Press Release: Review of the 21st international literature festival berlin [ilb]
Berlin, 20 September 2021 – on Saturday evening, the 21st international literature festival berlin [ilb] came to an end after eleven inspiring days full of literature all over Berlin. 169 authors from 47 countries took part in more than 200 events, 137 of them live on site and 32 via livestream. A total of 60,500 spectators attended this year’s festival events. 15,000 visitors attended festival events live in Berlin, 45,500 views were generated by the digital program. The 40 events of the ilbDIGITAL program that were streamed live online or pre-recorded were very popular.
On 8 September French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani gave the opening speech at the festival centre silent green Kulturquartier with the title “Call for Crime”. The International Children’s and Young Adult Literature section was opened by the Norwegian author Marianne Kaurin.
Festival Director Ulrich Schreiber presented the festival’s main themes, thanked all the festival’s partners and patrons for their ongoing support and mentioned the outstanding work of his team, which made this year’s great diversity of its program possible: “The sum of these efforts is what characterizes the festival.”
Mayor and Senator for Culture and Europe in Berlin Dr. Klaus Lederer also thanked Festival Director Ulrich Schreiber and his team for their tireless efforts and emphasized the importance of the festival as a place for intercultural exchange and dialogue, as well as the significance of art and literature in times of crisis.
The revolutionary power that texts can unleash was the subject of Leїla Slimani’s opening speech, in which she called for a ‘crime’: “Ladies, tonight I would like to encourage you to commit murder.” She spoke about what it means to write as a woman in patriarchal societies. First of all, she said, women need to free themselves from the compulsion to always want to please others. Literature in general needs this freedom, she said. Writers must free themselves from any self-censorship. In reading past works, one can also learn to distinguish between the work and the author. It is perfectly possible to admire Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s “Journey to the End of the Night” as a great novel and reject the author as an anti-Semite:
“We know that we must look human ugliness in the face, its monstrosity, that we must face our past and confront it. Literature cherishes scars. Above all, it is a place of complexity. This is what great books teach us: that we cannot understand everything, that the world is ambiguous, that the meaning of things and events often escape us. And that being satisfied with judging is often insufficient.”
The main section of the festival, “Literatures of the World”, underlined the introductory words in the first days with its great diversity of well-known and new international voices: Numerous international authors presented their novels, essays and volumes of stories in readings and talks, such as Naja Marie Aidt [DK], Ana Luísa Amaral [P], Arnon Grünberg [NL/ USA], Aleksandar Hemon [Bosnia and Herzegovina/ USA], Judith Hermann [D], Viktor Jerofeyev [Russia], Lídia Jorge [P], Christian Kracht [CH], Etgar Keret [Israel], Hervé Le Tellier [F], Eva Menasse [A/ D], Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor [Kenya], Ruth Padel [GB], Olga Ravn [DK], Moritz Rinke [D], Helga Schubert [D], Willy Vlautin [USA], Maaza Mengiste [Ethiopia/ USA], Sasha Marianna Salzmann [D], Sharon Dodua Otoo [GB/ D], Jalal Barjas [Jordan] and C Pam Zhang [China/ USA].
The themes of ‘Cancel Culture’ and ‘Feminism’ were explicitly taken up by two series of events in the first days of the festival.
The special “Words of Love and Hate: Misogyny vs. Female Empowerment” brought together strong, literary voices in a mix of panels and readings, including Priya Basil [Kenya/ GB/ D], Jagoda Marinić [D/ Croatia] and Maaza Mengiste [Ethiopia/ USA], Louise O’Neill [IRL], Sabine Lemire [DK] and Rasmus Bregnhøi [DK]. The topic of “femicide” was impressively addressed in the novels of Patrícia Melo [Brazil/ CH], Fernanda Melchor [Mexico] and Evie Wyld [GB]; the economist Linda Scott [USA] looked at women as an economic factor.
In the series “Identity Politics and Wokeness – Totalitarianism of the ‘Left’?”, John McWhorter [USA] and Olivier Guez [F] explored the titular phenomena in conversation and Pascal Bruckner [F] shed light on his work “Imagined Racism”. Other central issues of the “Reflections” section were the current crisis and role of literature in Myanmar with Wendy Law-Yone [Myanmar/ USA/ GB] and Thin Lei Win [Myanmar], the current situation of Hong Kong and the future of China as well as that of Lebanon and Afghanistan. The events on decolonization were continued this year with, among others, Nana Oforiatta Ayim [D/ Ghana], Götz Aly [D] and Bénédicte Savoy [F/ D] in conversation about the current state of the restitution debates and new forms of staging curatorial practice. Daniel Kehlmann [D] and Michael Maar [D] reflected on the mystery of great literature, on language and thought, syntax and rhythm, metaphors and stylistic sins.
On 11 and 12 September, the 11th Graphic Novel Day took place in cooperation with EUNIC. Nine comic artists talked to curator Lilian Pithan about the art of comics, read from their works and showed their art, such as Viken Berberian [Lebanon/ Canada/ USA/ Armenia], Léonie Bischoff [CH/ B], Davide Reviati [I] with his German translator Myriam Alfano [D], Samira Kentrić [Slovenia], Amy Kurzweil [USA], Sarah Mirk [USA] and Elnathan John [Nigeria/ D]. With “Dragman” by Steven Appleby [GB], we presented this year’s winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2021 International Comics Festival in Angouleme, one of the most important comics prizes worldwide.
In addition, the 19th FamilyFest International with picture book presentations and premieres by illustrators Bernardo P. Carvalho [P/ E], Matthew Forsythe [Canada], Thomas Harding [GB] and Guillaume Perreault [Canada] took place in the yellow villa on 12 September, embedded in a diverse program of international children’s and youth literature in the previous and following days. A total of 75 events with 24 authors gave children and young adults insights into the world of writing and drawing from 8 – 17 September.
In the “Speak, Memory” section, two retrospectives illuminated the person, work and life of authors Thomas Brasch [D] and Toni Morrison [USA]: In the series on Toni Morrison curated by Verena Lueken, experts addressed the major questions raised by her formative work in talks and readings. Numerous films by and about Thomas Brasch as well as discussions, readings and a photo exhibition approached the facets of his work. In another retrospective, Péter Nádas [Hungary] recalled the life’s work of his friend, teacher and Miklós Mészöly [Hungary], who is considered the “father of contemporary Hungarian literature”; Sigrid Weigel [D] and Christina Pareigis [D] reflected on the work and life of Susan Taubes [Hungary/ USA], whose life was marked by experiences of foreignness and the search for identity. Together, the author and translator Michael Krüger [D] and writer Durs Grünbein [D] presented Adam Zagajewski’s [PL] work. Actor Ulrich Matthes read from his poems.
On 15 and 16 September, several events took place in the series “Visions of the Bioeconomy”, which was realized in cooperation with the Science Year 2020/21. Gabriel Biaconni Fernandes [Brazil], Linda Poppe [D] and Charles Trocate [Brazil] spoke about the consequences of deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest, the poetry slammers MC Martina [Brazil] and Pieta Poeta [Brazil] commented with video greetings. Claudia Kemfert [D], Urs Mannhart [CH] and Eva Horn [D] discussed various aspects of the bioeconomy at the end.
During the last days of the festival, the event series “Echo. Echo. Indigenous Voices” took place. It was developed in cooperation with the Cluster of Excellence in Literary Studies “Temporal Communities – Doing Literature in a Global Perspective”. In a poetry night, several readings and discussion rounds, indigenous authors explored questions of knowledge production, marginalization and narrative traditions in the context of indigenous literatures. Hinemoana Baker [New Zealand/ D] and Daniela Catrileo [Chile] were present in Berlin, while award-winning authors Louise Erdrich [USA], Natalie Diaz [USA] and Billy-Ray Belcourt [Canada] were among the virtual guests, as was Toni Jensen [USA] and the poet Pergentino José [Mexico], who writes in Zapotec.
Selected events were streamed live as part of the ilbDIGITAL digital programme and are permanently available free of charge on YouTube, including the conversation between John McWhorter [USA] and Matthew Karnitschnig [USA] on “Cancel Culture and Wokeness” and the panel “The Art of Scriptwriting”. On 10 September, Babylon Berlin director Tom Tykwer [D] talked about the art of writing a screenplay together with Lana Wachowski [USA/ D], co-director of the Matrix series, and the writers Aleksandar Hemon [Bosnia and Herzegovina/ USA] and David Mitchell [GB], known among other things as the author of the filmed bestseller “Cloud Atlas”. Further talks were pre-recorded and broadcast since the beginning of the festival – Including interviews with Georg Stefan Troller [A/ F], Paul Nizon [CH], Hiroko Oyamada [Japan], Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt [D/ F] and Peter Stephan Jungk [A/ USA/ F].
The event “The Art of Scriptwriting” was simultaneously translated into sign language, as were the readings by Helga Schubert [D], Anne Weber [D] and the panel with Melanie Brinkmann [D] on pandemics and communication.
The festival centre was located at silent green Kulturquartier for the second time. Three events took place in the chamber music hall of the Berlin Philharmonie. Further events were organized at 28 other venues throughout Berlin.
Due to the formula 3G plus FFP2, full seating could be realised in all event halls as before the pandemic.
The ilb is a project of Peter Weiss Foundation for Art and Politics. It is funded by the Capital Cultural Fund, the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Fondation Jan Michalski, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Women in Europe Foundation and TuWas – Foundation for Public Spirit, with funds from the federal programme Neustart Kultur and other sponsors and cooperation partners.
This year’s media partners were arte, rbb Kultur, Exberliner, tipBerlin, taz, Himbeer, Sinn und Form, Siegessäule, Missy Magazin, Der Freitag, Le Monde Diplomatique and the Yorck Cinema Group.
As in previous years, Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus was the partner bookstore of the festival.
For 5 September, the ilb called for participation in a Worldwide Reading for the Dead of the Corona Pandemic. Over 50 individuals and international institutions responded to the call. Each of them organized a reading for that day. In addition, the ilb invited 46 international writers and artists to commemorate those who died in the pandemic in a virtual reading of short stories, poems and statements.
On 8 September, this year’s festival guests were welcomed with the city-wide reading performance “berlin liest”.
On 24 September, Martin Suter [CH] and Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre [D] will present their joint book “Alle sind so ernst geworden” at the Admiralspalast. In it, they conduct entertaining dialogues on seemingly trivial yet highly amusing topics such as buying swimming trunks, God, the devil, Madonna or LSD.
For 10 December, the ilb is calling for a Worldwide Screening of the film “The Dissident” by Bryan Fogel, which follows the assassination order and murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul’s Saudi Arabian embassy on 2 October 2018.