I am delighted to announce that the Festival Neue Literatur launched last night with an industry-only reception introducing our just-off-the-plane Austrian, Swiss and German writers, who were selected because my co-curator Paul North and I decided that they represent the most exciting work being produced by younger German-language writers at the moment. These writers, it turns out, are a convivial bunch. If you live in the New Haven or Greater New York areas, you will be able to see them present their work live over the next three days, reading English translations and chatting with moderators, and then standing around at wine receptions chatting with you.
So who are these writers?
•Swiss author Dorothee Elmiger, the youngest of the bunch at 25, was just honored with the Kelag Prize at the Ingeborg Bachmann competition in Klagenfurt, Austria (this is a very big deal in German-language literary circles). Her debut novel, Invitation to the Bold of Heart, is the story of two sisters scoping out a post-apocalyptic landscape and trying to learn something about the history of their village that was destroyed by subterranean fires that continue to burn.
•Peter Weber is one of the most important voices in Swiss literature. We’re featuring his fourth novel, The Years without Melody, which is both a travel story (his protagonist hits the road after the death of his father) and a beautifully written declaration of love to the electronic music of the 1990s. Gorgeous descriptions of everything, and one of the chapters is entitled “Electrosaurus Rex.”
•Andrea Winkler of Austria has written four books to date as well, and the one we’ve selected for the festival, Hanna and I, is a lyrical meditation on storytelling with characters and themes drifting in and out of this elegant portrait of a lady.
•Andrea Grill, also of Austria, has written the funniest book on our list, The Beautiful and the Necessary (her third novel), about two down-on-their-luck Austrian dudes who hit on the brilliant idea of making their fortune by kidnapping a civet cat from the zoo – because coffee beans that have traveled through the digestive tracts of civet cats produce the most expensive coffee in the world. Smart, hilarious writing, at times mildly surrealistic. The author also happens to be a biologist and wrote her dissertation on butterflies.
•German writer Julia Schoch, a past holder of the Kelag Prize (back when it was called the Jury Prize of the Ingeborg Bachmann competition, in 2005), will be presenting her fourth book, With the Speed of Summer, the haunting story of a sister trying to reconstruct the last months in the life of her sister (dead by suicide in the book’s first sentence), an attempt that brings her back to the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the GDR in 1989.
•Antje Rávic Strubel’s book also has to do with GDR history – she loosely based her novel Tupolew 134 (one of her seven books to date) on a real-life incident from 1977 in which two East Germans haphazardly, almost accidentally wind up hijacking a Polish airplane in Gdansk, forcing it to land in West Berlin. Strubel, holder of the Ernst Willner Prize from the Ingeborg Bachmann competition, writes a sharp, clear, beautifully perceived style that reminds me of Uwe Johnson, one of my favorite German authors of all time.
These six wonderful writers will be joined by the inimitable Rivka Galchen and the wise and brilliant Francine Prose on panels all weekend. Please come check out their work! They will be on the Yale University campus all day Friday, as well as at PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO Saturday night and Idlewild Books in Manhattan Sunday night. For a full schedule and biographical information, along with links to English-language samples from each of their books, see the festival website. All events are free.
The Festival Neue Literatur is a co-production of the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Swiss Consulate and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, the Goethe Institut, the German Book Office, the German Consulate and Deutsches Haus at NYU. In short, a class operation, and I am proud to be associated with it.