It’s Festival Time!

So this is the second year in a row I’ve been involved with Festival Neue Literatur, the English-language festival of new writing from the German-speaking countries Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Admittedly not all of Switzerland speaks German, so we’re just talking about what in a language other than English would be called “the German Switzerland.” I think you understand what I mean. In any case, it’s been quite a learning process for me, if only because putting together a literary festival turns out to be complicated beyond your wildest imaginings. Venues have to be found, timetables established, catering arranged for, not to mention all the details of transport and housing and food involved with importing authors from distant lands to spend a long weekend in New York. Oh, and budgets. Did I mention budgets? Fortunately most of these matters were none of my concern, as the Festival is put on by a consortium of cultural agencies and institutes, including the Austrian Cultural Forum, the German and Swiss consulates, Deutsches Haus at NYU, the German Book Office, the Goethe Institut and the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia. All of these entities, thank goodness, have staff experienced in festival production. My job as the curator of this year’s festival was in some ways much simpler, and in others infinitely more difficult: It was up to me to select the authors to invite to New York. And so I spent most of last summer blissfully buried up to my nose in German-language books, reading all the authors whose names had been suggested. It was difficult to choose. I wish I could have chosen more. But I am delighted with the group of six authors that will be presented at the festival this weekend: Linda Stift and Erwin Uhrmann of Austria, Larissa Boehning and Inka Parei of Germany, and Monica Cantieni and Catalin Dorian Florescu of Switzerland. Two wonderful American writers, Chris Adrian and Francisco Goldman, will also be joining us for the evening events on Saturday and Sunday.

The first event of this year’s festival, on Friday Feb. 10, will be hosted by a partner new to the festival this year: Deutsches Haus at Columbia University. All six writers will be participating in workshop discussions there with graduate students from Columbia’s German Department and from the MFA Writing program at the School of the Arts. These sessions will take place partly in German and mostly in English, and are open to the public. 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

On Saturday and Sunday evenings (Feb. 11 and 12), we will present groups of three festival authors reading from their latest books and participating in panel discussions with our American guest authors. Both evening events will take place at 6:00 p.m., at powerHouse Arena on Saturday, and McNally Jackson Books on Sunday.

One additional event will be held on Sunday at noon, the Frühschoppen literary brunch, a perennial FNL favorite: In this potpourri of short readings, all six writers read briefly from their books in German, followed by readings of the English translations (we splurged on actors this year, so the readings should be particularly good). Then we’ll chow down. It’s not too late to RSVP for this, but I’d do so promptly if I were you.

We’ve also put together a helpful website on which you will find the complete program for the festival, along with information on all the authors (bio notes, book synopses, sample translations). We hope you’ll check it out.

And I’m delighted to note also that the Festival has been getting a lot of great press this week. Time Out NY chose it as a “Critics’ Pick” for the weekend; Chad Post wrote it up for the Three Percent blog; literary critic Liesl Schillinger (who’ll be moderating our Sunday evening panel) wrote about it for Publishing Perspectives; I wrote about it for Words without Borders; Publishing Trendsetters interviewed GBO staff member Brittany Hazelwood on why the festival is so important for young book professionals; and along the way we acquired a Facebook page. I was also somehow persuaded to record a short video welcoming everyone to the festival. Here it is:

And one last note: The festival will secretly be opening on Thursday evening with a private reception where folks in the publishing industry can meet our fresh-off-the-plane writers. If you’re in the book business and somehow didn’t get an invitation yet, drop us a note ASAP so we can do something about it.

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