31 October 2016 Leaving the comfort zone – points on the map of Conrad Festival

Let us say it right away, Żanna Słoniowska is the winner of this year’s Conrad Award. The author of The House with the Stained-Glass Window shared her personal experience of being involved in literature when she received her statuette.

For her, writing became an important and risky activity, since it required – first and foremost – leaving her comfort zone.

All Sunday meetings were invitations to setting our own points on the map – the imagined and the real one, literary and geographical.

Grażyna Plebanek and David Van Reybrouck asked a simple question: “Whose Africa?” during a meeting hosted by Maciej Jakubowiak. The meeting was devoted to colonialism and making up for historical and cultural omissions. David Van Reybrouck brought our attention to the fact that the way countries deal with their shameful past can be something to be proud of. To illustrate that, he brought up the example of Germany, a country which had to deal with the dark pages of its history. In his opinion, the time to do the same has come for Belgium and the Congo, as both countries are already mature enough for a discussion, which up to that point had a very hysterical course: “People screamed on both sides, some even tried to defend the colonial adventure... Only now people are starting to discuss post-colonialism”, he said. He also noted the change that took place in literature: “The intellectuals from the Congo ask me how the intellectual tourism works. The West is finally taking an interest in the Congo, its art, literature and what local writers have to say”. Grażyna Plebanek emphasised the fact that the effects of colonial exclusion reach as far as the second generation of immigrants. Children of immigrants, who were actually born and raised in their new country constantly stumble upon situations, where they are asked: “Where did you learn French so well?”

fot. Hasenien Dousery | www.blackshadowstudio.com
fot. Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com 

Another place on the map, visited by the participants of the Festival was Israel. The meeting titled “Israel is literature” was hosted by Agnieszka Podpora. The invited guests – Eshkol Nevo, Yishai Sarid and Zeruya Shalev – discussed the diverse faces of Israel. On the one hand, it is the paradise for storytellers, as conflicts are literally on the streets and sometimes it is enough to simply open your eyes and describe them, and there are stories to be discovered in almost every corner of Israel. The same can be said about the Hebrew language, since there is a biblical tradition behind every phrase and sentence. On the other hand, life in Israel is marked by a certain kind of pathology. How do you write about love, when buses are burning right next to you? This is how the sense of doubt sets in, doubt whether writing has any sense, when your life is constantly in danger. The participants of the meeting agreed that the most important task, which literature has to fulfil is to create space for dialogue outside of political discourse.

During the meeting titled “Bulgakov and translation: a family history”, the festival audience met Grzegorz, Leokadia and Igor Przebinda. The host – Tomasz Fiałkowski – stated that he was not going to ask about the reason for creating a new translation of Master and Margarita. According to him, this is a non-issue, as the translations should be refreshed along with changes taking place in language. “We translated as a trio, because we would not be able to do this alone”, the translators confessed.

In a lecture during the Conrad Award Gala, Géza Röhrig discussed the significance of memory and the religious view on reality. Michał Paweł Markowski reminded us that literature is a discursive war against the weight of a habit, and Grzegorz Jankowicz emphasised that literature is a space, where freedom is constantly practised. Apart from solemn and sophisticated words, there was also time for familiarity. “I am 10 years old. Conrad is ok. Literature helps us grow” – this, and some more entries from the Festival’s memorial book were read from the stage. The award for the best debut went to Żanna Słoniowska. The artist did not hide her emotions. The official Gala ended with a photograph with the audience, and the discussions about literature moved from the Congress Centre to the various corners in the literary Krakow.

The Festival is supported by EDF Poland – the patron of the KBF, Volvo Wadowscy, PZU SA and the John Paul II International Airport Krakow Balice Ltd.