Festival Neue Literatur 2013

This year’s Festival Neue Literatur kicked off last night with a private opening reception at the Goethe Institut. Part of this year’s Festival was the presentation of a new award, the Friedrich Ulfers Prize for Exemplary Work in the Promotion of German-language Literature in the U.S. The recipient of the prize in its inaugural year was Carol Brown Janeway, for her contributions in publishing (and often also translating) German-language authors for Alfred A. Knopf Books/Random House. Her discoveries include Bernhard Schlink, Benjamin Lebert and most recently Daniel Kehlmann, who gave a moving speech last night detailing the history of his collaboration with Janeway. He apologized for tormenting her by hiding Goethe quotes in all his novels (she’s not so fond of Goethe), then sang her praises for finding a way to translate the “computer nerd” chapter of his latest novel, Fame, which he described as “translatable into every language except English.”

And today the Festival proper begins. I’m sure readers of this blog know all about the Festival Neue Literatur, since I plug it every year. In case not: this festival is the joint project of half a dozen cultural institutes to invite six previously untranslated Austrian, German and Swiss writers to NYC for a long weekend of readings and conversations with American authors. This is my third year being involved with the festival as a curator (this time around co-curating with journalist Claudia Steinberg). Curating this festival is hard, heady work – it involves reading books by dozens of younger writers and picking just a handful for presentation in New York – authors of books we’d particularly love to see translated into English and made available to an American reading public. It was hard to pick just six, so this is a very select group: Clemens Setz and Cornelia Travnicek from Austria, Silke Scheuermann and Leif Randt of Germany, and Ulrike Ulrich and Tim Krohn of Switzerland. One of our authors (Setz) found an American publisher shortly after being invited to participate in the Festival: Norton will be publishing his novel Indigo. Congratulations, Clemens!

The festival has been growing in popularity each year. This year we got plugged by both The New Yorker and The New York Times!

If you’d like to hear Claudia and me chatting about the authors we chose this year, check out the “curators’ welcome”video that was put together by social media blackbelt Brittany Hazelwood and Grace Moss of the German Book Office:

You can also find detailed information about each of the Festival authors – including English-language excerpts from their books – on the Festival website. Click on an author’s thumbnail for details. You’ll also find a complete listing of events on the site. The entire festival will be held in English (though we’ve asked the authors to read from their books in German for a couple of minutes so you have a chance to hear what their work sounds like in the original.)

Today, Friday Feb. 22, all six Festival authors will be appearing at  Columbia University’s Deutsches Haus (420 West 116th Street) from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Each of them will be briefly interviewed by a graduate student who has read his/her book, so it’ll be a great opportunity to get to know the authors and their books at the same time. This is an event you can easily drop in and out of if you can’t stay for the whole thing. And if you stick around all afternoon, the coffee break and wine reception offer an excellent opportunity to mingle and chat up the authors.

Over the weekend, there will be three more events, including two evening panels, in each of which three Festival authors will converse with an American counterpart:

On Saturday, Feb. 23, fiction writer Justin Taylor will speak with Leif Randt, Silke Scheuermann and Clemens Setz at powerHouse Arena in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn (37 Main Street), beginning at 6:30, on a panel entitled “Closed Circuits: Shrunken Dystopias.” Moderated by moi.

On Sunday at 6:00 p.m. at McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street in Manhattan), Joshua Ferris will join Tim Krohn, Cornelia Travnicek and Ulrike Ulrich to discuss “Breaking Away: Contemporary Travelogues.” Moderated by Claudia Steinberg.

And at noon on Sunday there’ll be a Frühschoppen (brunch) event at NYU’s Deutsches Haus featuring readings from all six books: the authors will read in German, and actors Jocelyn Kuritsky and Andrew Garman will read the English translations. This event requires an RSVP, and last night I heard that the list was now full, but there may still be room on the waiting list. The other good news is that there are several other opportunities to see our authors in action, so I hope you’ll take advantage of them. It’s a great crew.

Have a wonderful Festival, everyone!

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