Stockholm Literature Festival
Lola A. Åkerström reports from the very first Stockholm Literature Festival.
I’m in “Läsning i samlingen” – the collection room at Moderna Museet where the festival’s headlining authors are going to read excerpts from their books for roughly 20 minutes each. First up is Teju Cole who reads philosophical snippets from his highly lauded novel, Open City, whose main character, Julius, is a Nigerian-German psychiatrist in New York City five years after 9/11.
As the morning rolls on, the museum is packed with standing room situations in the book readings. When Chimamanda Adichie takes the stage, everyone is listening intently, swept up in her words, her storytelling, as she reads an excerpt from her latest novel, Americanah.
Seemingly more poet than straight storyteller, Taiye Selasi reads an engrossing scene about traditional dancing from her book, ”Ghana Must Go”, mentally taking the crowd through those invigorating dance steps themselves.
I quickly glance around the crowd of mostly Swedes clutching tightly to their own copies of Americanah and Ghana Must Go. The irony isn’t lost on me – at least three West African writers are headlining the event – and I couldn’t be prouder that Stockholm’s inaugural literature festival was opening up with a huge statement.
That it was recognizing excellent African writers and was celebrating and honoring diversity within the literary world.
The Literature Festival was held over two days – October 26-27 – at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet located on the island of Skeppholmen, and it unfolded through a series of discussions with the authors, poets, and playwrights, as well as book readings, book signings, and contemporary performances.
Among the international headliners (a total of 13 authors and three playwrights) were:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Nigerian author whose major international breakthrough came with her novel about the lives of three people during the Biafran War in the 1960s, Half of a Yellow Sun. It was awarded the Orange Prize. Her latest novel, Americanah, will be published in Swedish this autumn.
Teju Cole – A Nigerian-American writer, photographer and art historian whose recent novel, Open City, has been nominated for several literary awards. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications.
Olga Grjasnowa – Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, to a Russian-Jewish family, her debut novel, All Russians Love Birches, was an overnight sensation when it was published in Germany in 2012, and has been translated into several languages. She is currently working on her second novel.
Philipp Meyer –American writer who broke through with his first novel, American Rust, and was named one of the 20 most interesting authors under 40 by the New Yorker. His second novel, The Son, has been translated into Swedish.
Taiye Selasi – Having coined the term, Afropolitan,Taiye Selasi grew up in Massachusetts, studied at Yale and Oxford and now lives in Rome, New Delhi and New York. She has written several renowned short stories and just published her first novel, Ghana Must Go, to critical acclaim.
Kim Thúy – Vietnamese author who left as a boat refugee when she was ten. She now lives in Montreal. Her debut novel, Ru, was honored with Canada’s finest literary award – the Governor General’s Award – and has also received prizes in France. This autumn, her latest novel Mãn, will be published in Swedish.
Using the museum as the location for the festival couldn’t be more apt and according to Daniel Birnbaum, director of Moderna Museet, “Literature and art exist close to each other. It is important to remind ourselves of this – the festival will be a chance to see what happens when they are brought together”.
Reading amidst contemporary modern art work and sculptures, I couldn’t help but be inspired by authors who were pushing boundaries with their work and redefining themselves, and what it was to living authentically as artists in this contemporary space and time.
Here’s a photographic journey through Stockholm’s Literature Festival
I also popped into a contemporary performance called “Wild Minds” directed by Marcus Lindeen which was about daydreaming and the power and shame that comes with our daydreams and succumbing to them. It really was an interesting concept and it got me thinking about my own daydreams. About possibly headlining Stockholm Literature Festival myself some day.
Scenes from Moderna Museet
As for the festival itself, here’s the background on how Stockholm Literature was conceptualized.
Stockholm Literature | Moderna Museet was initiated and developed by Margareta Petersson and Stefan Ingvarsson, who met while working on a Strindberg exhibition in spring 2012.
Margareta, who has a diverse background as a producer and project manager for exhibitions and stage productions, had been contemplating an idea for a festival inspired by Louisiana Literature in Denmark.
Meanwhile, Stefan was in the process of leaving his job at a publishing company to engage in talks on literature. They both felt that Stockholm needed a major literary event, where translated literature, which is increasingly hard to promote to readers, could be introduced.
But an equally important objective was to combine different artistic disciplines in talks, performances and readings. When their concept was presented to Moderna Museet’s management, the Museum was eager to be a key partner and host the festival.
I definitely enjoyed this year’s Stockholm Literature Festival and I’d be curious to see how the organizers will top themselves in terms of headlining authors next year.