Umeå's International Literature Festival Littfest started in 2007 with the ambition to eventually build a platform for meetings and literary adventures in Sweden's Northern regions. Behind the project were local culture profiles, librarians, publishers and academics, who later founded the non-profit, religiously and politically, independent association Littfest. The festival Littfest was both a reaction against the centralization of culture in the South as well as the established book fairs in Sweden, who more and more had come to resemble shopping malls.
The Northern Swedish region is known for its natural settings, for the country's often-neglected indigenous Sami population and for its proud and rich literary tradition. From here derives the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, as well as several current members of the Academy. Some of the country's greatest writers, Per Olov Enquist, Sara Lidman and Torgny Lindgren, comes from the same small provincial region in the county of Västerbottten. Their language is characterized by the northern culture and the local people, who for hundreds of years have been excluded from Swedish national affairs. This is also something that Littfest has used as a benchmark in its quest to build a unique platform for an original and truly meaningful public conversation. The core of the festival's activities has always been to give voice to the silenced, to fight prejudice and to enrich the cultural landscape as a whole.
Umeå is situated on the inlet of the Gulf of Bothnia at the mouth of the Ume River, in the south of Västerbotten. The city is located about 600 km north of Stockholm and about 400 km south of the Arctic Circle. It is the largest city north of the Stockholm-Uppsala region. The climate of Umeå is subarctic, with short and fairly warm summers. Winters are lengthy and freezing. The city offers world-class art, drama, films, industries and research. Umeå is also known for its hardcore punk rock scene (Refused, The Facer, Mats Gustafsson, Meshuggah, The Perishers, Anders Ångest, Morgan Ågren and Mats Öberg band among others). The establishment of the university in the mid 1960s led to a population expansion which still continues, with about 1 000 new inhabitants every year. The average age of the – soon to be – 200 000 people who live in Umeå is 38.
New York Times has labeled Umeå (on their list of "52 Places to Go in 2014") as a "a hotbed of hardcore and heavy metal music" and a northern city were both "soundscapes and culture shine". Visual arts focused on the culture of indigenous Sami people are on exhibit at Bildmuseet, the city’s contemporary arts museum that reopened in 2012 in a glass-and-wood building designed by Henning Larsen Architects. And it’s all easier to reach thanks to fast flights and a new higher-speed rail connection from Stockholm.
Mainly becuse of this unique settings, Littfest has grown to become the largest literature festival in Sweden. Every year in March, around 100 authors arrive in Umeå to participate in a celebration of literature that holds about 50 program events dispersed over three days. The festival, which receives annual support from the Municipality of Umeå, The Swedish Arts Council, The Swedish Academy among others, is now the meeting place the founders dreamed of in 2007: A melting pot of cultural impression where the authors are closer to their readers than elsewhere, an annual literary event with the word in focus and the love of literature at center.
In March 2014, during the year in which the city of Umeå was European Capital of Culture and Littfest was in charge of the literary elements, the festival offered sixty talks and seminars with 140 invited authors from 20 countries. One of Littfest's major projects was the collaboration with Umeå's new Art Museum, in which a surreal evening was arranged during their ongoing Leonor Fini exhibition. Another great feature was the Japanese theme, with a focus on classical haiku as well as contemporary Japanese novels, poetry and manga. Finally, the celebrated visit of Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi should be mentioned. Egypt's greatest writers attracted over a thousand listeners.
Although Littfest is a young festival the audience is growing rapidly. Last year 10 000 visited the many seminars and on top of that 5 000 persons followed the festivals broadcast on the internet. The last three year's guests includes Vladimir Sorokin, Nawal El Saadawi, Jocelyn Saucier, Andrei Codrescu, Goran Vojnovic, Per Olov Enquist, Stig Larsson, Sindiwe Magona, Sofi Oksanen, Suzanne Brøgger, Yoko Tawada, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Simone Armitage, Sjón and several members of the Swedish Academy.