Looking outside, we can see the Town Hall and a beam of light shining into the darkness. From the window of Czeczotka Palace, you can see the Market Square and the Cloth Hall. If you look at the window at the right angle, you will also see your own reflection in the window pane…
People gather at Czeczotka Palace. “I’ve been here since early morning”, said someone, who was supposed to leave two hours ago and yet stayed for a while to listen. “I just couldn’t resist”, said someone else, who was going to come only on Monday, but stayed until Sunday. Almost 15 000 participants took part in the week-long celebration of literature in Krakow.
“We think about literature the same as writers and readers” - this democratic formula comprises the concept of the Conrad Festival, which for years has been building a deep bond with its audience, to whom it has also started leaving significant decisions. During the Festival, the audience not only participates actively in meetings, but also gives out awards, with the most important being the Conrad Award for the best debut. Its aim is to bring attention to the writers, who have only just started to gather their audience. During the meeting titled “Literature, or the 18th camel”, a kind of a symbolic opening of the Festival, Grzegorz Jankowicz told us that it is all about inviting the writers back to reality, so that they can start working on it in some way. Working with senses, language and emotions, not free from tensions, but leading to mapping the world anew.
The idea of intensity was reflected in the involvement of the writers and readers. This year’s Conrad Award laureate, Żanna Słoniowska reminded us that literature is stepping out of one’s comfort zone. It requires crossing the borders of one’s own world view, leaning towards someone else’s emotions and experiences, noticing other discourses. Samar Yazbek reminded us of the meaning of literature for social life by noting that only knowledge of other cultures can conquer hatred. The participants of the Festival had the opportunity to learn more about the Congo, Syria and Israel. The invited Israeli authors brought our attention to the fact that literature is the best alternative in a divided and simplified world, since it stands in opposition to the political discourse, which trivialises and vulgarises reality. It allows the language to renew, which is necessary, lest it become a shell, restraining reality. The same sentiment was also brought up by Ukrainian writers and the authors of a new translation of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Ida Linde shared her faith in literature with the audience: “I am deeply convinced that literature will survive the period where everything seems to be black and white. It will allow us to be different and preserve the shades of grey”.
This year’s Conrad Festival forced us to find our own answers to the question: “What is literature?” However, it did not step back from all circumstances and contexts, in which literature is created and crafted. Also the material aspect of literature was discussed in the “Book Industries” section, presenting literary production from behind the scenes, showing the work of editors, publishers, book sellers and literary critics. The Festival also consistently emphasises the role of translators and their merits in the cultural development. This year they were also distinguished with a special award for the translators involved in the Festival itself. An additional prize was also given out to the moderators, who hosted the meetings. The Festival, organised at the Czeczotka House for the first time, became a space conducive to exchanging ideas and friendly meetings. We could take part in film screenings, exhibitions, workshops and accompanying events for children.
And what did the writers say about their audience?
Eleanor Catton admitted that she wants to understand the needs of her readers, what interests them and what they are looking for in her books. Richard Flanagan declared that the reader is more intelligent than him, because it is the reader who invents the novel and can guide the soul of the entire story. Michael Cunningham confessed that he writes his books for a few people, maybe four or five friends. “If someone else wants to read them, it’s fine, but I do not think that I can take over the crowd”, said the writer, making the audience laugh.
The project was financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
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.
Read more at: www.conradfestival.com