For 11 days in September, 150 authors from 60 countries descend upon Berlin for the 11th installment of the city’s finest annual literary event, the International Literature Festival Berlin (ILB). Time to rub shoulders with the literati!
Concerned not just with books but also with the political surroundings they’re born in, this year’s ILB pays tribute to the Arab Spring by enlisting a celebrated trans-Mediterranean intellectual, the Paris-based Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, to open the festivities (Sep 7, 18:00).
But the ILB’s 2011 line-up also includes less topical, though no less decorated, names from all over the world – from 2010 Pulitzer winner Paul Harding (Sep 16, 19:30), to cult Scot Irvine Welsh (Sep 14, 19:00), Booker Prize winner A. S. Byatt (Sep 8, 19:30) and the Hungarian-Swiss winner of the 2010 German and Swiss Book Awards, Melinda Nadj Abonji (Sep 10, 21:00), perhaps unknown to English-speakers but sure to have Teutonic book clubbers salivating.
Despite the international glitz, ILB continues to operate primarily in German; authors read excerpts in their native tongue and are followed by German actors, translating to a delayed audience titter. Monolinguists, don’t despair though: a number of Anglo-friendly events remain.
As part of this year’s focus on the Asia-Pacific, Chinese-American writer Ha Jin (Sep 10, 17:00), Mao biographer Jung Chang (Sep 12, 20:00), Indian novelist and essayist Pankaj Mishra (Sep 11, 20:30), as well as noted antipodeans C.K. Stead (Sep 11, 18:30) and Booker winner DBC Pierre (Sep 9, 17:30) are all guests, illuminating the diverse voices of the region, often in English.
Amongst ILB’s many lofty, political discussions, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is marked by the English-speaking event that takes a Camus quote as its name – “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better” (Sep 11, 20:00) is a 14-author-strong gathering of varied global perspectives, from 2011’s Arab Booker Prize-winner Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and Norwegian war reporter Åsne Seierstad to Iranian Amir Hassan Cheheltan, Vietnamese-Australian Nam Le and New Yorker Adam Haslett.
For a break from sombre words, join in the celebrations for Graphic Novel Day (Sep 18, worldwide), as comics make the leap to a festival platform for the first time at ILB. Our pick of the bunch over the month are Polish comic heroes Tomasz Leśniak and Rafał Skarżycki, creators of the South Park-esque George the Hedgehog (Jeż Jerzy) (Sep 10, 10:00). For more playful words, don’t miss the annual Poetry Slam at Berghain’s Panorama Bar (Sep 14, 21:00).
We chatted with a few favorites at the festival to get impression on writing, rhyming and Berlin:
- Irvine Welsh
- Ha Jin
- Kathy Reichs
- Rawi Hage
- Paul Harding
- Chirikure Chirikure
- Ken Babstock
- Michail Schischkin
International Literature Festival Berlin, Sep 7-17 | Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Schaperstr. 24, U-Bhf Spichernstr. For a complete festival programme, visit www.literaturfestival.com