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Austrian Literature Features

The European Literature Days

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By Charlotte Ryland
 
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The European Literature Days 2012
 
There must be few literature festivals or writers’ conferences where your registration pack includes a bottle of wine. Certainly not, at least, wine that has been especially made and bottled for the occasion. But I am soon to learn that this welcome gift sets the tone perfectly for the European Literature Days, which, part-festival, part-conference, welcome writers and cultural mediators from across Europe to three days of entertainment, discussion and debate in the most convivial of settings.
 
And the refreshment is welcome, too. It is a scorching weekend in late August 2012, the Danube glistens in the bright late-summer sun, and the languid holiday atmosphere is coupled with bursts of activity from the locals, as they stack firewood in readiness for the winter to come. High above the village, a ruined castle perches on a hill, surrounded by vineyards.
 
© M. Haslinger
Schloss Spitz, the conference venue
 
This can only be Spitz an der Donau, the fairytale home to the annual European Literature Days. The theme this year is ‘Festung Europa’ – ‘Fortress Europe’ – with the ruined castle acting as a fitting backdrop for the weekend’s discussions, talks and debates.
 
Established in 2009 by Austrian author Walter Grond, who also runs the excellent readme.cc project, the Literature Days provide the opportunity for a weekend of community and exchange, with conversations lubricated not only by the excellent local wine but by an eclectic programme of events. This year these included young musicians playing traditional music surrounded by a photo exhibition tracing the Danube over the past decades, a Sekt-fuelled trip on the ferry across the Danube and – a personal highlight – wine-tasting in a vineyard on the edge of the hills overlooking the river.
 
Swiss writer and critic Beat Mazenauer is one of Grond’s co-organisers, and a passionate advocate of the annual event. He explained to me that the choice of such surroundings for the Literature Days was not just cosmetic – if they were to hold the gathering in his native Zurich or in Grond’s Vienna, delegates might be tempted to stray from the literary events to enjoy some of the city’s other cultural offerings, and the sense of community that comes from a shared weekend by the Danube would be lost. Thus we are in Spitz which, as Mazenauer remarks, is so beautiful that nobody even thinks of leaving ...
 
In his welcome address, Walter Grond talked about the need to move away from the ‘fortress’ image of Europe – the tendency to close off both against other international groupings and, within Europe, against other nation states. The aim should instead be communication and bridging barriers. Many of the writers invited to the conference reflected this bridging in striking ways: Sabine Scholl is a homegrown Austrian author who has spent most of her writing life on the move – Portugal, New York and now Germany; while Maria Cecilia Barbetta was born and grew up in Argentina but now lives in Berlin and writes in German.
 
The global financial and Eurozone crises were also addressed in a round-table discussion about economists’ prose, fiction and finance, with examples of writers who have recently dealt with these issues in fiction ranging from Don Delilo (Cosmopolis) to Canadian author William Gibson and, in German-language writing, the German-Icelandic author Kristof Magnusson (Das war ich nicht) and Nora Bossong (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung). And with Jonas Lüscher’s Frühling der Barbaren, we have a further title to add to that list.
 
The Literature Days thrive on experiment, with the format – though not the location – changing every year. This year, for example, featured for the first time a ‘European Revue’, an evening combining readings, music and drama with performers from France, Lithuania, Hungary, Morocco, Poland and Italy as well as Germany and Austria. The weekend closed with a ‘literary musical brunch’ on the Sunday morning. This intimate event saw one of the most spellbinding performances I’ve ever witnessed: a combination of poetry by Ukrainian writer Juri Andruchówytsch with percussion and piano from the Swiss duo ‘Werwolf Sutra’. Andruchówytsch’s lyrics range from the comic to the terrifying, and the merging of contemporary rhythms with Ukrainian folk songs produced a mesmerising performance. This was the perfect ending to the weekend in Spitz – a wonderful example of the magic that can happen when literature becomes performance, and when artists of all kinds, from East and West, come into fruitful contact.
 

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readme.cc – The European Platform for Literature

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© www.photo-graphic-art.at
Walter Grond
The online project readme.cc, founded in 2005 by Walter Grond and Beat Mazenauer, is the organiser of the European Literature Days. Yet while the festival focuses on creating actual communities by bringing people together in Spitz, the idea behind readme.cc is the creation of virtual communities for the discussion and celebration of literature: ‘a virtual meeting place, like the agora or places of assembly in Ancient Greek city states, for communication about books ...; it is a space for inspiring and often surprising literary encounters.’
 
Focusing on the multilingual, the website provides a space for authors from across Europe to be presented and discussed in their own and in other languages, through reviews and excerpts in up to ten languages. Users are encouraged to upload their own book tips and reviews, and to exchange and share their favourite authors with others.
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