Conrad Festival - EFFE Laureate
Simon Mundy interviews Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Programme Director Conrad Festival
The Conrad Festival may be named after the great Polish writer, who sailed the world and wrote most of his work in English, but it is not about him. Having said that, Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Programme Director, admits that Joseph Conrad's sense of being a detached observer of very complex situations is one that guides the festival's ethos. 'We devote a few events to Conrad, there's an annual Conrad lecture and an award in his name, but we mainly cover contemporary literature from around the world. There is a feeling that when Conrad went away from Poland, he left a gap. While he belongs to English culture, he writes with a Polish soul. So we are, in a way, trying to fill that gap by inviting writers from everywhere.' About a third of the 150 who appear each year are not Polish.
In the autumn (this year 21 – 27 October) Krakow is alive for a week of debate and argument, using writers and literature as the catalyst. 'The bottom line is that we think literature is the best language for discussing today's problems. We talk about politics, religion, economic problems but through the medium of literature, the writers who explore them. We never discuss something just to make a book popular.'
Grzegorz spends the rest of the year as editor of one of Poland's leading literary journals, which gives him a usefully topical knowledge of which writers have something interesting to say. 'I can have a cold and critical look at what is being published,' he says.
The festival events each run for just over an hour, allowing visitors to attend several in a day. Over the course of the week around thirty thousand readers visit the festival. 'We are aware that there are many people who cannot get to the festival but can benefit from the ideas, so there is a lot of social work along with the events. We have many programmes with schools and seniors but also with prisoners – and we make the workshops in prisons part of the official programme. They have to be visible to the audience, not treated as artificial extras.'
Grzegorz arranges the programme along thematic lines. 'We design it to work around a title, a story. We use the writers to develop the theme and its complexity, we're not interested in promoting the books sent by publishers.' This year the theme is 'realities' and how literature deals with it. He explains it like this; 'At times literature fits in with our reality; then we feel that the world is – or should be – as it is described by literature; at other times we reject literature or we cannot understand it because its vision of reality is too singular. But it should be stressed that although we all live in the same world, we don’t all live in the same reality, and it is this ambiguity and discord from which literature draws its extraordinary power'.
The Conrad Festival is organised by the City of Krakow, the Krakow Festival Office and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation. The Festival is a strategic element of the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature programme (Krakow joined the network of creative cities in the field of literature in 2013)
Note from the EFFE International Jury
This festival in Krakow is one of the finest literature festivals in Europe. The quality of programming, finely-tuned talent-detecting radar, intellectual gravitas and global perspective makes it a perfect symbiosis: a textbook collaboration between locals and the global community of writers, poets and thinkers.
21 Oct 2019 - 27 Oct 2019
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