Deeply enveloped in their chairs, immersed in parks, trams and libraries, lost in reading and inspiration to explore the world benefiting from books – readers of the world, unite!
The Conrad Festival, which is one of Europe's most important literary events, will be held this year under the banner of Intensity. What could this mean? “Intensity is not in a hurry or rush. It is rather a focus, a compaction of capabilities,” says Michał Paweł Markowski, artistic director of the festival. And he adds: “it is discovery of other dimensions in life itself, other layers of meaning than those to which we have become accustomed. (…) It does not require forays to the pole or circling the Earth in a palm-leaf canoe. All it needs is a sheet of paper, a piece of the screen, and a couple of minutes, maybe hours of freedom.”
The exploration of fictional worlds endowed with the appearances of reality and nurture of openness to otherness is not always an easy task. Anyone who reads (or writes) books intensively must be on guard. Michel Faber, one of this year's festival guests, in the novel The Crimson Petal and the White, warns: “Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. (…) The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.” Intensity can sometimes be – as in Joseph Conrad himself – a journey “deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.” And yet – you will admit – it's impossible to resist the temptation!
Each day of the festival week (24-30 October) will be dedicated to a different group of issues. These will be, in turn: languages, beliefs/disbeliefs, emotions, landscapes, tensions, senses, and maps. Most of the meetings with authors and discussions will be held in the Czeczotka Palace at the intersection of Wiślna and Św. Anny streets, known to Cracovians as the former building of Galeria Centrum. During the day, the festival centre will be filled with a rich programme of main events, and in the evening will turn into a comfortable zone for night reading, with deck chairs, pouffes, blankets, night lamps, audiobooks and guest performances by actors reading.
We'll be meeting authors not only at the Czeczotka Palace, but also in the city's bookstores and at the Book Fair. As part of the film screenings at the Pod Baranami Cinema we'll see videos related to the theme of this year's festival. The organisers also welcome you to theexhibitions from the accompanying programme: dedicated to optical illusions Eye-Wash in the Museum of the History of Photography and Snakes, Daggers and Rose Petals in the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, presenting the achievements of several generations of Polish illustrators.
From over the oceans
As every year, for the duration of the festival the town hall tower will become a lighthouse showing readers-explorers the way during the lengthening evenings, and literary stars will shine with all their power.
Kraków will welcome Eleanor Catton, a Canadian with a New Zealand passport, the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize. She received the most important distinction in the world of English literature for her novel The Luminaries – an epic vision of the gold rush of the 1860s in New Zealand, full of mysteries. In her island homeland, Catton was regarded for some time as the enfant terrible, because she dared to criticise the sterility of public debate and the cultural void under the rule of the right.
Another visitor from down under is Richard Flanagan, also winner of the Booker Prize – for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was devoted to the fate of Australian soldiers during World War II and on which he worked for 12 years. The narrator of his most famous novel, Gould's Book of Fish, recounts the experience of the purest literary intensity in the following way: “Even my feverish pen cannot approach my rapture, an amazement so intense that it was as if the moment I opened the Book of Fish the rest of my world – the world! – had been cast into darkness and the only light that existed in the entire universe was that which shone out of those aged pages up into my astonished eyes.”
The names of successive authors were made especially famous by the film industry. The American Michael Cunningham became famous when he was awarded the Pulitzer, and the character inspired by Virginia Woolf's in the novel The Hours, the film version of which played the biggest female stars of Hollywood: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. The writer is associated with LGBT culture, but his ambition is to tell universal stories in today's conventions, and so he's eager to rewrite classic fairy tales anew.
In turn, Géza Röhrig – known as the lead actor in the Oscar-winning film Son of Saul – is a versatile Hungarian-Jewish artist living in New York. In the 1980s he was associated with Budapest's musical underground, and after immigrating to the USA became a Hasid. He writes poems and stories in Hungarian. In Kraków, he will be promoting his Hasidic stories – a genre that he completely renewed in his collection The Rebbeh's Featherless Parrot.
Jewish subjects will have a strong presence this year. The discussion Israel Is Literature will be attended by outstanding artists from the Hebrew circle: Zeruya Shalev, Yishai Sarid andEshkol Nevo. France will also demonstrate the strength of its literature, represented by members of the legendary group OuLiPo and Alain Mabanckou, who comes from the Congo.
On many occasions, the festival guests will address issues intumescent in inflammatory regions of the world. The meeting with Syrian writer Samar Yazbek will create space to talk about the war in Syria and the emigration crisis, but most of all – about how it came to be that this beautiful land has fallen into ruin.
Military topics will dominate the meeting with the Ukrainian writer Vasyl Slapchuk, whose work is a constant struggle with the experience of the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The strong representation of women writers from Ukraine – Sofia Andrukhovych, Maria Nikitiuk, Natalka Sniadanko, Hashka Shiyan and Iryna Vikyrchak – will be heard in the discussion No Country for Old Prose, which will develop the issues of the youngest of Ukrainian culture, growing despite geopolitical turmoil.
Poland and Poles
The festival will also host Polish artists and topics. The debate Happy Poland, Unhappy Polandwill be attended by renowned professors: Jadwiga Staniszkis, Tadeusz Sławek, and Szymon Wróbel; as part of the discussions In Poland, That Is, Where? and People From the Provincewe'll meet the younger generation of writers and people of culture (like Maciej Płaza – this year's Kościelski Prize winner – and Ziemowit Szczerek). Andrzej Stasiuk will be discussing the side currents of everyday life (in the meeting On the Shoulder of the Road) – and the artist will also perform in concert with jazz musician and composer Mikołaj Trzaska. We are also awaiting debate among the Peszek artistic family (Emotions on Display) and the Przebinda philological clan (Bulgakov and Translation). This last meeting will be combined with the launch of a new translation of The Master and Margarita, probably the most popular twentieth-century foreign novel in Poland. Finally, at the individual author evenings,Eustachy Rylski and Szczepan Twardoch will appear.
A separate track of the festival will be the series of The Book Industries dedicated to the state of literature in the Polish market. In four meetings led by Marcin Wilk in the bookstore De Revolutionibus, leading Polish critics, editors, publishers and booksellers will participate.
For the second time, the Conrad Award will be presented for the best debut last year. This is a unique distinction in the world of Polish literary prizes – not only because it promotes aspiring writers, but also because the final decision in this competition is taken by the audience at the Conrad Festival. The jury have nominated five artists: Marek Adamik for his novel Sensu sens, Magdalena Kicińska for her biography of Stefania Wilczyńska Pani Stefa, Weronika Murek for Uprawa roślin południowych metodą Miczurina, Żanna Słoniowska for Dom z witrażem and Tomasz Wiśniewski for his collection of miniatures O pochodzeniu łajdaków, czyli opowieści z metra. Voting is now open, and the readers' decision will be helped by a series of festival meetings with the debutants.
Assuming that the youngest read most intensely, the organisers have prepared a range of events for children. In this framework, the Czeczotka Palace will host typographical, literary arts and arts-botanical workshops. The stars of this cycle will be Aleksandra and Daniel Mizieliński – authors of the cult Maps, who will conduct classes on the basis of their albumUnder Earth, Under Water – and the Belgian creator Guido Van Genechten, who, based on images of the bunny Floppy, the most popular hero in his books, will show children how to draw emotions. Children can also take part in the author's meeting with Grzegorz Kasdepkefor the launch of his book Wczoraj, dzisiaj, jutro.
It is literature that helps us to live more intensely, more consciously; to notice details in our own world and the worlds of other people which without it would be unavailable to us. This links to the hope of the Conrad Festival – that thanks to the common experience of literature, we can go where we have never been.