You did ask nicely, didn’t you?
In that case, as promised last month, I’ll tell you everything I know about Cognac’s forthcoming literature festival (Littératures Européennes, 17th–20th November 2016). Well, some of what I know. I’ll take questions afterwards.
Littératures Européennes is all about Europe (you know, the family us British are preparing to exit) rather than all about books. The aim is to explore European culture through literature. What I didn’t understand, in previous years, is that preparation actually begins months beforehand with the selection of the contending books.
The festival makes much more sense if you’re aware of the books shortlisted for the prizes, even more so if you take the time to read them. One of the conditions for a book to be selected is that the author must be present at the festival. So before reading a book, you know you’ll be able to meet the person who wrote it. This is particularly interesting for us English speakers – and an oasis in the literary desert for any non-French speakers living in France.
In February, the shortlisted novels for the big ‘Jean Monnet’ prize, chosen by France’s literary intellectuals, are announced. The shortlisted novels for the ‘Prix des Lecteurs’, voted by the region’s libraries, are announced in April. And in May/June, the books shortlisted for the school prizes are announced: the ‘Prix Jean Monnet des Jeunes Européens’ for lycées and the ‘Prix ALE!’ (Adolescents, Lecteurs et Européens!) for secondary schools. Other prizes are privately funded, such as the ‘Prix Bouchon de cultures’ and the ‘Prix Club Soroptimist’.
So, how can we find out what’s been shortlisted? The website is a good start. Even better is to go to the public presentation evening at the beginning of September to hear the festival organisers’ summaries (in French) of their favourite books. Or to go to the professional ‘Lire l’Europe’ event at the end of September (more about this in my next post).
If you can’t make these dates, the next best thing is to read about them – here, for example, bearing in mind that I may be hiding things from you, or exaggerating where it pleases me, or–
OK, OK, I’ll stop waffling and get on with my rough guide to the festival.
Here’s the poster, with its enigmatic ‘Délier les langues’ title. To save you scrabbling through your dictionaries, this could be translated as ‘Loosening Tongues’. Of course, in French, the word ‘langue’ refers both to language and the tongue…hence the (arresting, in my opinion) photo of the young lady sticking out her tongue. Shame it’s not pierced – that would be even more arresting. It’s a great poster, isn’t it? I like the way it focuses on a person, not on books.
The poster, which was unveiled (or rather, which fell off the wall while the public were taking their seats) on 8th September, refers to the way literature can help understand other languages or cultures; how writing can untie the knots caused by political taboos or childhood secrets; and how writers, particularly eastern Europeans, manage to write in languages other than their own.
You’ll also see the reference to 5 countries on the poster. The festival usually celebrates one country in particular – or one town (last year it was London, as I reported here). This year, marked by the celebrations for Cognac’s 1000th anniversary, the organisers have chosen to honour books from the European countries in which Cognac’s twin towns are situated.
What the poster doesn’t tell you is that the contending books not only come from Germany, Scotland, Spain, France and Slovakia, but that only the young generation of writers were considered. I’m not going to list all the books selected: you can find these on the website. I’ll just mention the ones written by English speakers.
Firstly, Jenni Fagan – named by Granta as one of the best young British novelists – has been shortlisted for the Prix des Lecteurs with her book The Panopticon (in French La Sauvage). Unfortunately Jenni can’t come to the festival.
Secondly, we have Andrew O’Hagan, shortlisted for the Prix Bouchon for his book The Illuminations, alongside Barry Gornell‘s The Healing of Luther Grove. Andrew and Barry should both be at the festival, hopefully going into schools as well as meeting the general public. Andrew O’Hagan, renowned novelist and journalist, has won many awards for his work, including being on the Booker shortlist for Our Fathers. Barry Gornell is a novelist and screenwriter living in Scotland. Click on the links to find out more about them and their work.
A final word for Jana Benova, an English-speaking, Slovakian poet and novelist, who is in residence at Cognac during October and November. Her novel Café Hyène is only available in French at the moment, although it will soon be available in English as Seeing People Off. Winner of the EU Prize for Literature, she’ll be taking part in the festival and will also be present in several Poitou-Charentes towns in October and November. First comes Cognac on 6th October 2016. See the Littératures Européennes website for details.
The full festival programme, which includes round tables, exhibitions, workshops and film projections, will be available in mid-October. In the meantime, visit your local bookshops, such as the Le Texte Libre in Cognac or Livres et Vous in Ruffec, and order your books from the friendly staff there.