-2001) and I took a Masters in European Literature at Oxford University from 2002-03. In between these studies, I spent two years living and working in Munich.
Charlotte Ryland is Director of the Stephen Spender Trust and founding Director of the Queen’s College Translation Exchange (Oxford), organisations dedicated to promoting language-learning, multilingualism and translation. In both of these roles she aims to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in literary translation, and to bring creative translation activities into UK schools. Until 2019 Charlotte ran New Books in German, a UK-based project that promotes German-language literature across the world.