3 November 2014 The Conrad Festival Charmed Us with Literature for the Sixth Time

The Festival’s growing position, unflagging enthusiasm of readers and unusual variety of events: at the 6th Conrad Festival, which came to a close on the 26th of October, we witnessed over 150 literary events welcoming nearly 160 guests from Poland and abroad, interesting meetings, creative debates, common reading, attractions for children and senior citizens, film screenings, exhibitions, concerts and an exceptional opportunity to exchange experience with Polish and foreign partners. The Festival is a flag festival of Krakow, the UNESCO City of Literature, Krakow Festival Office and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation. This year, several thousand people visited the Festival.

The Conrad Festival is currently considered to be one of the most important European literary festivals. It is shown not only by the numbers – 36 official delegations from 21 countries – but also by the distinguished names of writers from Poland and the world. This year, the Festival invited bestselling authors speaking 22 world languages, who attracted thousands of readers, lured not only by the possibility of meeting their beloved authors but also by the atmosphere of the literary capital of Poland, celebrating the first anniversary of the title of the UNESCO City of Literature. During this year’s edition, Krakow welcomed true giants of contemporary literature: the famous writer and director from New York, Paul Auster, the Catalan author of the best-selling Jo confesso (I Confess), Jaume Cabré, one of most widely read Russian writers, Boris Akunin, and the Palestinian writer and human rights activist, Raja Shehadeh. Other writers, including Edgar Keret, Milijenko Jergović, Kateřina Tučkova, John Banville, Jacques Jouet and Jacques Rancière, met their readers as well. Enthusiasts of the Polish reportage could listen to Jacek Hugo-Bader, and participate in the premier of Olga Tokarczuk’s latest novel. Readers attended meetings with Inga Iwasiów, Jerzy Sosnowski, Szczepan Twardoch, Lawon Barszczeuski, Janusz Głowacki, Maciej Zaremba Bielawski, or essayists: Marek Bieńczyk, Dariusz Czaja, Jan Gondowicz, Krzysztof Rutkowski, and many other authors.

At the Festival, there were also discussions devoted to the future of the book as the medium of literature. The Book Industries series was a response to the postulate that support should be given to all groups involved in the functioning of literature and of book industries, which was part of the application to the UNESCO. At the Conrad Festival, experts in publishing and bookselling industries along with new media specialists talked about the present condition of the book market, methods of upgrading skills of people involved in developing the framework for the market operation, as well as the role of new media, including the blogosphere, in promoting readership as an important support instrument to the book market. The debate attended by Polish and German booksellers, including the important networks Dussman i Shurkamp, was extraordinarily significant. The main problem discussed was the future of bookshops: the participants tried to answer the questions: what sort of bookshops had a chance to survive the readership crisis that had been announced for many years, and how to change traditional bookshops into culture making places. German publishers talked also about ways to promote Polish literature abroad.

The honorary guest of the Festival was the literary Edinburgh, the first city in the world to receive the title of the UNESCO City of Literature. The capital of Scotland had supported Krakow in receiving the same title so meeting Edinburgh on the occasion of the Conrad Festival was an opportunity to renew the agreement of partner cooperation between the two cities.Krakow welcomed the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Donald Wilson, and important representatives of Scottish literary and cultural life.The participants of the meeting talked not only about the poetry and prose of Edinburgh, but discussed also an exceptionally important issue of the literary politics of the city. Experts responsible for the literary image of Edinburgh, including the head of the biggest book festival in the world, Nick Barley, told us about the challenges for the first Creative City in the category of literature. The meeting with Edinburgh was completed by reading Edinburgh poems projected at the corner of Bracka Street and the Main Market Square as part of the Multipoetry project, as well as the symbolic illumination of the Conrad Festival lighthouse on the Town Hall Tower. The illumination ceremony was accompanied by a group of traditional Scottish bagpipers in national Scottish uniforms, who attracted crowds of tourists interested in the event.

The Festival proposed a wide literary and workshop programme for each age category. The weekend part of the Festival was devoted to writing workshops for children and to reading to kids. Artistic workshops, film screenings and workshops developing imagination took place. Young literature enthusiasts got to know what the process of book making looks like, they learnt how to draw book covers and book illustrations and listened to books read aloud. All these activities were aimed at teaching young book lovers that literature means above all good entertainment and a journey to the world of imagination. This childlike joy of communing with a book should turn into true reading passion in adult life. Upper secondary schools’ students met, during the famous “Reading Lessons”, with the texts of Tabucchi, Pessoa, Dick, Chutnik and Hoffman, and senior citizens learned how to write creatively at workshops moderated by Michał Olszewski and Katarzyna Kubisiowska.

The special patron of this year’s edition of the Festival was Franz Kafka. An interesting context for reflecting on the condition of the contemporary man, around the figure of the famous Prague writer, was created by: a puppet show of the Thalisas Kompagnons theatre from Nuremberg, a concert of the Kafka Band composed of the writer Jaroslav Rudiš, the graphic artist and musician Jaromir 99 and other Czech artists, finally by an intriguing exhibition at the Arteteka.

As every year, the Festival became an impressive theatre of translations from the following languages: French, German, Ukrainian, Greek, Catalan, Hebrew, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Croat, Romanian, Belarussian, Icelandic, Swedish, English. The total number of languages spoken at the Festival was 22.

The writers’ autographs on the readers’ beloved volumes, unforgettable meetings with unusual literary personalities and numerous events from the fields of music, art and cinema – all this is only one part of the Conrad Festival. The Festival is above all a great, colourful campaign for the promotion of readership and a voice encouraging to reach for books. Full auditoriums at meetings with authors and hundreds of readers waiting to meet a writer is a sign that the love of literature is still alive and a lot of people remain faithful to the reading passion. This joy can be given only by excellent literature.

Already today, we invite you to the next year’s edition, when the light from the Town Hall Tower will announce Krakow being the world capital of literature for the seventh time.