Writers’ fest “downsized” but bringing Pamuk to Prague

Orhan Pamuk, photo: Greg Salibian

Wednesday sees the launch of the 23rd Prague Writers’ Festival, whose highlights will include appearances by one of the most important guests the event has ever brought to the Czech capital: the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. However, problems surrounding funding mean that this year’s festival will be the shortest to date.

The Prague Writers’ Festival, which gets underway with a series of events on Wednesday, is being held for the 23rd time, with this year’s theme being The Birth of Nations. The festival’s founder, poet Michael March, outlines some aspects of that subject that the visiting literati will be exploring.

“How are nations born, destroyed or misused? How are they created? What does it take to create a nation? Does it take a war? Violence? Sitting down at the peace table? Smoking the peace pipe? How are nations really created? That goes for the question of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

“And how are they separated? Violently? Peacefully? What’s behind these things?

“That’s what we’re trying to explore. Whether it’s Egypt, Algeria, Portugal, her colonies, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and on and on and on. It’s fascinating”

Discussing the establishment, and 74-year existence, of Czechoslovakia will be US historian Mary Heimann. Her controversial, revisionist Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed was highly critical of the country, and her appearance in a debate at the Senate should be fascinating for those lucky enough to have tickets.

Orhan Pamuk,  photo: Greg Salibian
But there is no question as to who is the real star of the 2013 writers’ festival; the organisers have worked for years to secure the participation of Turkish literary giant Orhan Pamuk, and his two readings and an autograph session at a Prague book store are sure to be mobbed.

There are also a number of other interesting guests, points out Michael March.

“We have Sonallah Ibrahim from Egypt. He was imprisoned for five years under Nasser and wrote a book called That Smell published and banned in 1966; it became a great classic in the Arab world.

“We have Yasmina Khadra from Algeria. He was part of the military in Algeria for 36 years and then took asylum, exile.

“We have Miguel Sousa Tavares. His parents were against [Portuguese dictator] Salazar. It was the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon in 1974. He reflects in the very great novel Equator about the Portuguese colonies, and the wars later in Angola and Mozambique, the de-creation of colonialism and the revolutions that occurred.”

Sonallah Ibrahim,  photo: archive of the festival
However, the number of visiting authors is markedly down on previous years, and while the Prague Writers’ Festival was a week-long event in the past, this time it is taking place over just three days.

The main reason for this “downsizing” has been a 90-percent cut in the funding it receives from City Hall, while the festival has also lost the support of some sponsors.