Archive for March 4th, 2019

Bergen International Literary Festival: “the real charm was in the minor details”

Monday, March 4th, 2019
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Beautiful Bergen from the atop one of its seven hills. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

We promised, we promised, we promised that we’d write more about our adventures at the inaugural Bergen International Literary Festival, and what have we delivered? Nada! Nada! Nada to date!

Fortunately, there are others picking up the slack. Jacob Silkstone over at Asymptote includes some observations of the fête in the journal’s “weekly dispatches from the frontlines of world literature.” An excerpt:

Glasses, please. (Photo: Zeljko Koprolcec/Wikimedia)

Writers from twenty different countries gathered in Bergen’s bowl of snow-capped hills, including recent Asymptote contributors Helon Habila and Dubravka Ugrešić. In her opening notes, festival director Teresa Grøtan emphasised that “This is a festival where politics meets poetry, where society meets art, and where art meets the world . . . [This] is not a place where we seek consensus. It is not a festival where we are looking for an answer.”

A festival with a clear purpose, then, although sometimes the real charm of literary festivals lies not in the grand message but in the minor details: Dubravka Ugrešić twice interrupting questions from Daniel Medin to rummage through a crumpled grey and orange rucksack before locating a pair of reading glasses; Cambridge professor James E. Montgomery left temporarily speechless by a performance from Saudi poet Hissa Hilal, eventually breaking the silence with a muttered “Powerful . . .”

Partners in crime, looking a tad silly in a Bergen bookstore.

Encouragingly, the children’s programme was held in front of a packed audience, and most venues were filled to capacity. Cynthia Haven was among the bloggers covering the inaugural festival, “tired and hungry and footsore and jetlagged, but delighted . . .” It’s hard not to conclude that any event that can remain a delight even to the tired/hungry/footsore/jetlagged audience member has to be regarded as an emphatic success.

You can read more here. (The free umbrellas he mentions were a nice signature for the festival in Bergen, where it rains 266 days of the year.)

A less-touted event at left: a rare get-together between the Book Haven and Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris. We’ve written about him before, here and here.