2nd International Conrad Festival in Kraków

The second International Joseph Conrad Festival started yesterday in Kraków and for the second year running is putting Kraków on the map of international literature. Its impressive program features writers Herta Müller, László Krasznahorkai, Rabih Alameddine, Amos Oz, Marijane Satrapi, and Andrzej Stasiuk, as well as filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, theater director Krystian Lupa, musician Mikołaj Trzaska, scholar Walter Benn Michaels, and many other remarkable authors, artists, and scholars.

Named for the great Polish-born English-language novelist Joseph Conrad (Józef Konrad Korzeniowski), the festival conceives itself explicitly as a celebration of otherness and of international perspectives. I would guess that a corrective of a certain provincialism is implied as well — the festival is, as far as I know, the first one of this scope to be launched in Poland, and one of its stated missions is to “expose the Polish reader to little-known ways of thinking and sensibilities.”

As cosmopolitan as it is, however, the festival is also distinctly Polish and presents the best of Polish culture. Yesterday’s first event highlighted the genre of literary reportage, which has a particularly illustrious pedigree in Poland. Titled “The Geography of Violence,” the panel was hosted by journalist Olga Stanisławska (author of the reportage Rond-Point de Gaulle) and featured French journalist Jean Hatzfeld (whose book The Antelope’s Strategy was awarded the first Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage earlier this year) and Swedish reportage author Sven Lindqvist.

And the festival makes good use of Kraków’s compact urban topography, even as it inscribes a new layer onto the city’s literary-historical palimpsest. Following the reportage panel, which took place at the Solski Theater Academy across from the Jagiellonian University’s main building, there was an opening for the Liberature exhibit a few blocks away at the Wyspiański Pavillion on Plac Wszystkich Świętych. Liberature is an experimental literary/theoretical movement founded by Zenon Fajfer and Katarzyna Bazarnik that considers literature from the standpoint of the book (liber) as the primary unit of the artistic message. Historical examples of “liberary” literature include Mallarmé’s Un coup de des (which was recently re-translated into Polish by the poet Tomasz Różycki incidentally), Raymond Queneau’s Oulipian work Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes, as well as B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates (also recently translated into Polish by Bazarnik) and, I imagine, Tom Phillips’s A Humument. The publishing house Korporacja Ha!Art has published a number of Fajfer and Bazarnik’s theoretical writings as well as the Mallarmé and Johnson works just mentioned.

The center of festivities shifted over to Podgórze, on the other side of the river, for the next event of the evening: a concert with the amazing clarinetist Mikołaj Trzaska (who performed with Joe McPhee a few years ago in New York and Chicago following the launch of their CD Intimate Conversations) and the certainly no-less praiseworthy author Andrzej Stasiuk, who was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York last April and who has another book forthcoming with Dalkey Archive Press next year (the story collection Dukla, translated by Bill Johnston).

Back on the main square, Klub Pod Baranami hosted the final event of the festival’s first day: Iranian-French graphic novelist Marijane Satrapi presented her 2007 film Persepolis, which follows an Iranian girl as she grows to adulthood against the backdrop of historical events in Iran. And a public discussion with Satrapi and festival co-organizer Grzegorz Jańkowicz is taking place today (probably even as I’m writing this) at the International Culture Centre.

Today’s other events include a reading by Ewa Kuryluk, a discussion with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai and Polish artist Mirosław Balka, a lecture by Walter Benn Michaels, a panel on women’s literature hosted by WAB publisher Beata Stasińska, and a screening tonight of Wojciech Has’s The Saragossa Manuscript, introduced by Rabih Alameddine, the Lebanese-American author whose celebrated novel The Hakawati has just been published in Polish translation by Znak.

The Conrad Festival is one event for which I really wish I could be in Kraków. But here I am in far-off Brooklyn and can only imagine the attendees scuttling across the city from one venue to another, stopping off in Nowa Prowincja for a kawę białą along the way, and no doubt ending up at Dym to continue the conversation over a round (or more) of Okocim or Carlsberg.

One aspect of the festival this year that I would be eager to hear accounts of is the focus on Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan. Their very interesting correspondence was recently published in German (and is now available in English); and the festival features among other things a discussion of Celan’s piece “Conversation in the Mountains” as well as a film screening of Michael Haneke’s first feature film, an adaptation of Bachmann’s story Three Paths to the Lake.

(But since I can’t be there, I gladly welcome comments or accounts from anyone who happens to be reading this and is.)

Tomasz Różycki wins “Top Quark” prize for PEN America blog post

Tomasz Różycki wins the 3 Quarks Daily 2010 “Top Quark” Prize in Art and Literature for his post on his poem “Scorched Maps” on the PEN America blog. Judged by US poet laureate emeritus Robert Pinsky, the prize comes with a $1000 award; and the notice of the award as well as Różycki’s acceptance “speech” (in the form of a comment) are available here. Mira Rosenthal translated both the poem and the poet’s short essay, which can be found on PEN America’s blog.

Tomasz Różycki is the author of over six books of poems in Polish and one in English, The Forgotten Keys, translated by Mira Rosenthal (Zephyr Press, 2007). The Polish Cultural Institute in New York supported his residency last fall at the Vermont Studio Center, which has this nice profile of him up on their website; and he participated in group readings and discussions last November at Poets House’ in New York and at Harvard University.

Great News for Polish Studies

Great things are afoot in Polish Studies in 2010. Michał Paweł Markowski has just been named to the inaugural Stefan and Lucy Hejna Family Chair in Polish Language and Literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and will begin teaching there in August. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and both founder and Chair of the Department of International Polish Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

Markowski, who was born in 1962, is one of Poland’s leading scholars and public intellectuals and is the author of well over a hundred articles and more than a dozen books in Polish, including the seminal study of Witold Gombrowicz, Black Waters: Gombrowicz, World, Literature (Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004), which was nominated for the Nike Award in 2005 (and should really, really be published in English…); and Polish Modern Literature: Leśmian, Schulz, Witkacy (Universitas, 2008), which is an indispensable introduction to Polish modernism; as well as books on Nietzsche, Derrida, and literary and cultural theory, among other subjects.

Prof. Markowski has also hosted a cultural tv show on Polish Television and is a regular contributor to the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Northwestern University and is deeply familiar with the landscape of American academia. More importantly, he possesses a refreshing and inspiring breadth of thinking and a rare capacity for moving between disciplines and establishing both conversations and the structures to sustain them (the Department of International Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University is just one example). This truly is wonderful news not just for Polish Studies and Chicago, but for the increasingly integrated study of modern European literatures and cultures in North America.

For the University of Illinois at Chicago news release, click here.
For more information about Prof. Markowski, see the Jagiellonian’s International Polish Studies Program website.

***

2010 will also see the third International Conference in Polish Studies, held at the University of Michigan on September 16-18, and hosted by the Copernicus Endowment for Polish Studies. Previous editions of the conference were held at Indiana University (2008) and the University of Toronto (2006). This year the focus is on interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural approaches, as the Call for Papers indicates; and the following excerpt from it provides a useful reflection on the state of Polish Studies today:

The field of Polish studies in North America has been utterly transformed over the past decade. There are now more people than ever studying Polish language, literature, culture, history, society, and politics, and the overwhelming majority of them entered the profession after the fall of communism. With this new generation of scholars have come new forms of scholarship. The broad cluster of methodological and theoretical innovations collected under the rubric of Cultural Studies has brought to light a range of previously unexplored topics and introduced to our work a heightened degree of self-reflexivity. Work on gender and sexuality, for example, has not merely introduced new analytical categories and new themes, but shifted the way we understand the broad narratives of Polish history, culture, and society. Although Polonists have a long history of working across disciplinary boundaries, the vectors of interdisciplinarity have been shifting in recent years to bring together perspectives that were not always in dialogue. The moves towards comparative work and a new focus on transnational processes have not so much eclipsed Polish studies as forced us to critically examine the concept of the “Polish Nation” and to re-conceptualize it in more productive ways.

Kapuściński, the Award, and the Biography

The Ryszard Kapuściński Award for literary reportage was established and announced last month, on the third anniversary of the author’s death, by the City of Warsaw and Poland’s largest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. As the Polish Book Institute reports:

The award will be given on a yearly basis to the finest piece of literary reportage published in book form in the Polish language. The goal of the competition is to pay posthumous tribute to Ryszard Kapuściński, a resident of Warsaw for over 60 years, through this distinction and the promotion of the most valuable works of reportage, which take up important problems of contemporary life, prompt reflection, and increase our knowledge of the world of other cultures.

The winner will be awarded 50,000 zł, and should the award be given to a foreign-language writer, the Polish translator will also be given an award (15,000 zł.). The first winner will be declared in May of this year.

* * *

This is not the only recent news about Kapuściński. The reporter Artur Domosławski, author of several books of reportage on North and South America, recently finished a biography of the renowned Polish journalist, Kapuściński Non-Fiction: The Man, the Reporter, and His Times, which is to be published by Świat Książki next month. Kapuściński’s widow, Alicja, who is the patron of the City of Warsaw / Gazeta Wyborcza award, has filed a civil suit demanding that the book be banned from distribution.

Evidently the manuscript was earlier turned down by Jerzy Illg, the publisher of Wydawnictwo Znak, who had commissioned it, though not for the reason conjectured by the increasingly Fox-Newsy newspaper Rzeczpospolita — i.e. the old hat about Kapuściński’s links to the Polish secret service — but because, as Illg told a Polish AP journalist, “Rysiek was my friend, and I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye if I were to publish a book like that.” Świat Książki maintains that the nearly 600-page book will be released on March 3rd.

So what is all the fuss about? From Domosławski’s comments on his blog, it sounds like there’s not much to it:

My book reveals quite a few things and tries to explain a lot, but it is not some cheap attempt to unmask its subject. Those who expect me to examine Kapuściński’s life and pass judgment on his involvement in Communist Poland will be surprised at how I defend him. Those who are waiting for stories from the gutter will be disappointed… I think a lot of people will be amazed that anyone would want to take a book like this to court.

Of course, no writer is ever completely objective about his own work; and the epitaph to the book – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life” – sounds like nothing so much as an invitation to pry. Domosławski, who was one of Kapuściński’s protegés and as a friend of the family was given access to his private archive, evidently violated Alicja Kapuścińska’s trust and her expectations for her husband’s legacy.

At the same time, from his own statements and the several reviews that have so far appeared, it seems that he wrote the book in good faith and strove for objectivity about his subject. In a review posted two days ago (“The Dark Side of the Icon”), blogger Sergiusz Pinkwart describes Domosławski as “Kapuściński’s beloved adopted son” — counterpart to the “heir-apparent,” Wojciech Jagielski — and as having been “able, like no one else, to talk competently with Kapuściński about his great obsession: poverty and social exclusion in the third-world.” Pinkwart also recounts some of the less-than-rosy elements of the biography: Kapuściński had affairs; did indeed collaborate with the Polish secret service; and made things up in his books. But while those things may be understandably problematic, and not just for the family, none of them strikes me as unexpected or even so terribly alarming, not even the single new bit of information, i.e. the affairs.

What is probably even more troubling for a lot of people in Poland is that Domosławski’s biography violates Polish hagiographic conventions of fame, according to which any besmirching of a great Pole’s reputation is considered an assault on the nation. It seems that the controversy over Kapuściński’s biography is already also a debate about the way celebrity is constructed in Polish culture. As Andrzej Stasiuk wrote in his blurb for the book:

Domosławski follows his trail, attempts to get at the truth, and is unconcerned about some people’s desire for yet another Polish saint. Thankfully this book is not a hagiography, rendering its subject a kind of mental eunuch. Poles love to worship images like that, because they don’t demand anything from them, just a little national fatuousness for the tickling.

The biography will no doubt also play a part in the ongoing debate in Poland about the communist past, just as that debate has evidently influenced Domosławski’s approach. In a review posted yesterday on his blog, the reporter Wojciech Orliński describes how Domosławski “conducts… a cross-examination” in the book. A few years ago, Polish Newsweek reporters suggested that Kapuściński was being let off the hook for his involvement with the Polish secret service and suggested that he would have fared differently in America (the gold standard, of course): “After all, in the USA, if it came to light that a renowned, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist had collaborated with the CIA, he would be discredited at once in the eyes of his readers,” they insisted. According to Orliński, Domosławski was sceptical and interviewed a number of American journalists to find out what they thought; and they provided “any number of scenarios, both real and hypothetical,” that call into question the Newsweek reporters’ speculation.

I for one look forward to reading Domosławski’s biography; and I imagine that if it does end up released in Polish, it won’t be long before English-language readers will be able to read it, too.

Found in Translation Award nomination, Deadline January 31st

If you haven’t yet made your nomination, please read further and send your email in by this Sunday!

Found in Translation Award 2010

The Book Institute reminds that 31st of January is the deadline for submitting nominations for Found in Translation Award.

The Award was announced 2 years ago by the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and W.A.B. Publishing House in Warsaw.

The Found in Translation Award is presented annually to the translator or translators of the best translation into English of a work of Polish literature published as a book in the previous calendar year.

The Award consists of a three-month placement in Krakow, with accommodation, a grant of 2,000 PLN per month, a return airline ticket to Krakow funded by the Polish Book Institute and a financial award of 10,000 PLN funded by the W.A.B. Publishing House.

The Award is presented by a Selection Committee consisting of representatives of the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. The Director of the Polish Book Institute is the President of the Selection Committee.

The name of the winner is announced during the award ceremony, which is organised each year in the winner’s country of origin, if possible during that country’s International Book Fair.

Candidates for the Award can be nominated by both private persons and institutions in Poland and abroad.

Nominations should be sent to the Polish Book Institute, 31-011 Kraków, ul. Szczepańska 1, Poland, e-mail office@bookinstitute.pl with the subject-heading FOUND IN TRANSLATION.

The nomination must include the book title, the name of the author, the name of the translator, the publisher, and the reasons for the nomination. The deadline for submitting nominations is midnight on January 31 each year.

Previous award winners: Bill Johnston (2008) for NEW POEMS by Tadeusz Różewicz (Archipelago Books, USA); Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2009) for THE LAST SUPPER by Paweł Huelle (Serpent’s Tail, UK).

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel longlisted for Best Translated Book Award

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, translated by Bill Johnston, has just been longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Fiction nominees were announced two days ago on the Three Percent blog and include some formidable competition: Robert Walser’s The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky (Switzerland), Ferenc Barnas’s The Ninth, trans. Paul Olchváry (Hungary), Abdourahman Waberi’s The United States of Africa, trans. David and Nicole Ball (Djibouti), Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Anonymous Celebrity (trans. Nelson Vieira (Brazil), César Aira’s Ghosts, trans. Chris Andrews (Argentina), Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, trans. Martha Tennent (Spain/Catalonia), Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, trans. David Colmer (Netherlands), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future, trans. Joanne Turnbull (Russia), and many other remarkable works. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that El Salvadoran author Horacio Castellanos Moya’s The She-Devil in the Mirror (trans. Katherine Silver) didn’t get nominated, but that’s because I’m currently reading it and think it’s great. Also, I really wish Gombrowicz’s Pornografia (trans. Danuta Borchardt) had been selected: Three Percent might have reinterpreted its rule against retranslations inasmuch as this is actually the first translation from the original… But what to do.

The award, which is in its second year, has been getting oodles of attention in the British and international press, with articles in The Guardian, the Independent, Bookseller.com, and places farther afield; but as Open Letter publisher Chad Post pointed out today on his Facebook profile, U.S. publishing media have been weirdly quiet about it — probably, as subsequent comments suggest, because the news hadn’t been routed to them by a publicist…

Anyway, this year the award has been cleaved in two, evidently to reflect our two literary genders: you know, fiction and poetry. There’s no longlist for poetry, but its shortlist will be announced, along with the fiction shortlist, on February 16th. Unfortunately, the human gender balance doesn’t come off so equitably: of 25 nominated authors, 3 are women. Well. (The 28 translators, on the other hand, are split evenly.)

It would be interesting, of course, to know what the jury’s criteria are in nominating and awarding, and hopefully that will be expressed in some form during the awards ceremony this spring. Until then, hopefully, Jerzy Pilch is in some amazing company. Congratulations all around.

After Kapuściński: Institute of Reportage (InstytutR) opens in Warsaw

The Polish Instytut Reportażu has just opened in Warsaw, established in response to a couple of problems that are hardly limited to Poland: dwindling financial resources for investigative journalism and the need to train new generations of reporters. Wojciech Tochman, author of Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia (Portobello / Atlas & Co., 2008), Mariusz Szczygieł, winner of the Prix AMPHI and the Europe Book Prize for his book Gottland, and Paweł Goźliński, Head of Gazeta Wyborcza‘s reportage section, are the founders and make up the Board. Joanna Czudec, formerly of the Book Institute in Kraków, has just moved to Warsaw to become its Director. And there is an Advisory Board that includes Wojciech Jagielski, author of Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya (Seven Stories, 2009); Alicja Kapuścińska, widow of Ryszard Kapuściński; and Hanna Krall, author of The Woman From Hamburg and Other True Stories (Other Press, 2005), among other books in English. These are all absolutely fantastic people to have working together, and this is an exciting project that will no doubt go a long way to securing the future of journalism in Poland, hopefully with effects in other countries as well.

I took the liberty of translating the Institute’s mission statement:

Why an Institute of Reportage?

“We know too little about too much.”

There are various ways for people to gain more knowledge.
One way is reportage.

It was invented to provide as many people as possible with knowledge about other people.
To enable as many people as possible to understand another person.

So, since Polish reportage (and Polish literary journalism likewise) is our passion…

And since Polish reportage is rather expensive, and reporters, publishers, and editorial boards are less and less able to cover the costs of fieldwork…

Since more and more young people are interested to learn journalism, but have no one to teach them…

Since there has thus far been no central resource for information about Polish reporters and their writing…

Since more and more often we hear how it is reportage, not novels or films, that has most accurately described what has happened in Poland and the world since the fall of communism, and that a lot of journalistic writing could easily be adapted for the theater…

And since Warsaw itself seems to us to provide such excellent material for reporters…

We have established here, in Warsaw, the Institute of Reportage, which aims to do everything possible to make full sentences out of those dependent clauses above.

Sentences, and an assignment. For the coming years.

Since we know too little about too much (as Ryszard Kapuściński, the greatest representative of our vocation, writes in Travels With Herodotus), we need to support reportage. Because the more we know about the world around us, the better, safer, and more stimulating our lives will be.

Paweł Goźliński, Mariusz Szczygieł, Wojciech Tochman
Founders, InstituteR

Known in brief as InstytutR, the institute has a website up that features extensive information on recent and upcoming journalism-related events; the program for its year-long course in journalism (an impressive syllabus that involves a three-day intensive block course every month, with classes taught by Goźliński, Krall, Szczygieł, and Tochman, along with other well-known Polish reportage authors like Agata Tuszyńska, Jacek Hugo-Bader (whose reportage on Russia, White Fever, has just been bought by Portobello in the UK), and Lidia Ostalowska; as well as information on books, radio and theater tie-ins, and photoreportage. So far the website is only available in Polish. But an English-language version is in the works, so make sure to check back for it.

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Why an Institute of Reportage? —

“We know too little about too much.”

There are various ways for people to gain more knowledge.

One way is reporting.

It was invented to provide as many people as possible with knowledge about other people.

To enable as many people as possible to understand another person.

So, since Polish reportage (and Polish literary journalism likewise) is our passion…

And since Polish reportage is rather expensive, and reporters, publishers, and editorial boards are less and less able to cover the costs of fieldwork…

Since more and more young people are interested to learn journalism, but have no one to teach them…

Since there has thus far been no central resource for information about Polish reporters and their writing…

Since more and more often we hear how it is reportage, not novels or films, that has most accurately described what has happened in Poland and the world since the fall of communism, and that a lot of journalistic writing could easily be adapted for the theater…

And since Warsaw itself seems to us to provide such excellent material for reporters…

We have established here, in Warsaw, the Institute of Reportage, which aims to do everything possible to make full sentences out of those dependent clauses above.

Sentences, and an assignment. For the coming years.

Since we know too little about too much (as Ryszard Kapuściński, the greatest representative of our vocation, writes in Travels With Herodotus), we need to support reportage. Because the more we know about the world around us, the better, safer, and more stimulating our lives will be.

Paweł Goźliński, Mariusz Szczygieł, Wojciech Tochman
Founders, InstituteR