Prosanova Literary Festival
Young and Full of Life

The Sprechstück, or spoken piece, directed by Katja Brunner “Ändere den Aggregatzustand deiner Trauer”;
The Sprechstück, or spoken piece, directed by Katja Brunner “Ändere den Aggregatzustand deiner Trauer”; | Photo (detail): © Fabian Thomas

Every three years the literary reading is reinvented in the unimposing city of Hildesheim, where the Prosanova literary festival certainly breaks the mould when it comes to the presentation of poetry, prose and dramatized texts. 2014, the four-day festival developed into an enthusiastic confession of faith in literature.

Be it an old villa or a former barracks, the venues for the Prosanova literary festival in Hildesheim are often quite special. 2014 the unusual setting was a primary school. The festival directors transformed the building, right down to its very last corner, into a literary world complete with book origamis, audio-installations and comfortable armchairs.

One is unlikely to hit on Hildesheim when considering literary centres in Germany. Yet the city in Lower Saxony has become a great attraction for up-and-coming creative people since the university there inaugurated the Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism study course. The current course participants, about 50 students, busied themselves for months with organizing and designing the Prosanova festival. Over a period of four days that festival aims to show how literature can be presented in new contexts, the boundaries of the classical reading can be pushed and old-fashioned notions about intellectual high culture can be case aside.

Literature and Our Time

For the magazine Bella triste, which appears at the same time as the festiva, the creative writing students requested from the festival participants “confessions”– about writing and the significance of literature in our time. They were thus able to form an image of what is of interest to young authors in advance of the festival. The theme of the “confession” ran though the Prosanova festival like a common thread.

The prose writer Dorothee Elmiger and the dramatist Wolfram Lotz presented the first of numerous readings, performances and discussions. Both of them have already written books that are very political and focused on the current state of the world. They deal, among other things, with asylum seekers waiting in a terrible state of uncertainty to hear about their fate, with the obliteration of identity, for example, by paring off one’s fingertips, or with the fates of fictional Somali pirate and actual court cases against pirates in the Hamburg regional court. While Dorothee Elmiger read from her novel and from material she used for it, Wolfram Lotz used a beamer and laser pointer to show the geographical positions of pirate and fishing boats off the Somali coast.

The Reading as Experiment

The parts of the festival programme that took place in the neighbouring gym hall moved away from the book. There, the young dramatist Katja Brunner directed a Sprechstück or language piece entitled Ändere den Aggregatzustand deiner Trauer (Alter the aggregate state of your sorrow). Dressed up as school pupils for a sports class, five actors performed their texts about childhood, growing up, helplessness and despair with the help of bars and gym mats, soft balls and stability balls. The – only apparently harmonious – denouement came in a final act involving Christmas carols and birthday songs sung somewhat out of key.

Meanwhile in the school canteen it was possible to witness the experimental shattering of a classical text. There, under the heading Social Reading, the writers Jan Brandt, Jo Lendle and Annika Reich read unpublished texts out loud to one another. The texts had already been viewed and commented on in advance by the respective other authors on an internet platform.

Sound Collage, Test Procedure and Science Fiction

A reading without a book, even without a visible author, was on offer in the school’s redesigned sewing room: the poet-duo Daniela Seel and Robert Stripling transmitted a poetry performance by microphone into that room from behind panes of glass and lowered blinds. This was interrupted by short films about the eco-system in Yellowstone National Park and about the South African photographer Roger Ballen. Layer by layer a collage dealing with intimacy, passion and untamed nature emerged.

A highpoint of the Prosanova festival was a reading by Leif Randt in the Saint Jakobi Literaure Church, off the school grounds, where almost 600 people listened to an extract from a science-fiction novel project in an almost sacred atmosphere. Interestingly enough, this combination was also a success: the austere darkened church space formed an effective backdrop for a fantastic story about alien planets, a group of young people called Dolfins and the consciousness-expanding substance magnon.

Young Literature is Alive and Well

Science fiction and political lecture, dramatized performance and new internet-supported formats: a multifaceted picture emerged of what young literature is all about during the four-day festival in Hildesheim. Here, pure text is just one artistic form among many, often no more than a kind of libretto that can be set to music anew. The altered habits of today’s literary public have also been taken into account; the praxis of the Social Reading, for example, uses the commentary-approach of the blog.

The fourth edition of the literary festival Prosanova was held from 29 May until 1 June 2014. The festival is organised by the editors of the Hildesheim literary journal Bella Triste together with 50 students of the University of Hildesheim.