On Saturday, the 22nd edition of the prestigious Prague Writers’ Festival kicks off in the Czech capital, under the theme of “Only the future exists”. For five days, visitors will have the opportunity to attend readings, discussion panels and film screenings featuring writers from around the world. As every year, the festival brings writers of international caliber to the city, with the British novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi probably the most famous guest this year. Sarah Borufka spoke to the festival’s president, Michael March, about the guests, the mission and the theme of the festival.
“If it didn’t exist, we’d be in trouble. Only the future exists – and only those living face the future. And the future is a tremendous abstraction, the abstraction of all abstractions. But the question is, why is the future now so grey and poor? It used to be bright, it used to be sunny. What really changed? And we want to try to analyze that, what has changed in the society and what has transformed society for us to see the future in negative terms.”
Of course, the international guests that you manage to bring to this city are always a big drawing point for visitors. Can you give us a preview of this year’s line-up?
“The guests are… Jan Erik Vold is one of them. He is a very mysterious guest. He performs with jazz musicians and in Paris, he has performed with Chet Baker. And he will have three musicians with him, so there will be a tremendous performance at the Prague crossroads. Also, we have the great American shamanistic poet Jerome Rothenberg, he has lived on Seneca reservations, he has done virtually everything, and he will do it again in Prague. Then we have Hanif Kureishi, of course. People are very familiar with his screenplays, with his work. He will be in a conversation on the future of Islam. He has written a piece titled “Sex and Secularity”. It should be very exciting, because we also have Hamdy el-Gazzar, who is a young Egyptian novelist and a follower of Gandhi, actually. And we have Gündüz Vazzaf as a moderator of this conversation. He is a highly intellectual and very popular Turkish author and psychologist, and he started Amnesty International in Turkey.”
The Prague Writers’ Festival has existed since 1991, which is a long time by any standards. How has your mission changed over the years?
“In a way, 1991 was the future. The festival is getting old, getting mature. People recognize it as a festival of ideas. And perhaps ideas are getting more necessary than they were even in 1991, because the society has less shine. There is a great deal of damage and speculation. We need ideas to help us think through this time. Of course, Churchill said, after the Battle of Dunkirk, that an elegant retreat is not a victory. The present seems a retreat, rather than going towards something new, the future.”