Prague Writers' Festival – Heresy and RebellionBy Andreas Patenidis | Prague Daily Monitor | 21 June 2010
Twenty years ago, a New York-born poet Michael March came to Prague with a vision to establish the greatest writers’ festival in the world. Today, twenty years later, the festival has become an annual event of international acclaim, hosting top-notch writers from all four corners of the globe including three Nobel Prize winners: Derek Walcott, Herta Müller and Gao Xingjian.
Revolving around two themes, Heresy and Rebellion, the festival was affected by the absence of Derek Walcott and Herta Müller who, for medical reasons, declined the invitation days before the launch. Therefore March’s crew worked assiduously to find last minute alternatives for the discussions, which occasionally did not prove adequate.
Nonetheless, this was to a great extent compensated for by brilliant moderators, especially a former well-known dissident journalist, Jan Urban, and a former Czech presidential candidate, Jan Švejnar. They both developed interesting conversations and let conflicting opinions be confronted, providing reasonable scope for all participants of the discussions. To quote Michael March himself: ‘Conflict is necessary for a new story to be formed.’
In what respect the festival truly distinguished itself from other, similar events was the proximity of the audience and the writers. Once the discussion/reading was over, Iain Banks and other authors entered the New Stage’s cafeteria and eagerly discussed their ideas and works, or simply autographed books. The event was about inviting authors and asking them interesting questions, about spontaneous discussions, deeply profound and joyfully playful.
Oddly enough, the festival did not succeed in attracting a sufficient number of visitors, despite its massive underground campaign and alluring programme. Nevertheless, it was a unique opportunity for the relatively small but always appreciative audience to encounter great minds face à face and enter into a dialogue with them.