Head of Program Dr. Simone Schröder and Christoph Rieger, Head of Program of the International Children’s and Young Adult Literature section, talk about a literary hat-trick, the authors of this year’s festival, and their personal insider tips.
The ilb is bringing the literary world to Berlin for the 22nd time. What are you particularly looking forward to this year?
Simone: Many international authors are returning to Berlin. It will be nice to meet again live on site at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. I’m especially pleased that Bernardine Evaristo, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood will be joining us for the first time. All three of them have never been to the ilb before. We have invited them again and again and now it has finally worked out – a literary hat-trick… [laughs].
What makes the ilb so special?
Christoph: With its literary diversity, its internationality and its highly ambitious, sometimes even overwhelming programme size year after year, the ilb is for me a delightful, inspiring literary state of exception.
Simone: At the ilb you can experience some of the really big names of international literature live but there are also many new voices to discover. These are authors who may not be translated into German for another year or two, if at all. If you’re looking for ideas for your own reading list, you’ll definitely find them here. We don’t just want to present commercially successful literature at the festival, but literature that demonstrates attitude, both aesthetically and with regard to the major socio-political issues of our time. We have a wide variety of formats in our programme: from poetry nights, comic readings and short lectures to political panel discussions and concerts – but the classic ilb format is the literary reading. Most of the time, an event only lasts a little longer than an hour. There is a longer talk and in between, actors or the authors themselves read from the text for about a quarter of an hour. Afterwards, the audience has the opportunity to ask questions and have a book signed.
The ilb not only offers a literary experience for adults, its programme is also directed at younger and youngest readers. How can we imagine that?
Christoph: This year, our programme for young readers will once again focus on international picture books, children’s books, books for young people and comics that are remarkable from a literary or visual perspective – books that address relevant topics of our time in a dramaturgically exciting way. Our books take young people seriously, meet them at eye level and deal with the risks and side effects of growing up in an inspiring way – and all this in a somewhat bolder, wilder or perhaps just more literary form than one might expect from literature for young readers. Many of our international guests – authors and illustrators – are appearing in Berlin or Germany for the first time and are presenting their books as premieres.
Are there other formats in the programme for young readers besides the classic readings?
Christoph: Yes, the special feature of our young programme is the simultaneity of large author readings for thousands of visitors at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and small workshops all over Berlin, where Berlin pupils transfer books into other art forms and develop them further. Through cooperation with the »THEO Literature Prize« and the »Treffen junger Autor:innen,« we also enable young authors to perform in front of a large audience for the first time at a festival.
Do you have any tips on how to make it easier for young readers to choose a good read?
Christoph: Which books might be worthwhile for young readers is not only reflected in our programme selection, but also in our award »The Extraordinary Book«. Here, our invited authors and illustrators choose their literary favourites for young readers.
Those who can’t be in Berlin still don’t come away empty-handed, right?
Simone: During the pandemic, we massively expanded our digital programme. We really liked how easy it suddenly became to enable people all over the world to participate in the festival. We want to keep this up, which is why there are almost 50 livestreams again this year that you can watch for free on our YouTube channel during the ilb. Among others, we have Zadie Smith in conversation with Daniel Kehlmann and Margaret Atwood in conversation with Jan Wagner. But also streams with Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Jana Hensel [The fight for freedom and democracy – how far must it go?] or a reading from Ukrainian war diaries with Ulrich Matthes and Hildegard Schmahl.
Christoph: A remarkable reading is of course most impressive live on site. At the same time, I am very happy to make some of the events in our young programme permanently available online through our digital programme, for example with Mieko Kawakami or Bernardine Evaristo. Especially for visitors who cannot easily travel to Berlin.
Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith and Bernardine Evaristo, some of the biggest names in contemporary literature, are coming to Berlin for the 22nd ilb. But the festival also introduces young and upcoming authors to the public. Who are your insider tips for 2022?
Simone: I recommend Vigdis Hjorth to everyone. She is famous in her home country Norway, but hardly anyone knows her here. Until now. Hopefully that will change when her new novel is published in German by S. Fischer next year. The way Hjorth draws you into the thoughts of her characters is fantastically done and the language is mind-boggling and full of allusions. The themes are not that important. Hjorth is already over 60, and among the younger authors I am particularly looking forward to the poems of Jay Bernard – shooting star of the British poetry scene –, the young Catalan author Irene Solà and Elisa Shua Dusapin, a young Swiss writer with Franco-Korean roots.
Christoph: Angeline Boulley, the opening speaker of our young programme, is already a shooting star of young adult literature in the USA. For her debut »Firekeeper’s Daughter«, she received the Printz Award, the most important youth book award in the USA. The book is also currently being filmed for Netflix by the Obamas’ production company. I hope that the highly suspenseful thriller about a young indigenous woman will also find many readers in Germany.
What do you look for in your program selection?
Simone: We try to represent the whole diversity of contemporary literature in our program. It’s about finding linguistically unusual texts, interesting genre mixes, but also gripping stories and voices that you haven’t heard so often. We believe that there should be no taboos in writing and that authors should not censor themselves, as long as the way they tell their stories aims for complexity, shows our world in many facets, observes precisely and describes sensitively. Ugliness and sadness should also have their place, because they are part of our world.
With over 150 authors, there are also over 150 different stories coming to Berlin. Despite this diversity, are there themes that run through the program like a common thread?
Simone: The spectrum is definitely wide. But some of the thematic focuses of the 22nd ilb are the examination of racism, antisemitism and the climate crisis, as well as a look at post-Soviet, Arab and feminist literature.
Christoph: The books in our programme show seismographically what it feels like to be young, what challenges children and young people face in coming-of-age and how they grow from problems because they do not just passively take note of their living environment but consciously shape it according to their ideas.