Norway’s World Expression Forum: A Reading Focus

In News by Porter Anderson

In its third year, Kristenn Einarsson’s World Expression Forum is placing new emphasis on publishing’s and reading’s vulnerability.

Speakers in the WEXFO workshops-leading program on advancing the freedom to read are, on the top row from left, Miha Kovač; Jørgen Lorentzen; Even Aleksander Hagen; and Karine Pansa. On the lower row from left are Tora Åsling; Mariann Schjeide; Laurie Halse Anderson, and Olav Brostrup Müller

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

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Censorship Takes Center Stage
As our readers know, today’s opening of the 2024 World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Norway will bring this three-year-old conference to a new level of proximity with issues facing book publishing.

Publishing Perspectives understands that anticipated attendance today will include at least 300 professionals for the central contest; some 1,000 young people aged 14 to 18 in the “WEXFO Youth Voices” program; and as many as 135 in the WEXFO Youth Network Conference.

The marquee afternoon workshop of the event today in spring-showery Lillehammer is titled Access to Information, Books, and Ideas: How to Advance the Freedom to Read, and has been devised to move across three major dynamics of debate:

  • The potentially devastating impact that book bannings of the type seen in the United States and other markets can have on an author
  • The efforts of leading organizations created to represent and promote parts of publishing to combat censorship frameworks in various markets.
  • And a suite of heartening programs that are addressing fundamental issues of rightist attacks on the freedoms of speech, publication, and reading at the international, national, and local level.

After some 90 minutes of presentation by a series of eight well-placed speakers to these issues, the workshop will then look to its attendees—in WEXFO’s setting, this program’s version of the “trade visitors” who form the spine of the professional book business leadership at trade shows such as Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20).

‘Hardly Limited to the United States’

Prechecks in the conference hall in Lillehammer for the May 27 and 28 World Expression Forum (WEXFO). Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Publishing Perspectives‘ moderation of this signal event here in Lillehammer will offer the first chance many have had to focus on the expressive freedoms being threated by incursions into democratic values and discourse in many parts of the publishing and reading world, as the disturbing trend toward autocratic and anti-democratic energies tests its strength in various cultures.

The afternoon program, opening at 2 p.m., will feature the American author Laurie Hulse Anderson, winner of the 5-million-Swedish-kroner 2023 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Her 1999 novel Speak (Macmillan / Square Fish) was a US National Book Award finalist, and yet the book has been the subject of bannings in at least 66 school districts. A 2018 graphic-novel edition of the book with artwork by Emily Carroll has been banned by at least 12 school districts.

In fact, Anderson’s experiences of bannings—which are being tracked with the help of a researcher—are known not only to have been banned by those instances of censorship for Speak in its original and subsequent editions, but also for:

  • Anderson’s Shout, a poetic memoir, known to have drawn 26 school districts’ censorious efforts
  • Twisted, with 15 such districts’ banning efforts
  • Wintergirls, with 14 banning school districts

And when Tora Åasling of the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) speaks, one of her points will be that book bannings are hardly limited to the States. “It’s important to also bring a wider perspective,” she says, “which is why I want to mention recent cases of book censorship in France and in Hungary, and aggressive behavior toward bookshops and booksellers in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and France.”

Kristenn Einarsson. Image: Kristi Hovde

The overall thrust and the guiding goal of the responses inviting from WEXFO delegates will be provided by Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), as well as by WEXFO founding CEO Kristenn Einarsson, longtime lead on the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee, with IPA’s Prix Voltaire and communications director, James Taylor—whose 2024 Prix Voltaire shortlist will be revealed tonight at WEXFO’s gala dinner.

Earlier at WEXFO

In Monday’s opening morning events, music from Afghanistan is to be followed by a program featuring:

  • Mads Nygaard, the publisher and president of Aschehoug and a board member of the Norwegian Publishers Association, in an appearance moderated by Espen Aas and Sigrid Sollund, journalists and Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s daily news magazine Dagsnytt 18.
  • The Crisis of Trust in the Middle East, a keynote address from activist Shuster Eliassi
  • The Status of Freedom of Expression in 2024, with Steffan LIndberg of the University of Gothenburg’s Varieties of Democracy Institute
  • A sequence of artificial-intelligence presentations, one of which is AI and Piracy: The Copyright Discussion with National University of Singapore Press director Peter Schoppert and another is  AI and the Impact on Freedom of Expression with human-rights advocate and technologies Sam Gregory
On the World Markets: New Writings on Autocracy

Needless to say, the rising emphasis on publishing at WEXFO is being echoed by many publishers in the world industry, as more books arrive on the markets for readers trying to follow various countries’ and regions’ experiences of censorship and its underlying currents.

For example, journalist and analyst Anne Applebaum‘s new Autocracy Inc.: The Dictators Who Want To Run the World will be released on July 23 by Penguin Random House / Doubleday.

In Applebaum’s first book since her seminal Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (July 2020), as she said in a recent interview, she looks at how Russia, China, and other autocracies have “coalesced around a set of narratives” that promote the idea “that autocracies are stable and safe , and that democracies are divided, chaotic, failing, and disastrous.” An excerpt from the new book is available now at The Atlantic.

The point of The New York Times‘ David Sanger’s The New Cold Wars: America’s Struggle To Defend the West  (Penguin Random House / Crown, April) has to do with what Sanger sees as a miscalculation on Washington’s part. “For years, the United States was confident that the newly democratic Russia and increasingly wealthy China could be lured into a Western-led order that promised prosperity and peace, so long as they agreed to Washington’s terms.

“By the time America emerged from the age of terrorism, it was clear that this had been a fantasy.”

And Simon & Shuster’s publication in April of The Age of Grievance by Frank Bruni is gaining traction fast, writing of the United Kingdom’s Brexit: “Boris Johnson was a maestro of grievances, which he deployed in the service of his country’s withdrawal from the European Union, and which he clung to in the aftermath of that when his turbulent three-year stint as prime minister came to a mortifying end 2022.

“He gave a boastful exit speech that skimmed over his flamboyant personal failures and suggested that he was the victim of a sort of mob mentality that none of his allies had the spine to resist.”

The mechanics of how political grievance is used to work against freedoms of expression, of publication, and of speech have become alarmingly commonplace in a growing number of cultures, and this element of WEXFO’s agenda this month is timely for that reason.

When on May 9 Elsevier’s Youngsuk “YS” Chi opened the Association of American Publishers as its chair, he said, he turned quickly to “the encroachment on freedom of expression.

Youngsuk ‘YS’ Chi

“Our colleagues around the world,” Chi said, “might tell you that this is a far greater problem in countries governed by authoritarian regimes. While it’s true that the challenges we face as American publishers might pale in comparison to that the repression that heroic activists like Maria [Ressa] have struggled against around the world. We know that the privilege of living in a democracy comes with enormous responsibility of protecting those rights so that our society can continue to serve as a beacon of freedom and creativity.

“I’m deeply troubled by government efforts to restrict reading and politicize science.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship more broadly is here, more on issues of the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and on the International Publishers Association is here. More on the World Expression Forum, WEXFO, is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

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.