A Literary Celebration of the Polish Book in Paris

The first day of the Parisian book fair was filled with conversations about reportage, Polish poetry and the connections between literature and film. Key Polish artists met with readers, translators and the French media. On the occasion of the most important book fair in the French speaking world, the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Małgorzata Omilanowska, and the French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, signed a declaration of continued mutual cultural collaboration between Poland and France. They declared that they will concentrate their cooperation on collaboration between the two countries’ audiovisual sector and institutions, as well as mutual promotion of literature and reading.

One of the important events of the Paris Book Fair was the signing of a declaration of cooperation betweenthe Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Małgorzata Omilanowska, and the French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin. The two sides declared that cooperation is particularly important in the area of the popularization of reading and literature. One step taken already towards this goal is the invitation of France as a special guest of honor to the Book Fair in Warsaw in 2015 as well as the invitation of Krakow and Wroclaw as guests of honor during the Salon du livre in Paris. The declaration emphasized the importance of the collaboration between museums as well as the significant cultural heritage that ties the two countries. The Ministers affirmed that they will work together at the EU level in an effort to back political legislation that supports the development of the arts and culture, recognizes the value of cultural heritage and supports universal access to culture. They underscored the significance of the cultural politics that strengthen and support literary works of the highest quality.

An equally important event connected with European regulations of the book market was the joint declaration concerning the standardization of taxes on printed and digital books, signed yesterday by the Ministers of Culture from Poland, France, Germany and Italy. Underlining the role of new technologies and digital literature for the future of the book, the Ministers called on the European Commission to set the tone for the development of European copyright, which will lead to the more widespread implementation of the lowered tax rate on all books, printed and digital. The stance of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage is in agreement with that of the Polish government following a 2013 decision on this matter.

On Friday, at the Polish stand, twelve meetings took place with authors representing the most important aspects of literary heritage in Poland and France as well as the most interesting and most popular trends in contemporary literature in both countries. Accompanying these events were workshops for children as well as a presentation of the newest translations of Polish literature into French. There were book signings by Norman Davies, Mariusz Szczygieł, Olga Tokarczuk, Joanna Bator and Marzena Sowa, the author of the extraordinarily popular comic book series Marzi.

The event with Jurij Andruchowycz, Norman Davies and Mariusz Szczygieł drew real crowds. The meeting presented the uniqueness of the Central European experience in the context of reflections on the topos of the city – an important catalyst of change, a space for many languages and cultures as well as traditions in this macroregion. Listeners also had the opportunity to learn about the richness and liveliness of Polish poetry as presented by Urszula Kozioł and Ewa Lipska. Hundreds of people listened to the conversation between Olga Tokarczuk and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. The beloved French writer warmly encouraged readers to pick up Tokarczuk’s books. The public’s attention was also captured by a discussion on feminism in literature with the participation of Joanna Bator and key French anthropologists and cultural philosophers working on gender studies, including Catherine Deschamps, Geneviève Fraisse and Patrick Jean.

The event with Roman Polański was met with great enthusiasm. The Krakow born director of international acclaim talked about the literature that influenced his films. Impressions based on Shakespeare to Yasmin Reza and adaptations of Dickens’ work were discussed, as was collaboration with Robert Harris, the author of the screenplay for Ghostwriter. The director revealed bits and pieces from his new movie, set partially in Krakow, the Dreyfus Affair. He discussed European literature in the context of his films. The conversation was also very sentimental. Polański talked a lot about Krakow, a city to which his family moved in the 1930s. He reminisced about his childhood and shared his experiences which served as inspiration for his work.

During the first day of the fair we also discussed the literary politics of both cities and confronted the Polish experience with that of the French. The largest literary festivals in Poland were presented, along with the programs of Krakow UNESCO City of Literature and Wroclaw UNESCO World Book Capital 2016. The role of the region in the International Cities of Refuge Network as well as Wroclaw’s plans to join the network was underlined. New media initiatives that aim to promote reading and literature were mentioned. Representatives from France, Robert Piaskowski – Coordinator of the UNESCO City of Literature program in Krakow, as well as Irek Grin – curator of the literary program for the Wroclaw 2016 European Capital of Culture and the UNESCO World Book Capital 2016 titles exchanged their experiences in the area of the promotion of literature and creative societies.

On Saturday, the Polish program was equally rich and intensive. Alongside discussions about Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor and Bruno Schulz, a discussion between Olga Stanisławska, Mariusz Szczygieł and Wojciech Tochman took place about the strength and specificity of Polish reportage. Joanna Olech and Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod talked about how to write books for children and Norman Davies and the President of Wroclaw, Rafał Dutkiewicz presented the history of Lower Silesia as a paradigm for Central Europe on the basis of the British author’s book Microcosmos The French public also met with cartoonist Grzegorz Rosiński, who in conversation with Patrick Gaumer, talked about Thorgal, a phenomenon in contemporary European popular culture.

Polish literature translated into French has sparked great interest at the stand’s book shop organized by the French chain FNAC. The Polish bookstore is visited by thousands of French readers, who enthusiastically purchase books by Kapuściński, Tokarczuk, Miłoszewski, Krajewski and Olga Tokarczuk. Polish classics are also selling splendidly, including Gombrowicz and other essayists and prose writers.