Against the Current: Announcing the first guests of the 7th Conrad Festival

The first guests of the 7th Conrad Festival are: Jonathan Franzen, one of the most important contemporary American novelists; Hooman Majd, a cult Iranian-American writer; Wiesław Myśliwski, a two-time winner of the Nike Literary Prize; and Hanna Krall, a legendary Polish reporter. This year’s most important literary event in Central Europe will take place in Krakow on October 19th-25th.

The direction of this year’s literary search is determined by the slogan Against the Current. The festival will be an opportunity to talk about literature that does not follow the mainstream and wakens us from comfortable lethargy. For the first time in the history of the festival, the Conrad Award for debut writers will be granted this year. The festival is jointly organised by the City of Krakow, the Krakow Festival Office and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation.

One of the first festival guests who confirmed his participation was Illinois-born writer Jonathan Franzen, considered to be one of the most perceptive observers of modern America and the social changes in that part of the world. The extraordinary status gained by Franzen in the United States is well reflected by the fact that he was shown on the cover of the Time magazine, which presented him as a “great American novelist.” He debuted with the novel The Twenty-Seventh City in 1988, but it was The Corrections, originally published in 2001, that brought him international fame and recognition. His new novel Purity will be released in September this year.

In accordance with the years-long tradition of the Conrad Festival, we will focus particularly on hidden places on the map of world literature, less commonly known stories and ideas that have not been fully embraced yet. Our invitation to Krakow was accepted by Teheran-born Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd, the son of a diplomat of the Shah’s government, grandson of one of the Iranian ayatollahs, interpreter for President Ahmadinejad in the United Nations in 2009 and a former interpreter and advisor for President Khatami. Thanks to his unique double perspective, Majd can look at many controversial issues from a non-conventional perspective, explaining the phenomenon of the Iranian Revolution and presenting a genuine description of everyday life in Iran. His texts are published in most important American newspapers, including The New York Times New Yorker and Newsweek. He is known to Polish readers as the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008), The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge (2010) and The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran (2013). We will meet him in Krakow already in October! Against the Current – the guiding idea of this year’s Conrad Festival – may also stand for a conversation going beyond the topics that are loudly promoted by tabloids and dailies.

This direction is consistently pursued by Wiesław Myśliwski, a cult writer with a circle of devoted fans and an excellent stylist characterised as one of the last representatives of the peasant current in Polish literature. Avoiding the mythologisation and nostalgic presentation of the village, Myśliwski shows both the bright and dark sides of rural life, continuously emphasising the key role that it has played in our social and cultural imaginarium until today. Each of the five novels written by him since his debut in 1967 has met with recognition among critics and especially readers. He has won many literary awards and distinctions, including the Nike Literary Prize (twice in 1997 and 2007) and the Gdynia Literary Prize (2007).

Another important name on the list of festival guests is an outstanding reporter Hanna Krall. Both in her novels and reportages, she focuses strongly on the experience of the Holocaust, which she survived as a child hiding in Nazi-occupied Poland. In her texts, she tries to describe the reality where the tragic events of World War II have left wounds that cannot heal. The book that brought her international fame is Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem (Shielding the Flame), an interview with Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She has won many prestigious awards, including the Władysław Reymont Literary Prize and the Julian Tuwim Literary Prize. She was also nominated for the Nike Literary Prize and the Angelus Central European Literary Award. Krall’s works are an example of a consistently built and fully autonomous narrative against the current of mass expectations, political fashions or journalistic temptation.

The Conrad Award for a Debuting Writer

This year’s Conrad Festival is also an opportunity to present and promote on an unprecedented large scale the works of young authors who are only making their first steps in literature. For the first time in history, the Conrad Award for debut writers will be awarded; this nationwide distinction is the missing link on the map of Polish literary awards. This award will be granted every year; however, the winner will be selected by the audience of the festival, not by the jury.The aim of this distinction is to support debuting writers and to encourage publishing houses to invest more generously in young authors. The establishment of the Conrad Award will help to pursue the key goals determined in the Strategy of a UNESCO City of Literature. The award is funded by the City of Krakow, and its partners are the Book Institute, the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation and the Krakow Festival Office.

Partners of Literary Debuts – a publisher support program

A strong supplement to the young literature support project is Partners of Literary Debuts, a program established by the Book Institute that will be implemented in co-operation with the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation and the Conrad Festival. The aim of the project is to provide financial support to publishers who invest in debut authors. Books ready for publication that represent genres such as the novel, short story, essay, poetry, comic book and children’s book can be submitted to the program. Submissions will be accepted by the end of September. The results of the competition will be announced during the Festival. The winning publishing houses will receive a financial prize of 10,000 PLN for the coverage of costs of the first publication of the book.

Creative Writing Course of a UNESCO City of Literature

The culmination of the young author support program will be the Creative Writing Course of a UNESCO City of Literature, which has never been organised before. Classes covered by this course will be conducted by excellent writers, including Marek Krajewski, an author of cult detective novels; Wit Szostak, the winner of Polityka’s Passport award in 2014; and top-class experts from the publishing industry: editors from biggest publishing houses, literary agents, a PR expert and a literary psychologist. Thus up-and-coming writers will have an exceptional opportunity to develop their literary skills not only under the supervision of recognised writers, but also under the guidance of experienced coaches. The course will be held in September and October and its culmination point will be a master’s lecture during the Conrad Festival. At the end of the course, the organisers will recommend the three most talented participants to leading Krakow publishers. Further information about the course is available at: pisz.miastoliteratury.pl. The project is supported financially by the National Culture Centre.

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