Berlin's International Literature Festival kicked off this week. By offering something for everyone, organizers hope the event can keep its reputation as the "mother of all literary festivals."
Literature taking center stage
Germany is not lacking in literary festivals. Leipzig Reads, LitCologne, and the Aachen Storytelling Festival are three of the bigger ones. But the jewel in the crown of the German literary season is the International Literature Festival Berlin, or ilb.
As festivals go, the ilb certainly doesn't lack for ambition. More than 100 authors will take part in 300 separate events over the course of 12 days. These include book and poetry readings, author appearances and political discussions, in dozens of sites throughout the city.
In 2004, organizers said that they hosted 35,500 visitors; they are expecting a similar number this year. That may be smaller than the International Book Festival in Edinburgh, which had had 220,000 visitors, 500 authors and 650 events over two weeks this year. But it is still a huge undertaking, with a large turnout.
The festival has two main sections, Literatures of the World and Kaleidescope. The Literatures of the World invitees were nominated by a jury of well known authors. With writers coming from every continent, this section fo the festival seems likely to live up to its name.
Kaleidescope authors were invited expressly by the festival organizers, and the focus is on literature that deals with current cultural and political developments.Their appearances are supported by an international network of sponsors and friends.
Drowning in literature
While some people say reading is a dying art, the ilb apparently sees things differently. The International Children’s and Youth Literature program has diverse readings and exhibitions for kids, while the Scritture Giovani project encourages young European authors.
For 2005, Scritture Giovani -- a cooperation between several large European literary festivals -- has asked five young authors from different countries to write a short story on the theme of “elsewhere.” These will be presented at various literature festivals, and later published in a single, five-language volume.
Spotlight on California
Every year, the festival highlights a geographic region. This time, California is in the spotlight. Moving away from the clichés of hippies, Hollywood and Schwarzenegger, the show wants to offer a overview of the literary life of the Golden State.
California expert Kevin Starr
"If America didn't have California, the psyche of the nation would be different," said Kevin Starr, a historian who has written about the state and is known as California's "living archives."An important force in American creativity would be lost, then."
Another guest of the festival is Steve Wasserman, former features editor of the Los Angeles Times, a well-known intellectual and Pulizer Prize juror. He complained before the festival that too few US newspapers publish book reviews or news about literature.
"It is one of the big scandals of American journalism…we are failing our readers," he said.
The festival runs until Sept. 17.