The Festival des Ecrivains du Monde, a celebration of world literature, began in Paris Friday September 20, continued through the weekend and carried over for two days in Lyon where it ends today. The new book event, which attracted abut 6,000 people, is the brainchild of Paul LeClerc, director of Columbia Global Centers in Europe since July 2012, who said he wanted to spur something “important intellectually, and global in nature.” While working at the New York Public Library for 18 years, LeClerc worked in tandem with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for loans and co-exhibits,making it a natural fit to partner with Bruno Racine, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale, for the festival.
According to LeClerc, invited writers “had to have been translated into French.” This imperative allows a very great margin, given that French publishers translate more foreign authors into French than almost anyone else. The other criteria, based on feedback from French publishers consulted about local readership and tastes, was having writers who could produce an audience.
This year’s participating authors included John Banville, David Grossman, Ma Jian, Michael Ondaatje, Elif Shafak, with marquee events capping off each night: Edmund White, Richard Ford, Salman Rushdie. The varied venue list for the discussions and readings got “readers in intimate spaces with the authors they love, ” LeClerc said.
An early morning discussion in the picturesque garden of the Musée Eugène Delacroix was the setting for a dialogue between author Catherine Millet and museum director Dominique de Font-Réaulx. Drawing inspiration from the museum’s temporary exhibition, Delacroix the Writer, the two discussed the confluence of literary work and visual artistry.
A nuanced and fascinating discussion, “Globalization and Literature,” between an international panel—Vassalis Alexakis, a Greek-born writer based in France, Nadeem Aslam, a Pakistani-born writer based in England, Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born writer based in France–created a lively exchange on memory and heritage, differentiation and unification. The panel was moderated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, herself Indian-born and U.S.-based. The four examined the complexities of globalization for writers vis-à-vis personal identity, literary identity, and cultural production and consumption.
LeClerc hopes to make the festival an annual event.