26 October 2017 Hope in the world of Unrest

”Unrest is the leading theme of this year’s festival edition. But this does not mean that we want to frighten the festival audience. We will try to find some positive aspects in this emotion” – assured Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Festival Programme Director, on the first day of the event. After fear and

Where to seek hope, when one can no longer speak, write or even think freely in one’s own country? Monem Mahjoub, a Libyan writer and linguist, found it in… Krakow. The author persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood holds an ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) scholarship for persecuted writers. He received a place to work and financial support from the project. ”I feel at home, I’m safe, I’m coming to life again” – he said at yesterday’s meeting with the festival audience.

Stanisław Lem was also persecuted. In 1941 he managed to escape a pogrom in Lviv. This part of the writer’s biography was forgotten for years, and only recently have been brought to light by researchers: Agnieszka Gajewska and Wojciech Orliński. It was not only about inquisitiveness about the biographical details, but about a better understanding of Lem’s works. “The memory of the trauma of the Holocaust is reflected in his books. It appears in recurrent images of nightmares, dead children, staying in hiding” – explained Gajewska. – “As we become aware of that, the reading of those lines is a really powerful experience”.

As every year, the Festival offered a place mot only to renowned and acclaimed writers but also to those who has just started their writing career. ”One can hardly imagine a better day for a meeting with writers nominated for the Conrad Award than the day devoted to hope” – said Director Jankowicz yesterday. This year’s nominees for the best literary debut award are: Katarzyna Boni, the author of Ganbare! Warsztaty umierania, Anna Cieplak (Ma być czysto), Natalia Fiedorczuk (Jak pokochać centra handlowe), Maciej Sieńczyk (Wśród przyjaciół) and Grzegorz Uzdański (Wakacje). At yesterday’s meeting with readers they explained that the themes of their works might be different but they shared the same motivations: an attempt at analysing the contemporary world and the author’s inner self, and readiness to challenge stereotypes. The award-winner will be selected by internauts (you can vote via the festival website). The winner will be announced on Sunday at the Gala in the ICE Kraków Congress Centre.

Agneta Pleijel also draws inspiration from her intimate feelings. She is ranked among the most popular Swedish writers. She met with the readers a few days after the premiere of the second part of her autobiography. In her book Zapach mężczyzny Pleijel writes about her youth, struggling with traditional morality, gender roles, family relations, and – last but not least – love. ”The book is not only about Sweden and the Swedish but first of all about looking for someone who will be able to fully understand me” – she says.

Since its inception, the Conrad Festival has considered its mission not only to present literature but to take note of phenomena that are overlooked or ignored. One discussion in this edition was devoted to the deaf and their literary experience. ”Learning to use the language is more difficult for the deaf than to their peers, but they read a lot and are keen on creating literature” – said Agnieszka Laskowska – Klimczewska, a linguist and interpreter of the sign language. – ”In their works they write about the life of deaf people and about their relations with the hearing; they often take up fantasy, create utopisa, in which the sign language is generally understood” – said Tonya Stremlau, lecturer at Gallaudet University – the world’s only university where the lectures are given in the sign language. It is a pity that both literary worlds are still separated by a wall and translations from the sign language into the spoken language are still very rare.

The day ended with the lecture by Marc Crépon: ”Is hope possible in the world of hate?”. ”Politicians use hate to achieve specific goals, but hate as such is irrational, has no justification” – argued the French philosopher. – ”Its tool is violence; destruction is its very essence.” However, Crépon gave a positive answer to the title question. – ”A vicious circle of hate can be broken, and we can learn how to do it from such figures as Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Mandela” – he said.

As usual, the festival events were held in the Bishop Czeczotka Mansion. Self-publishing was discussed at De Revolutionibus bookshop. Representatives of European press (Valerie Miles, “Granta", Catharine Morris, "Times Literary Supplement", and Giles Tremlett, "The Guardian") talked with Professor Michał Paweł Markowski about their everyday life and condition of literary criticism. Maciej Piotr Prus talked about his new novel Przyducha in Cafe Szafe.

What does the Conrad Festival have on offer today? For details of the fourth day click: here.