14 June 2022 COMMUNITIES. Announcing the 14th Conrad Festival
This year’s headline of the Conrad Festival can be understood in a variety of ways, as COMMUNITIES can be perceived as bosth opportunities and threats.
This was one of the topics covered by the organisers and guests during the press conference of the Festival, which took place in the former building of the PKP railway station in Krakow. The most important literary event in Poland will take place on 24-30 October. As usual, the event will be crowned by the Conrad Award Gala, and the winner of the annual Award will be selected by the Jury, which was recently joined by new members. In addition to the main events of the Festival, the year will also feature a series of meetings with esteemed authors spanning all twelve months. The first guest speaker will be Abdulrazak Gurnah, a Zanzibar-born British writer and winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature.
After a hiatus and a change of plans caused by the pandemic, which forced us to switch the formula of the event, the Conrad Festival goes back to in-person meetings. “I think we have all been itching to meet our audience face-to-face yet again, without having to do it via the screens,” says Magdalena Doksa-Tverberg, head of the KBF. “Being closer together is something we all need these days, especially in these troubled times. That is why we decided to hold this press event in such a unique place. Until not that long ago, the former train station building was the first refuge for many people forced to leave the war-stricken Ukraine. The Jan Nowak-Jeziorański Square and other places in Krakow are still home to numerous volunteers, who deserve a great deal of respect and recognition for their efforts. We do not forget about the people of Ukraine – the 14th Conrad Festival is also for them. We decided that the festival events will be translated into Ukrainian,” Magdalena Doksa-Tverberg added.
“According to the dictionary, the word community has three meanings. First of all, it is the condition of sharing or having certain features in common. Second, it means the things that bring us together and combine various elements into a group. Finally, it also denotes to a group of people connected by their history, culture or goals,” said Grzegorz Jankowicz, programming director of the Conrad Festival. As he noted, the seemingly obvious concept of community raises a number of questions that are not easily answered.
Their importance was pointed out by Professor Michał Paweł Markowski, artistic director of the Conrad Festival: “Do we know for sure what communities are and how they work? Why do they arise and for why do they disappear? Are communities something of value by their very definition? How do we define what is common in a community? Is belonging to multiple communities reprehensible or desirable? Is it possible to get out of a community? When are we allowed to criticise them? What happens when we put the interests of the community ahead of the interests of the individual? Is there a way to build community around literature? Are they formed around authors, books, ideas, worldviews? Or perhaps they emerge out of a desire to be together in certain circumstances?”
We will search for answers to these questions together with eminent writers invited to Krakow. Although the main part of the festival traditionally takes place in the fall, and this year’s edition of the Festival will take place on 24-30 October, the year-long series of talks headlined NATURE OF THE FUTURE will start on 26 May. It is a response to the calls of our audiences, who pointed out the need for more frequent encounters with literature at the highest level.
The year-long festival series will start with a meeting with Abdulrazak Gurnah. This British author and professor emeritus of the University of Kent has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was born on Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa, which was shaken by revolutions and conflict in the 20th century. In the 1960s, he fled to England. His academic interests and themes he takes up in his work are related to his experiences as refugees, being torn between cultures, building his identity and a new life in a new, foreign place. The meeting will be broadcast to the Conrad Festival fanpage on Facebook and to the PLAY KRAKÓW platform.
In the fall, we will have an opportunity to meet Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito, who became famous for his original concepts of community and biopolitics – a complex notion that refers to the relationship between the authorities, living organisms and their environment. He currently teaches at the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. Esposito has repeatedly entered into dialogue with philosophers from all over the world. His Community, Immunity, Biopolitics was published in Polish.
The Conrad Festival will also host Carmen Maria Machado, writer and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose articles have been published in New Yorker and the New York Times. In her stories, she explores a variety of themes, including women’s bodies and their control over them. Her autobiographical novel In the Dream House, an analysis of a toxic relationship and the stereotypical perception of lesbian relationships, made quite a stir in the literary world. In her work, Machado combines realism with elements of fantasy and magical realism. She has won the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Fiction, and the John Leonard Prize awarded by the National Book Critics Circle.
Eva Meijer, a Dutch writer, visual artist, songwriter and performer, has also confirmed that she is going to attend the Festival. In 2017, she successfully defended her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, and her dissertation received the Praemium Erasmianum Dissertation Prize. Meijer focuses on issues concerning language and social justice, as well as animal communication. She wrote twelve books that have been translated into eighteen languages and nominated for numerous literary awards. Several of her books were published in Polish, including The Limits of My Language: Meditations on Depression, Bird Cottage, Animal Languages: The Secret Conversations of the Living World, and When Animals Speak: Toward an Interspecies Democracy.
Prestigious award for new writers
The Conrad Award for the best literary debut, which has been presented since 2015, remains one of the most important contemporary literary awards in Poland. It is part of the Krakow – UNESCO City of Literature programme and a joint venture of the City of Krakow,, KBF and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation. The winner of the contest receives a statuette and a financial prize of 30 000 PLN. Winners of the Award are also entitled to a one-month residency stay in Krakow, while their book is promoted in Tygodnik Powszechny.
“The Award offers a great deal support for new writers on various stages of their work, and – most importantly – it offers the literary community a chance to see the new faces and hear new voices. As the founder and sponsor of the Conrad Award, the City of Krakow opens up space for fresh and unobvious narratives. Even though the new writers are yet to break through and find their place in the general consciousness, they already offer mature and inspiring works,” said Robert Piaskowski, representative of the Mayor of the City of Krakow for Culture.
The list of winners of the Conrad Award to date includes Liliana Hermetz, Żanna Słoniowska, Anna Cieplak, Weronika Gogola, Olga Hund, Dorota Kotas and Elżbieta Łapczyńska, who joined us during the conference. All the laureates continue to write and their later books were released by the most prominent among Polish publishing houses. The Contest Jury awaits submissions of candidates for this year’s Award, which may be submitted until 30 April by authors themselves and their publishers. The shortlist of the nominated works will be announced on 3 October, and the name of the winner will be presented on 30 October during the Conrad Award Gala at the ICE Krakow Congress Centre.
“The Founders, Sponsors and the Organisers of the Conrad Award make every effort to ensure that the Award is given and presented to the winners in line with the highest standards,” said Grzegorz Jankowicz. “This year’s Jury members were asked to refrain from accepting positions on other juries of any Polish literary awards during their term. It was met with complete understanding.”
The Jury of the Conrad Award is made up of a diverse group of literary critics. This year, it will be joined by Julia Fiedorczuk (writer, poet, translator and professor at the Institute of English Studies of the University of Warsaw), Monika Ochędowska (journalist of Dwutygodnik and Tygodnik Powszechny), Olga Stanisławska (essayist, curator and author of reportages on Africa and the Middle East) and Błażej Warkocki (literary critic and professor at the Department of Anthropology of Literature at the Faculty of Polish and Classical Philology of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań). The Jury also includes members, who have been working with the Festival for a number of years now, including Urszula Chwalba (executive director of the Conrad Festival and head of the Literary Department at the KBF), Grzegorz Jankowicz (philosopher of literature, translator, editor of the Culture column in Tygodnik Powszechny, director of literary programmes at the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation) and Joanna Szulborska (theatre scholar, professor and culture manager). The Jury will be led by Professor Michał Paweł Markowski (literature theoretician, professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he heads the Faculty of Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian Studies).
The Conrad Festival is organised by the City of Krakow, KBF and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation. The events of the main programme and the accompanying events will be held in Krakow in the in-person formula. The recordings will be available on the KBF channel on YouTube, on the Conrad Festival and the Tygodnik Powszechny fanpages on Facebook, as well as on the PLAY KRAKÓW platform.
Check out the Conrad Festival: