Focus on Literature in Germany

A Writer to Touch: The “forum: authors” at the Munich Literature Festival

The author Matthias Politycki, curator of the forum:autoren 2011, Munich Literature Festival; © Mathias BothorThe author and this year’s curator Matthias Politycki in an interview on his concept of the “forum: authors” 2011.

From November 10 to 27, the Munich Literature Festival will take place this year for the second time. The core of the Festival is the forum:authors (forum:autoren), a series of events which, along with the book market and the family program, is one of the Festival’s three components and for which a different writer is responsible as curator each year. Last year Ilja Trojanow had the honor; he set the focus on international literature. For 2011 the Festival commissioned Matthias Politycki to organize this part of the program. He wants to make an assessment of the position of contemporary German-language literature. To this end he has invited authors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to spend three whole days in the city. In this way he means to bring the writers into conversation and so make them again the real center of the literary scene. In an interview, Politycki explained how he intends to achieve this goal.

What characteristic do the writers share that you have invited to take part in the program “forum:authors”?

The logo of the forum:autoren 2011, Munich Literature FestivalWe’ve invited over 50 writers, along with 20 critics. We would have liked to invite even more had the budget allowed! On the other hand, we didn’t want to produce a true to scale copy of everything that can be found on the book market under the generic term “contemporary German-language literature”. So I preferred to invite writers whose books I particularly like; as curator, I have to stand behind my program. The range this year extends from Paul Nizon to Tina Uebel, from F.W. Bernstein to Xóchil Schütz. Their texts, especially their language, won my vote.

What is the guiding idea behind the “forum:authors”?

Hans Georg Küppers, head of Munich's Deaprtment for Arts and Culture,  Matthias Politycki and Reinhard G. Wittmann, head of the Literaturhaus München, at the pressconference on 22.9.2011; © Volker DerlathOur entire program is based on the belief that the emphasis in the literary scene shouldn’t any longer be placed on the scene, but rather on the literature. We want to bring literature, literature in the stricter sense, back from the margin of events into the center.

At the "Salon of Living Writers", in the Literature House restaurant, readers can meet writers in the evening and talk to them. You’ve said that the writers should bring a lot of good humor with them, that is, that they should “sell” themselves. Isn’t that an expectation which can be rather demanding?

Matthias Poitycki © Volker DerlathThe Salon of Living Writers, which will be presented every evening by another Munich publishing house, will bring together organizers, writers, critics and visitors to the events. In the course of their lives many writers have the tendency to withdraw from public debate and retreat into their niches. With our invitation every evening, we want to encourage them to enter into conversation with others. We’ve made the necessary time for this; the invited writers will generally stay in the city for three days. If I speak of “good humor”, it’s less a matter of writers’ “selling” themselves than of us ourselves, of the joy in each other, of mutual openness and cordiality.

Doesn’t the Festival harm literature, in that difficult texts can hardly be adequately presented in a half-hour reading? That’s too short a time for listeners to really delve into a text.

The logo of the Munich Literature Festival 2011Seeing a writer who has worked all his life on his texts giving a reading and talking to him is for me still a great experience, even if it lasts only five minutes. And what is difficult literature anyway? In my opinion, not necessarily literature that is difficult at first glance, writing that already makes its aim clear in its experimental print image or convoluted sentence structure. Often seemingly easily put together literature is much more complex once the reader has penetrated its depths. If you look at things in this way, we’ve invited a lot of difficult writers; and they and the surfaces of their texts are sure to present us with some great evenings.

When you say your readings will take place in “boringly normal, classical literary spaces” rather than in the subway or the butcher shop, should we see this as a distancing from the concept of “literature as event”?

It came into vogue a few years ago to stage literature as an event so as distract readers from literature. But literature and writers, both in the stricter sense of the word, are as such exciting! With our return to essentials, the forum:authors can set an example.

The idea of preparing for and accompanying the Festival with the blog “” is new. Why the blog?

If they aren’t misused as a propaganda tool, I think blogs are a contemporary way of getting into conversation with each other; blogs offer something and combine this with the invitation to deal with themes and communicate about them. We therefore defined our blog from the outset as an independent forum. Of course, we also hope to reach younger people with the blog and so perhaps attract them to take part in our events.

Gitte Zschoch
is a literary scholar and Koreanist who, after stationings in Seoul and Tokyo, now works at the headquarters of the Goethe-Institut in Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2011

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