Tag Archives: Wojciech Tochman

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

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Literary Reportage: Forensics of Crisis podcast on WWB Blog

David Varno of the Words Without Borders blog has just posted a write-up and a podcast of the event we held on May 27th at Idlewild Books in New York. “Literary Reportage: The Forensics of Crisis” featured Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman (author of Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia), Guatemalan-American novelist Francisco Goldman (author of The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, and outgoing Director of Yale UP/incoming Director of the Yivo Institute Jonathan Brent (author of Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia). It was moderated by critic and journalist Marcela Valdes, who is a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and will be a Niemann Foundation Fellow at Harvard next year. I think the discussion was terrific and excellently moderated by Valdes. Although much of it did deal with differences and similarities between fiction and reportage, as Varno points out, by the end of the conversation, Valdes succeeded in uncovering some deeper currents linking the three books, which had to do with the issue of impunity and the writer’s ethical relationship to the victims and perpetrators of injustice. Thanks to David and Bud Parr and Words Without Borders for making the podcast available.

From left: Marcela Valdes, Francisco Goldman, Jonathan Brent, Wojciech Tochman (Photo: John Beckman)

From left: Marcela Valdes, Francisco Goldman, Jonathan Brent, Wojciech Tochman (Photo: John Beckman)

Wojciech Tochman’s LIKE EATING A STONE

Thanks to the Polish Book Institute’s website (my subscription to the venerable NYRB having recently lapsed…), I’ve just learned of Charles Simic’s review of three recent titles dealing with human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia, “Connoisseurs of Cruelty” (New York Review of Books, 12 March 2009). The first book he looks at is Polish author Wojciech Tochman’s LIKE EATING A STONE: SURVIVING THE PAST IN BOSNIA, which Antonia Lloyd-Jones has very generously given to us under the auspices, last April, of Portobello Books in the UK, and last October, of Atlas & Co. in the US. Restrained and bleak, it is a remarkable book; and I could hardly keep from telling everyone I know about it after I read it last November.

likeeatingastone

Tochman, who was born in 1969 and lives in Warsaw, is a leading younger journalist in a country that has a long and rich tradition of reportage, or literary journalism. This tradition is primarily associated with Krzysztof Kąkolewski, Ryszard Kapuściński, and Hanna Krall, three authors whose careers took off in the 1970s, the latter two of whom are quite well known abroad. What is usually called the “Polish School of Reportage” (NB: a parallel movement in film is called by the same name), has its roots in the work of Ksawery Pruszyński, Melchior Wańkowicz, Tadeusz Borowski, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, and Zofia Nałkowska, writers who came of age in the interwar period and who largely wrote about the experience of World War II.Reportage is an established and respected literary genre in Poland in a way that it is not (yet, at least) in English, despite the presence of classics like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the Library of America’s recent impressive editions of 20th century journalism, or the work of writers like Anne Fadiman, Philip Gourevitch, or Lawrence Weschler. In Poland, high school students study it alongside novels and lyric poetry as a distinct field of literature. And many publishing houses, like WAB and Czarne, have series devoted to reportage, featuring books by a younger generation of writers: Wojciech Jagielski, Paweł Smoleński, Olga Stanisławska, Mariusz Szczygiel, and Jacek Hugo-Bader, among many others.

Tochman was nominated for two prestigious prizes for LIKE EATING A STONE, which was first published by Wydawnictwo Pogranicze in 2002: the Polish NIKE Award and the French Prix Témoin du Monde. He has a website (most of which is in Polish): http://tochman.com.pl/. LIKE EATING A STONE, his third book, was written in 2000-2001, and aside from one heartbreaking foray into the Serbian Republic, largely follows the experience of Muslim women in Bosnia who, as Simic puts it, “years after the signing of the Dayton Accords were still haunting the mass graves being exhumed in Bosnia in the hope that among the bones being identified they might find their long-missing husbands and sons”—and daughters, too. Organized in short chapters that are themselves subdivided in small sections titled according to specific objects or phenomena—”Body Bags,” “Plums,” “String,” “Questions that Are Not Asked,” “The Last Day of the Holidays,” “The Garage”—the book reads as rather loosely structured for the first fifty pages or so, dipping into the stories of first this character then that, before eventually cohering around the work of one woman, the forensic anthropologist Dr. Ewa Klonowski, and the hopes and fears of a couple of families. There is no “I” in this book—the narrator is entirely evacuated, disembodied—no immediately identifiable organizing principle. But that uncanny vacancy is less the assertion of an intangible, distant authority, than—I think—an unaffected, and affectless, recreation of the author’s own devastation, having come so close to the heart of the atrocity. What the reader gets is about as unfiltered an account of tragedy as anything he or she is likely to read for a long time.

I can only imagine that Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s experience of translating this book, of finding the language in English and editing drafts and galleys of it, must have been harrowing. I’m reminded of a paper I once heard given by the University of Chicago professor Loren Kruger, who described the trauma that official interpreters for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission themselves experienced as a byproduct of translating the testimonies of victims of human rights crimes. I wonder, too, if Tochman’s resistance to representing his own subjectivity might be understood as a kind of prophylaxis.

LIKE EATING A STONE is by no means an easy book, but for that, like Gourevitch’s stories from the Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, it is a necessary one. It is also not only a report about atrocities in Bosnia, but involves, too, I think, an attempt to engage the relationship between self and other, or rather, between others: Muslim Bosnian and Orthodox Serb; the living and the dead; the individual, unmarked male observer and the communities of women observed and described. The book stands—in fact it practically requires—being read multiple times, and certainly discussed and worked through.