Berlin’s International Literature Festival: Citywide Events, Worldwide Reading

In News by Porter Anderson

More than 216 authors from more than 30 countries have been engaged for the 2016 edition of International Literature Festival Berlin, which opens September 7.
An image from the 2015 Berlin International Literature Festival. Image: ILB, Hartwig Klappert

An image from the 2015 Berlin International Literature Festival. Image: ILB, Hartwig Klappert

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

September 7 through 17
With issues in freedom of expression driving much of its programming, the International Literature Festival at Berlin in September features a host of “individuals, institutions and media outlets that care about democracy.

Internationales Literaturefestival Berlin linedRunning September 7 through 17, the festival’s events are set at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and other venues, in this 16th year of the program’s events. The program operates as a broad collection of speeches, symposia, celebrations, panel discussions, exhibitions, and other events, divided primarily into these groupings:

  • Literatures of the World;
  • International Children’s and Youth Literature;
  • Reflections;
  • Specials;
  • Speak, Memory; and
  • Science and the Humanities.

Press information from the festival indicates that more than 216 authors from more than 30 countries are expected to take part in the opening, including Emmanuel Carrère (France); Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang (South Korea); Margriet de Moor (The Netherlands);  Laurie Penny (Great Britain) ; Boualem Sansal (Algeria); Liao Yiwu (China/ Germany); Colm Tóibín (Ireland/ USA); and Shumona Sinha (India/ France).

César Aria. Image: Nina Subin

César Aria. Image: Nina Subin

A key opening event on September 7 features a speech, in the festival’s “Literatures of the World” series, from Buenos Aires-based  author César Aira. He also will speak on the 8th, on “Duchamp in Mexico,” theorizing on modern art. More from that series of events: A Poetry Night, with ak Laor (Israel), Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia) and Håkon Øvreås (Norway), and Eva Mattes reading Elena Ferrante in “My Brilliant Friend.”

Another series of events, “Speak, Memory,” is to include commentary on Shakespeare, Henry James, Miguel de Cervantes, Albert Cossery, and others.

A set of events on “International Children’s and Youth Literature” engages content and speakers from Algeria, the USA, Belgium, Canada, Norway, Singapore, China, Lebanon, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Japan, Turkey, the UK, and Germany. One of the

Meriam Bousselmi. Image: Bohumil Kostohryz

Meriam Bousselmi. Image: Bohumil Kostohryz

An interesting series of “Reflections” features international topics on human relations and conditions: Tunisia’s Meriam Bousselmi, for example, speaks on how “All Seasons Are Good for Writing,” and there’s a session on “Rebellious Women” featuring Deborah Feldman (USA, Germany), Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe, France) and Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh, USA).

In a group of events called “Specials,” you’ll find a panel on a literary photography project, Der Koffer-walizka (The Suitcase), with Jacek Dehnel and Karolina Puchałarojek of Poland. “Young German Authors” features Jason Oliver Bartsch, Lea Beiermann, Jasper Westhaus, Miriam Pontius, and Lukas Hoffmann.

Opening Day ‘Worldwide Reading’

The event with the most far-reaching potential effect is an opening-day “Worldwide Reading for Democracy Without Populism,” and will be of interest to people following the year’s political events in many countries.

The festival’s text “calls on all individuals, institutions and media outlets that care about democracy to participate in a worldwide reading of selected texts for democracy and against populism, on 7 September 2016. Populism describes a political position that aligns itself with the prevailing emotions, prejudices and fears of a population, and uses these to define an agenda promising simple and quick solutions to all problems.”

The rationale for the event and its stance against populism is described in festival organizers’ prepared statement this way:

“Now, in many countries across the globe, in long established and newer democracies, populist sentiment is being stoked and exploited by demagogues such as Donald Trump in the USA;  Marine Le Pen in France; Geert Wilders in The Netherlands; Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey; Nigel Farage in Britain; Viktor Orbán in Hungary; Jacob Zuma in South Africa; Frauke Petry in Germany; Vladimir Putin in Russia; Narendra Modi in India—to name but a few… Populism thrives on binaries: it’s always us against them.”

Texts provided by the program for the day include extracts from a 1982 speech by Susan Sontag; from “Politics and the English Language” and “Notes on Nationalism” by George Orwell; and from “What I Believe” by E.M. Forster. Works of Arundhati Roy, Max Weber, and Edward Said are included, as well.

More about the Worldwide Reading programs in past years is here.

More about Berlin’s International Literature Festival is here.

The Big Stage. Image: Ali Ghandtschi, Berlin International Literature Festival

The Big Stage. Image: ILB, Ali Ghandtschi

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.