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Krakow UNESCO City of Literature, pic. Tomasz Wiech
14 January
2014

The year 2013 in a UNESCO City of Literature

For literary Krakow, the year 2013 meant, above all, being granted the prestigious title of UNESCO City of Literature. On the 21st of October, after nearly three years of efforts, Krakow was included in the network of creative cities in the area of literature as the seventh city in the world. Krakow is the second non-English speaking city apart from Reykjavik and the first in continental Europe in this prestigious and narrow group (Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik, Norwich). Krakow inhabitants and tourists received the news enthusiastically and an interactive phrase made of almost 1.5-meter-tall letters was created in Market Square: Kraków Miasto Literatury UNESCO (Krakow UNESCO City of Literature).

Attention of the international literary community was focused on Krakow already in the first half of the year. In mid-May (between the 14th and the 17th of May), nearly two hundred guests from 50 countries came to Krakow for the Writing Freedom / Pisząc Wolność conference. They mainly included representatives of international institutions: ICORN and PEN International WiPC, as well as creators persecuted for their literary activity. We would like to remind you that since the moment Krakow joined the ICORN International Cities of Refuge Network in 2011, the city played host to Ossetian Marie Amelie deported from Norway, Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer, and in 2013, Mostafa Zamaninja, persecuted writer and publisher from Iran,  all of whom stayed at Villa Decius.

This important congress organised as part of the Reading Malopolska programme was combined with the 3rd Milosz Festival (between the 16th and the 19th of May). At the time, Krakow was visited by many outstanding writers and intellectuals, including: Gary Snyder, Michael Krüger, Norman Davies, Duo Duo, Mark Danner, Juan Gelman, Philip Levine, Richard Lourie, Anthony Miłosz, Sjón, Tomasz Salamun, Lew Rubinstein, and Vera Burlak. Also numerous guests from Poland were there, including: Julia Hartwig, Justyna Bargielska, Stefan Chwin, and Adam Zagajewski. During the festival, premiere volumes of verse by seven festival authors were published, along with the long-awaited anthology of Russian poetry, Wdrapałem się na piedestał, edited by Jerzy Czech. At the beginning of the year (on the 18th of January), Andrzej Franaszek, author of Czesław Miłosz’s biography which premiered during the previous edition of the festival, was honoured with the prestigious Kazimierz Wyka Award, granted for outstanding achievements in essay writing and literary criticism.

Magdalena Piekorz’s film, Widok Krakowa (A View of Krakow), also premiered during the festival. The film focused on literary Krakow and Adam Zagajewski, one of the most outstanding contemporary poets, literary translators, and essayists, honoured with the prestigious Zhongkun literary award, called the “Chinese Nobel Prize”, last year was a special guide to the City of Literature and memories. It is a very atmospheric film, full of archive materials and the poet’s memories of the old masters and fellow writers. The unique atmosphere is emphasised on the screen by Marcin Koszałka’s cinematography.

In June, Krakow was still vibrant with literature and resounded with various languages. Eminent authors from all over the world (including: Durs Grünbein, Edward Hirsch, Gwyneth Lewis, Tomaž Šalamun, Susan Stewart, Jerzy Kronhold, Ryszard Krynicki, Ewa Lipska, and Piotr Sommer) participated in the Krakow Meetings of Poets, invited by Adam Zagajewski. Right after the event, the 3rd World Congress of Translators began, gathering nearly 250 translators representing 41 languages. For the 9th time, the Transatlantyk award was granted. It is awarded to outstanding promoters of Polish literature abroad and this time, the winner was Karol Lesman, translator of Polish literature into Dutch. We ended the month celebrating Ryszard Krynicki’s Jubilee – RK’70 in the company of the poet’s friends, including: Marcin Baran, Marcin Świetlicki, Ewa Lipska, Bronisław Maj, Adam Michnik, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, and Adam Zagajewski.

At the beginning of July, the multimedia, interactive Krakow City of Literature portal (www.miastoliteratury.pl) was launched – constituting a regularly updated compendium of knowledge on literary Krakow. Books also appeared on the city’s streets, mainly thanks to the Krakow’s Virtual Library campaign promoting reading with the use of new technologies. Nearly twenty Krakow publishing houses joined forces for the first time, and 60 bus stops in the centre of the city were turned into a QR-code library, offering more than 70 titles. The campaign enjoyed huge interest among readers, who downloaded free passages from e-books more than 10,000 times! During the second edition of the campaign, this time accompanying the Conrad Festival and the Book Fair in Krakow, the reading epidemic spread all over Poland, reaching the country’s 6 largest cities.

In mid-August, sad news arrived from Nice. Sławomir Mrożek, outstanding writer and dramatist, died at 83. He was connected with Krakow for years, he debuted in Dziennik Polski and it was here that his plays were staged. Sławomir Mrożek’s funeral was held on the 17th of September, and the writer was buried in the National Pantheon in Krakow’s Saint Peter and Paul’s Church.

Towards the end of October, the 5th edition of the Conrad Festival – the largest literary event in the country began. More than 140 guests from all over the world and a select circle of Polish writers took part in nearly 100 meetings and accompanying events. The Krakow audience had the chance to meet authors such as: Anne Applebaum, Houshang Asadi, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Kiran Desai, Asa Larssson, Claudio Magris, Cees Nooteboom, the Brothers Quay, Peter Sloterdijk, Timothy D. Snyder, and Mostafa Zamaninja, as well as Sylwia Chutnik, Szczepan Twardoch, Marek Bieńczyk, and Joanna Bator. Just as every year, the Festival was held in close cooperation with the largest book fair in Poland, the Book Fair in Krakow, which noted a record number of visitors in 2013 (more than 40,000 visitors). During the fair, the Jan Długosz Prize was traditionally awarded, honouring the author of the best book from the area of the humanities. This time, it went to historian and political scientist Jerzy Holzer, author of Europa zimnej wojny.

On the 16th of November, the Wisława Szymborska Poetry Award was granted for the first time in history. The international Jury awarded it jointly to poets: Krystyna Dąbrowska and Łukasz Jarosz.

The year 2013 was also a year of important jubilees. Wydawnictwo Literackie, established in 1953, celebrated its 60th anniversary. This one of the most important publishing houses in the country had many reasons to be happy. They included voices of recognition for Szczepan Twardoch, awarded with the 2012 Polityka’s Passport, coming from far and near, and the important premieres on the Polish publishing market: Witold Gombrowicz’s Kronos and Jerzy Pilch’s Drugi dziennik. The Znak monthly, which has been coming out since 1946, published its 700th issue.

We also had reasons to celebrate. Our literary projects were recognised and awarded prestigious prizes. The multimedia readingmalopolska.pl portal received the Paper Screen – an award for the best website about books. A jury consisting of Krakow’s cultural journalists awarded two of our projects: the Virtual Library of Publishers and the Second Life of a Book – a cyclical book swap campaign, which enjoys huge popularity, granting them the prestigious Radio Krakow Brand right after the holidays, right on the air of Radio Krakow. As a confirmation of our literary success and spectacular events, Dziennik Polski journalists acknowledged the fact of Krakow being granted the title of a UNESCO City of Literature as the most important and the most prestigious event of the year TOPy i WTOPy Roku (UPs and DOWNs of the Year) in the New Year’s poll. Thank you!

All this would have been hard to accomplish if it wasn’t for the support of our partners. We would like to thank in particular: the Book Institute, the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation, the Wisława Szymborska Foundation, the City of Literature Foundation, the ZNACZY SIĘ New Art Foundation, Krakow’s publishers, the Regional Public Library and the municipal libraries, the Cervantes Institute, the French Institute, the Goethe Institute, and the Italian Institute, the Villa Decius Association, the International Cultural Centre, as well as Krakow’s bookstores: Lokator, Matras, and Pod Globusem.

We wish all our readers as many opportunities for as many frequent meetings with literature as possible in 2014. Any time and in any corner of the UNESCO City of Literature!