31 October 2017 The 9th Conrad Festival or seven days of unrest

119 guests, over 100 events, workshops for children, streams: antidiscrimination, Lviv and book industries, concerts, film screenings. exhibitions... This is what the 9th edition of the Conrad Festival which closed on Sunday looked like.

Unrest was the leading motif of the Festival. For seven festival days, our guests from four continents discussed its source, consequences and how to alleviate it, and if we can find any positive aspects in this emotion that is generally considered negative. And as the origins of festival guests and literature they created were different, their points of view and diagnoses differed. The French sociologist Nilüfer Göle explained that what we generally see as disturbing – disputes about building the mosques, wearing hijab or eating halal food, are in fact signs of progressing integration. American Arlie Russel Hochschild, explained why her compatriots put their future in the hands of Donald Trump. Students of the Polish School of Reportage and writers Weronika Gogola and Wioletta Grzegorzewska, discovered the secrets of Polish province. Agneta Pleijel and Siri Hustevedt presented feminist narrations. Dan Brown (who gathered crowds at a meeting in Kijów Cinema) shared his vision of the future of religion. Maciej Zaremba-Bielawski suggested where to seek the truth in the era of post-truth.

The guests also discussed the works of the patron of the festival. This year the participants focused in particular in the way he dealt with the issue of colonialism. Catherine Anyango talked about the graphic novel which she created on the basis of The Heart of Darkness. Magda Heydel and Jacek Dukaj talked about their translations of the story. Agata Bielik Robson and Ryszard Koziołek wondered why we can dislike Joseph Conrad and its the crotics are right to accuse him of imperialism.

– Conrad takes up the issue of the modernisation project but he does not judge it. All of his characters eventually surrender, they seem to say: I don’t understand this world and never will, said Bielik-Robson. Adam Hochschild also talked about this issue at his Conrad Lecture. He pointed out that, interestingly, Conrad was one of the few 19th-century writers who took up the issue of European imperialism. – It is like no German author had not written about the Holocaust in the 20th century – explained the lecturer. – I think would he live in our times, how would appeal for admission of our brothers -- refugees.

A large part of the Festival’s programme was devoted to biographers. Festival guests discussed unknown facts from the lives of Stanisław Lem, Zdzisław and Tomasz Beksiński, Bolesław Prus and Witold Gombrowicz and wondered why to write biographies. – For adult readers biographies are something like fairy tales are for children – said Klementyna Suchanow, the author of the book Gombrowicz. Ja, geniusz. – Let’s read them to learn who our authorities are, how the world functions and where we come from.

From the very beginning the Conrad Festival has considered it its mission not only to promote literature but also to attract attention to phenomena that are either neglected or ignored. This year it was literature of the deaf and prose and poetry created or read in correction facilities. It may seem that the two groups in question are completely different but both of them need to struggle with stereotypes and for both of them literature is an important instrument helping to explore the world and find their own role in the world (let us mention but the high level of readership observed in those groups to prove how important it is for them). – Influencing the society is the duty of art – said Maria Dąbrowska - Majewska, the president of Zmiana Foundation which, among other things, sends books to prison libraries.

The Festival ended with the Conrad Award Gala. This year the award went to Anna Cieplak, the author of the novel Ma być czysto about the life of lower secondary school students. The awards for the best translators went to Magdalena Sipowicz and Renata Szpilska and to the moderator to Anna Goc

The Conrad Festival continues for longer than a week. Ideas shared by its guests are grasped by the audience, institutions, culture animators, who develop them and so the event continues throughout the whole year – said Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Programme Director of the Festival at the Conrad Award Gala.

Indeed, we can still watch exhibitions accompanying the Festival: The New Region of the World at Bunkier Sztuki Gallery; A Long, Long Time Ago… the Bible According to Serge Bloch and Fredéric Boyer at the Wyspiańsk Pavilion, Günter Grass – the Gdansk Collection on the Way at the Nuremberg House and the 10th Anniversary of Ryms at Bonabookshop. And, of course, let’s read books, not only by Joseph Conrad but also by our Festival guests.