Intensity. The Conrad Festival for the eighth time

3 August 2016

Richard Flanagan – author of the cult Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish, Michael Cunningham – famous for the Pulitzer-winning The Hours, which was also adapted into a film, Eleanor Catton – the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize in history, and Géza Röhrig – a prominent writer and actor, known for the main role in the Oscar-winning Son of Saul – these are the first stars of the Conrad Festival, one of the most important literary festivals in Europe, starting on the 24th of October in Krakow.

“The eighth edition of the Conrad Festival will attract true stars of the literary world to Krakow”, said Izabela Helbin, Director of the Krakow Festival Office. “The week-long festival will be filled with many attractions, and the programme will include the constant elements, so valued by our audiences: meetings with writers, concerts, film programming, events for all ages, including children and seniors, as well as industry discussions. Like every year, we will join forces with the Book Fair – celebrating its 20th anniversary this year – in order to once again prove that Krakow, the UNESCO City of Literature, is the literary capital of Poland. We will also remember about the literary debuts, and so the crowning of our festival will be the Conrad Award Gala, during which we will honour the author of the best debut novel of the past year.” 

The leading motif of this year’s edition is intensity, understood both as passion and unwavering commitment to the common matter of culture. It means that the programme authors are putting an exceptional emphasis on the attitudes of the organisers, the artists and the readers. Each day of this year’s edition of the Conrad Festival will feature a different theme: Languages, Beliefs-Disbeliefs, Emotions, Landscapes, Tensions and Senses. Like last year, on the 30th of October, the Festival will conclude with the Conrad Award Gala, during which the best prose debut of the previous year will be honoured.

“This year’s edition has a particular leading motif”, says Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Programme Director of the Conrad Festival. “It’s about the idea of intensity with which we get involved in literature, with which we start discussions about it, and with which we refer to the world we perceive through the texts we read. The assumption is that the more intensively – the more adventurously, with greater commitment, with more attention, greater dedication, greater care – we approach literature, the more intensively – the better – we’ll live in the world, among other readers.”

This year’s invited guests embody this idea with their entire lives and work.

Tasmania-born Richard Flanagan, one of the most prominent contemporary Australian writers, spent 12 years working on The Narrow Road to the Deep North, describing the fate of Australian soldiers during World War II. He dedicated the novel to his father who, as a prisoner of war in Thailand, worked on the construction of the Burmese Death Railway. In 2014, the novel won the Man Booker Prize – the most prestigious English-language literary award. A descendant of Irish convicts transported to Tasmania, Flanagan described the story of first-generation immigrants from Central Europe to Tasmania in the novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping. The film Flanagan made on the basis of his own novel was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Flanagan is also the co-author of the screenplay for Baz Luhrman’s Australia, which starred Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Gould's Book of Fish, translated into many languages and awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, is considered to be his best book.

American writer Michael Cunningham is known mainly due to the best-selling novel The Hours, inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf. The book, considered his best work, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The film adaptation of The Hours included many stars, including Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. Two other novels by Cunningham have also been adapted to film: A Home at the End of the World (featuring Colin Farrell and Robin Wright) as well as Evening (with Meryl Streep and Glenn Close). Cunningham happily rewrites classic fairy tales – his The Snow Queen features Andersen’s plot retold with LGBT characters. In addition to the Pulitzer, he has also won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Book Award. His short story “White Angel” was printed in 1989 by The New Yorker and selected for the Best American Short Stories anthology. Cunningham lectures at Yale, the Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown and at Brooklyn College.

Eleanor Catton, a Canadian-born New Zealand author, became the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize in history thanks to The Luminaries. The 832-page work is the longest winning work in the history of the award. The novel was also nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. It was translated into 26 languages and sold over half a million copies. Catton published her first novel, The Rehearsal, at age 22. She is fascinated by astrology and psychoanalysis. Her favourite TV shows are The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad – it is said she tries to make her novels the literary equivalents of TV series. In 2015, she caused a brief scandal, accusing the New Zealand political elite of greed and a lack of interest in culture.

Hungarian actor, writer, poet and singer Géza Röhrig is known to Polish audiences primarily as the lead actor in the acclaimed feature film Son of Saul (winner of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film). After the death of his father, Röhrig lived in an orphanage for eight years until he was adopted by Jewish friends of his family. In the 1980s, he was an underground musician, the frontman for the banned punk group Huckleberry, whose concerts were often interrupted by communist authorities. In order to confuse them, the band played concerts under various names. Röhrig studied Polish Studies and then directing at the Budapest University of Theatre and Film Arts, in István Szabó’s class. He lived in Jerusalem for some time, and in 2000, he moved to New York, where he received a teaching diploma from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has published several volumes of poetry and one novel in Hungarian. In Poland, his novel A Rebbe tollatépett papagája: képzelt haszid történetek [The Rebbeh’s Featherless Parrot: Imaginary Hassidic Stories] was published as Oskubana papuga Rebego. Zmyślone opowieści chasydzkie.

For the second time, during the last day of the Festival, on the 30th of October, the Conrad Award will be presented for the best prose debut of 2015. In addition to the symbolic statuette, the winner will receive 30,000 PLN and an opportunity for a month-long residence stay in Krakow, the promotion of their work in Tygodnik Powszechny and during next year’s Conrad Festival. The list of five nominated authors will be announced in September, and the winner will be chosen by the audience during this year’s Festival. Last year, the winner was Liliana Hermetz for her novel Alicyjka.

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