Conrad Festival 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017 - Sunday, October 29, 2017

  • Monday, October 23, 2017 - Sunday, October 29, 2017


How should we talk about the contemporary world? About people, their weaknesses and the all-encompassing sense of unrest, ubiquitous in today’s world?


“We are increasingly aware – as Conrad once wrote – of ‘the closing in of a menace from all sides’, and that our task as artists, intellectuals, teachers, students and journalists is to make sense of that which is approaching and which very few people can describe accurately,” says Michał Paweł Markowski, artistic director of the Conrad Festival (23-29 October).

To help us understand and soothe contemporary fears, Kraków welcomes artists who move in different cultural circles and who have work in literature, film, theatre, music and plastic arts. “We want to talk about contemporary unrest around the world, about the troubled movement of individuals and groups, about violent emotions,” adds Markowski. The motto of this year’s event is Unrest.

A different take on literature

The Bible, but not as you know it: 35 tales, 528 pages and 1500 illustrations. A book for all generations. The artist Serge Bloch reveals the secrets of how he worked on the remarkable book of words and images In the Beginning: Illustrated Stories from the Old Testament which he co-created with the Bible scholar Frédéric Boyer. Catherine Anyango, co-author (with designer Tom Tirabosco) of the graphic novel Congo – a brand new version of Heart of Darkness – talk about how they approached their adaptation. How did they reflect the image of hell created so evocatively by Conrad? Does the written world allow us to really feel, hear and see? Can translations truly reflect the original author’s thoughts? Jacek Dukaj, author of Heart of Darkness in a new linguistic setting – not translated as much as “Polonised” – reveals the secrets of the (un)faithfulness of translation. Can art change our attitude to social phenomena? We talk to Olga Tokarczuk about the film Spoor, based on her novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead. We also learn about unusual approaches to promoting literary festivals from Willemijn Lamp, founder and director of the Dutch festival Read My World.

Literature turns out to have a positive influence on people’s lives, as prisoners know very well. This may seem surprising, yet research shows that high numbers of prisoners are avid readers. The discussion on the social role performed by literature is held by the writer and columnist Sylwia Chutnik, social activist and founder of the Zmiana Foundation Maria Dąbrowska, photographer Mikołaj Grynberg and Wojciech Brzoska, tireless promoter of culture in prisons. We also meet Liliana Hermetz, winner of the Conrad Award in 2015, talking about her second novel Costello. Awakening, while the Iranian novelist and prosaist Goli Taraghi and her compatriot Mahmoud Hosseini Zad, playwright and translator of German literature, introduce us to the fascinating world of Persian novels. Izabela Filipiak (Morska), Remigiusz Ryziński and Krzysztof Tomasik reveal gay aspects of literature and attitudes to thinking and writing about literature.

Polish provinces

We talk to our leading parodist Dorota Masłowska about the realities of Poland and Poles themselves. The author discusses those elements of our world (and ourselves) which we are usually embarrassed about, but which we nevertheless nurture in spite of ourselves. The topic of today’s Poland, hidden under the shroud of a fairytale land, is bound to come up during the meeting with Michał Witkowski whose latest novel Erased takes us to a small town in the “Wild East” brimming with emotions and desires. The Potential of Solidarity are presented by Marta Dzido and Piotr Śliwowski, co-authors of Solidarity According to Women dedicated to the history of a group of courageous Polish women who had a major influence on shaping Poland’s political reality. What happens in the soul of Central Europe? It could be said that from the perspective of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland the world appears to be rather melancholic… Still, let’s hear what our southern neighbours have to say: the Hungarian translator, critic and author László F. Földényi and the Czech author, editor and director Jan Němec. What’s daily life like in small towns? The originator of the project “Lights of Small Towns” Agata Grabowska and the journalist and reporter Kamil Bałuk, author of the outstanding reportage All of Louis’ Children about a genetic experiment in the Netherlands, introduce us to the perspectives of individuals. The meeting will be led by Mariusz Szczygieł. In turn, the author and translator Weronika Gogola and the poet, prosaist and translator Wioletta Grzegorzewska show us the provincial world in a way that loses nothing of its unique character.

Human weaknesses

The discussion with Magdalena Grzebałkowska, author of Double Portrait, and Marcin Borchardt, director of the documentary The Beksiński Family. Videophonic Album help us gain an insight into the world of two extraordinary outsiders: Zdzisław and Tomasz Beksiński. We also hear about madness and method from Małgorzata Łukasiewicz, translator of Christine Lavant’s Memoirs From a Madhouse, and Adam Lipszyc, author of the preface of the Polish edition. Actors of the Łaźnia Nowa Theatre join the dramatist Mateusz Pakuła and director Eva Rysová in a discussion if theatre and literature can help us when we feel we are losing our strength. The special guest of the meeting will be the acclaimed actor Krzysztof Globisz.

Where do we look for reasons behind suicides? Are they rooted in the weakness of human nature? Or perhaps we should blame society? We tackle these difficult topics with the Austrian philosopher, author and essayist Anna Kim and the Swiss author and dramatist Lukas Bärfuss.

Kraków also welcomes Siri Hustvedt whose latest novel The Blazing World presents challenges faced by female artists working in a male-dominated world. The American author, essayist and poet delivers a lecture as part of the Conrad Award gala.

Modern world

Is post-apocalyptic literature merely fiction, or something more? Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling sci-fi series Silos, draws a vision of a world in the wake of a major catastrophe, filled with unrest verging on genuine menace. The American sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, whose book Strangers in Their Own Land was declared by the New York Times to be one of just six works making sense of Trump’s unexpected electoral victory, talks about the real state of the contemporary world, the growing radicalisation of politics and extreme social attitudes.

The Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Göle, who conducts far-reaching research into Muslims living in Europe, reveals the sources of religious and ethnic tensions and conflict in Europe. During the meeting with the public and the Conrad Lecture, the American journalist and historian Adam Hochschild discusses the issues surrounding the West pushing Africa to the edges of public conscience. We will also hear first-hand accounts of the latest member of the ICORN programme Monem Mahjoub, whose harsh criticism of the political situation in Libya resulted in his exile from the country. The French philosopher and translator Marc Crépon tries to address the question whether hope is possible in a world of hate. Monika Muskała, author of Between the Square of Heroes and Rechnitz. The Austrian Resolution and Sacha Batthyany, author of the biographical A Crime in the Family, discuss approaches to talking and writing about the massacre of Jewish labourers in Rechnitz in March 1945. They are virtually joined (through a video call) bythe Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek who herself wrote about the subject in her play Rechnitz (Exterminating Angel).

Questions and answers

We talk to the journalist and reporter Maciej Zaremba Bielawski, author of The Polish Plumber and New Stories From Sweden, about what we can expect from today’s reporters. Tonya Stremlau, lecturer at the University of Washington, talks about how deaf people read, experience and create literature, while the Swedish prosaist, poet, dramatist and translator Agneta Pleijel, author of A Fortune Foretold: A Novel released earlier this year, discusses love and freedom. Why do people dislike bookshops? We join the Spanish author Jorge Carrión, scholar of bookshops, in a discussion on how to change this situation for the better. How do Polish scholars of Conrad read his books? What do they value him for? What weaknesses do they find in his works? This discussion includes philosopher and publicist Agata Bielik-Robson, author and literature scholar Ryszard Koziołek and scholar of religious aspects of literature Paweł Panas.

Known unknowns

No life can be told once and for all, and biographies not only introduce well-known individuals but also shape our understanding of literature. How should we write about famous people? Authors Wojciech Orliński (Lem. Life Out of This World), Monika Piątkowska (Prus. A Biographical Investigation) and Klementyna Suchanow (Gombrowicz. I, Genius) attempt to provide us with answers.


The Conrad Festival also includes numerous accompanying events: exhibitions, a cycle of film screenings at Pod Baranami Cinema, events for kids, a concert by the multi-instrumentalist Jacek “Budyń” Szymkiewicz with the ensemble Chango, and reading lessons. The festival also includes the Polish instalment of the French literary award The Goncourt Prize: The Polish Selection. The special guest will be the French dramatist, essayist and novelist Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt. The winner of this year’s Conrad Award, granted for best debut, is revealed during the finale gala at ICE Kraków Congress Centre on the last day of the festival. There will also be a meeting with Dan Brown, one of the best selling American writers of all time. The meeting at Kijów.Centrum forms a part of an international tour promoting the release of his latest book Origin. Finally, the festival coincides with the 21st International Book Fair in Krakow. (Barbara Zając, "Karnet" magazine)

For whom: for children, for seniors
Other: free admission, acceptable for people with disabilities
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