Literature and Realities. Presenting the programme of the 2019 Conrad Festival!

Things, ideas, places and characters are just some of the topics that will be discussed by the guests of the 11th Conrad Festival! From 21st to 27th October, Krakow will host, among others, Almudena Grandes, author of some of the most recognisable and most frequently translated works of contemporary Spanish literature in the world, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian writer, author of the famous book Americanah and Dmitry Bykov, one of the most popular Russian writers today. The theme of this year’s festival is “Realities”.

“We can safely say that for a week once a year, Krakow becomes not only the literary capital of Poland, but also one of the most important cities on the literary map of the world. This was also noticed by the creators of the international Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe programme, who classified the Conrad Festival organised in Krakow as one of the 24 best European festivals. It’s a great honour!” says the Mayor of Krakow Jacek Majchrowski. “This is thanks to the guests of the event – writers who want to come here and talk about important topics and the audience who want to listen and ask questions. The Conrad Festival is an obligatory event in the Krakow autumn calendar”, says Mayor Majchrowski.

The festival week, which will run from the 21st to the 27th of October, will be full of meetings with authors, debates and reading lessons. All under the slogan “Realities”. “This year, we decided to reach the very centre of our fascination with literature. Until now, we have tried to show how to talk about reality. Now, thanks to our authors and readers, we will try to say what literature is asa reality, or more precisely: how reality comes to be thanks to literature. Even more precisely: how literature praises various realities”, explains Michał Paweł Markowski, the festival’s artistic director.

Each festival day will have a different theme: things, words, images, ideas, relations, places and characters. “These concepts refer to what we think are the most important elements of reality. We also think of them as strands that intertwine and at the same time connect different worlds. For example, we understand things as the material basis for existence, but also as the essence of our emotional experience and, finally, as the products of the language we speak and tell stories with. Places are for us certain points in reality, as well as literary topoi”, adds Grzegorz Jankowicz, the festival’s programme director.

During this year’s festival we will show how literature, thanks to the means at its disposal, creates different realities that talk to each other, argue or fight. And there will be plenty of opportunities to do that. The main programme of the event consists of several dozen meetings with authors, debates and reading lessons. On the first day, we will meet with Almudena Grandes, the author of some of the most famous and most frequently translated works of contemporary Spanish literature in the world. During the panel “In the Eye of the Cyclone” we will hear – as Grzegorz Jankowicz explains in his comments on particular events – about Grandes’ protagonists who live in times of crisis. On the surface, nothing threatens them. They believe that they will avoid clashing with the great history, hide from its destructive waltz in one of the secluded homes in the suburbs. The calm in the eye of the cyclone is easy to mistake for security, but it is enough for the tornado of history to change direction and everything will be destroyed. The next day, we invite you for an afternoon with Zyta Rudzka, who likes to tell stories about people – she invents stories in such a way that they always revolve around people, not places or things. But that is not the end of interesting events. The Festival Tuesday also includes an obligatory meeting with Mona Cholletand Dmitry Bykov. Kazimiera Szczuka will lead the conversation with Chollet about violence, to which one can get used to even in extreme forms. Together they will look for answers to questions about how to fight it, what measures should be taken against it, what words should be used so that it never becomes commonplace. Małgorzata Nocuń will meet with Bykow to talk about the language which no authority can do without. Although Dmitry Bykov is not a politician, thanks to his civic attitude and accurate satirical comments on the current reality, he became the voice of the Russian opposition.

The following days will bring more big literary names, like Charlotte Gordon. Her latest book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2016. The heroic and uncompromising struggle of the two protagonists was aimed at empowering women and winning over their rights to everyone. Is their legacy still inspiring for contemporary emancipation movements?

A meeting with Jáchym Topol will be an important part of the programme. In his novels, Topol creates alternative worlds that seemingly have nothing to do with our own. However, we only need to take a careful look at the characters, their motivations and exaggerated gestures to discover the subcutaneous similarity of both spheres: the real one, to which we are accustomed, and the fictional one, which offers us a cognitive rehab. Didier Eribon, French sociologist and philosopher and author of the biography of Michel Foucault, will tell the story of the escape that many of us have experienced.

One of the closing events of the festival will be a meeting with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) was nominated for the Orange Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Debut. On Saturday night, we will look for answers to questions like: How much can a writer do? Is literature a way of writing with which you can say anything? And if not, who should draw the line? Who would be able to speak on this matter?

The Conrad Festival will also be visited by eminent Polish authors. Among them are Mariusz Szczygieł, author of reportages on the experience of absence, Jacek Dukaj, creator of fantasy prose, Anna Cieplak, winner of the Conrad Award in 2017 for literary debut Ma być czystoLeszek Libera, author of Utopka, a story about patriotism, human defects and the lust for power, and Monika Sznajderma, an award-winning writer who has run Wydawnictwo Czarne publishing house since 1996.

On the last day of the Festival, the winner of the Conrad Award – the most important award in Poland for debut writers in the prose category, which is part of the city’s programme to support the debuts of the City of Literature UNESCO, a joint venture of the City of Krakow, the Krakow Festival Office, the Book Institute and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation, will be announced.

The Conrad Festival also includes accompanying events, such as a film programme, workshops for children and industry meetings. A detailed programme will be announced soon. At the same time, it is worth recalling that the Krakow Book Fair – considered to be one of the most important events of the book industry in Poland – is held parallel to the festival.

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