Thursday, 19 September 2013


Two weeks after the Rome-based “multi-cultural” writer Taiye Selasi declared provocatively in Berlin that “African literature doesn’t exist”, her more famous counterpart Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be in Paris to talk about literary stereotypes and identity.

Chimamanda Adichie © SWAN
Adichie of Nigeria is one of 28 high-profile writers taking part in the inaugural “Ecrivains du Monde” literary festival Sept. 20 - 22 in the French capital, where the issues of diversity and globalization are set to generate some interesting debate.

Like the fast-rising Selasi (Ghana Must Go), Adichie and many other writers reject being pigeon-holed according to their nationality or colour, and the festival is meant to be a “celebration of world literature”, or perhaps world-class literature, as it includes award-winning authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Walter Mosley and Salman Rushdie.

“African Literature is an empty designation, as is Asian Literature, European Literature, Latin American Literature, South American Literature, North American Literature, and so forth,” Selasi said in a recent speech.  “My very basic assertion is that the practice of categorizing literature by the continent from which its creators come is past its prime at best.”

The “Ecrivains du Monde” festival, organized by New York’s Columbia University and Paris’ Bibliotheque national de France (national library), may thus be ahead of the curve by focusing on the world of literature produced by writers from around the world.

Take Petros Markaris, for instance. Born in Turkey to a Greek mother and Armenian father, he became a Greek citizen in 1974. Before that, he had no citizenship. Markaris, an acclaimed screenwriter and novelist with fans all over the globe, will discuss language and identity on the opening day of the festival.

Festival co-director Caro Llewellyn © SWAN
That same evening, novelist Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) will be participating in an “international reading under the stars”, along with Ma Jian of China (The Noodle Maker), John Banville of Ireland (The Sea) and Rushdie from “the world of living under police protection”, according to festival co-director Caro Llewellyn.

“Rushdie is a guest like everybody else and he’ll be reading and holding discussions just like everybody else,” Llewellyn told SWAN, when asked about the presence of the controversial author.

“The writers were selected based on many criteria … who they may pair well with, what’s their story and how does that reflect certain issues that we want to raise at the festival. But they are all great writers doing great work,” she added.

Llewellyn, an Australian who has organized festivals from Sydney to New York, says that there is a need for people everywhere to read the “world’s books” to achieve greater international understanding. This is a belief also held by Paul LeClerc, the new director of Columbia Global Centers / Europe who came up with the idea for the festival. The Center in Paris often organizes stimulating symposiums on global and cultural issues.

During the Ecrivains du Monde event, one much-anticipated debate will focus on whether globalization has hurt or helped writers from smaller countries. Have barriers really broken down between borders and language, with new markets opening up all the time? Most writers would probably laugh at this question, but the subject will be seriously tackled by Kiran Desai and Amin Maalouf, among others.

Walter Mosley (image from Ecrivains)
Meanwhile author Elif Shafak, who writes in both Turkish and English, will talk about “reimagining east and west” – a look at how “imaginary” geographical concepts can be “de-imagined” and “re-imagined”, as she puts it.

Speaking of mind games, book-lovers will also get to listen to celebrated crime writer Walter Mosley discuss whether there is anything more real than imagination. And Mosley will additionally cast a light on the mean streets of his popular protagonist Easy Rawlins, who solves crimes in a segregated American city of the 1950s and Sixties.

Readers needing some physical exercise after such intellectual discourse can opt for a walking tour of Paris on the final day of the festival with a Columbia University professor of architecture, who will relate the story of those who helped shape the city’s history. These movers and "shapers" include ancient Roman settlers, Resistance fighters and, of course, famous Parisian authors.

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