Conrad Festival 2019

Monday, October 21, 2019 - Sunday, October 27, 2019

  • Monday, October 21, 2019 - Sunday, October 27, 2019

Laboratory of Reality

There are an estimated seven thousand languages worldwide. But does this multitude of tongues make it easier for us to describe reality, or does it hinder our understanding?

“Until now, we have been striving to show how to talk about reality. This time we reach for help from our authors and our readers to say what literature is as a reality, or – more precisely – how reality comes into being thanks to literature,” promises Michał Paweł Markowski, artistic director of the Conrad Festival. During the 11th festival, held between 21 and 27 October, we will turn our attention towards realities (plural!) presenting different ways of seeing and perceiving the world. We will break through the dualism of reality and literary fiction, and consider how words affect our surroundings. “We live in a reality conceived by our words – and it is not simply the case that reality changes according to language. Rather, people who share how they think, feel and speak live in a similar reality, while those who cannot agree on even the most important matters live in different realities,” adds Markowski.

Reading lessons, meetings, lectures, film screenings, exhibitions and children’s workshops are some of the (entirely real) events of this year’s Conrad Festival. Head to the festival centre at the Czeczotka Palace, hosting the majority of meetings with authors as part of the main festival programme. The venue also hosts the festival bookshop and the Second Life of Books shelves. Accompanying events are held at the Wyspiański Pavilion, 11 Powiśle, Goethe-Institut, Pod Baranami Cinema, independent bookshops, branches of the Kraków library and museums.

Seven dimensions of reality

Objects, words, images, ideas, relationships, locations and individuals are all aspects of reality, as well as being themes of the main programme on consecutive days, featuring discussions with eminent guests. During the inaugural masterclass, professor of literature at the University of Silesia Ryszard Koziołek introduces attributes shaping the world depicted in Joseph Conrad’s prose. The Canadian author Bill Gaston talks about saving that which is the most precious – sometimes we must allow certain forms of reality to be destroyed to create something new in their place. Creating narratives centred around people rather than places or objects is the speciality of Zyta Rudzka; during the meeting In Different Starring Roles, the author talks about her writing strategies. We join Jacek Dukaj to examine the latest forms of communication which are increasingly replacing the written word, and discuss the future of images and texts with the rapid growth of the latest media. Perhaps words will survive purely as a tool used by authorities to subjugate us and the most powerful weapon against this subjugation, as is the case in novels by the Russian author Dmitry Bykov? The circus imagery in Jáchym Topol’s novels reveals that entertainment often provides the best space for cognitive rehab. The Spanish author Almudena Grandes takes us into the eye of a storm, where we are swept up by the hurricane of history after a moment of apparent calm. From there it’s just a short step towards experiencing loss, described by Mariusz Szczygieł: in his volume of reportages, absence isn’t an abstract idea but a real source of suffering for his protagonists. Violence – as experienced in personal and social relationships – is another source of pain, described by the Swiss author and journalist Mona Chollet. We join Didier Eribon on a journey to the origins of exclusion; in his book Returning to Reims, the French author describes his childhood in the context of ever-valid socio-political phenomena. We will also ask questions about the boundaries of creativity: the Nigerian artist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about freedom in literature.

Unreal worlds

Festival meetings are focused on fantastic and alternative universes as well as our own. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, we take an imaginary trip to the Silver Orb during discussions with Veronika Janatková, director of the film Ticket to the Moon, and Andrew Smith, author of the book Moondust. Gábor T. Szántó presents an alternative life of Franz Kafka, where he undergoes therapy with Sigismund Freud and abandons writing to become a gardener. We will also take a close look at our own reality, with Krzysztof Środa and Urszula Zajączkowska explaining that we don’t notice the presence of beings different to us in our everyday lives.

Life in pictures

Comic books occupy a space somewhere between literature and visual arts, but this certainly doesn’t place them on the sidelines. On the contrary – they are enjoying growing popularity in Poland and the world over. We will see for ourselves during the Comic Book Section at the Conrad Festival, showcasing the depth of the comic book universe. Adam Rusek and Michał Traczyk discuss its traditions in Poland over the last century. Radosław Bolałek, Bartosz Rabij and Paweł Timofiejuk present comics from the Far East, Latin America and Russian-language regions, still little known in Poland. Polish authors Anna Krztoń, Maria Lengren and Elżbieta Żukowska will be the stars of the section, discussing comics created by women. Finally, during the meeting dedicated to the graphic novel Audubon, On the Wings of the World, the author Jérémie Royer explains the differences between comics and film and reportage.

Berlin Calling

Have we learned any lessons from 20th century history of Europe? Or have we learned nothing and are taking our own last dance on a volcano? The capital city of Germany takes a special place during this year’s Conrad Festival. The Berlin Section, titled Interwar Berlin. Prelude to the Catastrophe, recalls the city during the golden 1920s and its artistic freedom, blossoming creativity and expanding personal rights and liberty, all with a dark, troubling underside. Such an image of the metropolis emerges during the meeting Berlin Babylon with Arne Jysch and Anna Kierejewska, who will attempt to draw analogies between the 1920s and today’s world. Kerstin Decker and Holger Teschke reveal the realities of forced migration endured by German Jews after Hitler’s ascent to power. We will also explore the contemporary side of the German capital through a screening of the first season of the TV drama Babylon Berlin based on Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath crime novel series, shown at the Museum of Municipal Engineering.

Industry news

Events dedicated to the publishing market have always been highly popular with festival guests with professional ties to books, and they are an important element of the programme of events accompanying the Conrad Festival. As part of this year’s Book Industry Section, we will meet representatives of the sector and explore the spaces and realities occupied by contemporary literature. We will be helped by the analysis of the report Drama and Life dedicated to Kraków’s literary circles held during an open meeting, with results presented by Anna Fiń and Monika Miszczuk-Wereszczyńska.


Kraków UNESCO City of Literature and the Krakow Film Commission have joined forces to found a brand-new project for this year’s festival. Word2Picture includes pitches of new releases to film producers, workshops for filmmakers on the ins-and-outs of the publishing market and a scriptwriting masterclass. The aim of the initiative is to bring together publishers and literary agents with representatives of the film industry – who knows, maybe this year’s Conrad Festival will mark the beginning of a brilliant new adaptation! But what does this mean in practice? We will learn more during an open meeting with author Jakub Żulczyk and TV and film producer Izabela Łopuch discussing the most acclaimed adaptation of a Polish novel in recent years, Blinded by the Lights.

Conrad at bookshops and libraries

The Conrad Festival wouldn’t be the same without visits to independent bookshops and Kraków’s libraries which have prepared their own programmes for festivalgoers. Meetings with authors Kamila Pieńkos, Marta Sapała, Olga Gitkiewicz, Agnieszka Taborska and Jacek Dukaj, with editors of the “Non/Fiction” independent magazine and with Japanese literature straight from the Tajfuny publishing house are just some of the attractions of the Conrad at Bookshops and Conrad at Libraries sections.


The festival is also accompanied by exhibitions Here Comes the Youth! The First Krakow Group at the The Feliks Jasieński Szołayski House, PIO Kaliński. Unfinished Histories at the Ethnographic Museum and the multimedia installation Cabinet at the Museum of Municipal Engineering. Meetings under the patronage of Kraków UNESCO City of Literature are dedicated to Cracovian artists including Maria Jarema, Anna Świrszczyńska and Marcin Wilk. Kids and their parents and carers have their very own section filled with workshops and music bringing together generations through fun. And the cherry on the cake will be the annual Conrad Prize for best prose debut of 2018. We can’t wait for the latest Conrads! The Conrad Festival runs in parallel with the 23rd International Book Fair in Kraków (see p. 10).

Myriad languages, worlds, genres and forms – let’s immerse ourselves in this extraordinary festival reality! (Anna Mazur, “Karnet”)

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