Conrad Festival, or seven days of literature. A look back.

In the beginning, there was an idea: “Against the current”, which became a slogan of the 7th edition of the Conrad Festival. Then, the following months were filled with intensive preparations, brainstorming sessions, arranging programmes, adding new names to the list of important figures from the literary world, who would soon visit Krakow. Great aspirations, but not without concerns. And when the festival week finally arrived, our hopes surpassed the reality. For seven exceptional days, Krakow became a city where pure literature was celebrated, a city of meetings with great authors, intellectual ferment and development of daring visions. Great names, creative workshops, exhibitions, thematic programmes, inspiring movies and – especially – the Conrad Award, given out for the first time in history, despite the variety, they all became elements of the beautiful whole.

It is time to reflect upon the past once more, and it is definitely worth doing that, since this year’s edition of the Festival was a breakthrough in many aspects. First of all, we cannot overstate our satisfaction with the fact that our intuition didn’t fail, and our guest, Svetlana Alexievich, received the Nobel Prize in Literature just a few days before the Festival. The interest in the meeting “Russia’s unwomanly face” was enormous – the audience filled the Auditorium Maximum, which is designed for over 1000 people, to the brim), and the discussion with the author was very moving. It is worth remembering the motto of the author herself: “take care of the human being in yourself”

The Festival was full of many memorable meetings, which attracted crowds to the Pałac pod Baranami. We had the opportunity to listen to Jonathan Franzen twice, and on both occasions we observed with delight how the American writer captivated the audience. The same happened during the meeting with Hanna Krall, an exceptional figure of Polish reportage, and her discussion partners – Mariusz Szczygieł and Wojciech Tochman. We also had a chance to host Olga Tokarczuk, the laureate of this year’s Literary Nike Award, who during a meeting titled “Missing worlds” talked about her need for rebellious writing and where it comes from. In her novel, The Books of Jacob, such writing was an attempt to restore the lost historical memory and identity. Wiesław Myśliwski surprised us with his concise, but at the same time clear remarks on the role of a novel as a way to find one’s place in the world. At the same time we could get rid of several clichés, which are often attributed to the author’s creations. The discussion with Hooman Majd gave us a unique insight into his experience of living in Iran. Majd wasn’t the only “Translator of Cultures” among our guests – we need only mention Kamel Daoud, our guests who participated in the Lithuanian programme, or György Spiró, who gave us a chance to look closely on Polish and Hungarian culture.

This year was the first, where we emphasised the role of debut authors in the literary world, and we did it spectacularly, by establishing and awarding the Conrad Award. Internet voters eagerly participated in the plebiscite to select the best debut out of five nominated books. The winner turned out to be Alicyjka by Liliana Hermetz, a moving, multi-levelled and multi-faceted story of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, and a difficult process of rebuilding one’s own identity. The award of 30,000 PLN was given out during a gala on the last day of the Festival. We hope that the idea of this award will be a strong inspiration for both the writers and the publishers.

We are very proud of this year’s Book Industries programme, especially the series “The book: a high risk product”. The discussions, which attracted the publishers, booksellers, editors, graphic designers and other people, who take part in the publishing process, really refreshed our view on the situation of the book in our country. They were also a great source of interesting proposals for solutions, especially ones inspired by solutions which already worked in other countries.

The literary world intermingled with other areas of art and imagination even more than in the previous years – especially with virtual reality. The fine arts and films were accompanied by video games, thanks to Igor Sarzyński and Jakub Szamałek from CD Projekt we could learn (even from the practical side) how to write video game scenarios, including international blockbusters such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The Festival was strongly visible in the virtual space, too! Facebook, Twitter and Instagram really helped us maintain fast and constant contact with our participants and allowed Internet users to experience the aura of those exceptional events. Live streaming on Periscope, allowing the viewers to participate in the live events, was a new experience for us, and yet it proved to be very useful and helpful, especially during the most crowded meetings. This is also one of our goals for the future – to expand, facilitate and enhance the experiences using modern channels.

We are very happy that we were able to organise such an event for over 15,000 people (a thousand of whom participated using our live streaming). We gathered lots of data (and we will of course share them with you), that presents an impressive image of the scale of festival’s events, as well as lets us draw conclusions for the future. On the other hand – individual experiences will always be the most important for us. The close contact with literature, a quick glance at the lining of the world of meanings and imagination… We will meet again in a year – as for now, we enthusiastically begin the preparations for the next edition.

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