The fourteenth edition of Umeå's international literary festival is scheduled to take place 12–14 March 2020. Over the years, Littfest, as the festival is called in short, has grown to become Sweden's, if not the Nordic countries, largest literary festival. For some it's an important meeting place for the exchange of both literary and political thought, for others a wonderful weekend for recovery and education at a day distance from the Arctic Circle.
This is also evident in the yearly ticket sales, which repeatedly sets new records. For the 2020 festival all the thousands of tickets sold out just 30 days after the sale opened, to the organizers great joy and cautious concern. A full month before the festival program even was released. Although Littfest mostly attracts the civilized university youth and the cultural middle class, many remember previous year's edition of the festival, when the media reported on fighting in queues, and volunteers who were subjected to violence and abuse from visitors who failed to force themselves into the already crowded venues.
All in all, the festival's 60-70 events attract close to 20,000 visits. And most of the fun takes place under one roof, Umeå Folkets Hus, whose biggest stage that normally can cope with an audience of 1200. This year it is possible to listen to international greats such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Michail Shishkin and Vigdis Hjorth, but also prominent Swedish authors such as Sara Stridsberg, Susanna Alakoski and David Lagercrantz. The program ranges from poetry to performative art. Littfest is a festival where literary genres are thrown out the window, so it is not uncommon for graphical novelists to meet poets on stage and vice versa. However, most of the invited literary celebrities are novelists. After all, the traditional novel is particularly strong in the Umeå region, with predecessors such as Sara Lidman, Torgny Lindgren and PO Enquist.
Among the 150 other guests are Mauitian novelist and poet Ananda Devi, Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón, Danish novelist Helle Helle, French novelist Marie-Hélène Lafon, Belgian poet and novelist Bart Moeyaert, Finnish poet Tua Forsström, Polish poet Krystyna Dąbrowska, Lithuanian poet Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, Croatian poet Dorta Jagić, Brittish poet Kim Moore, Palestinian rapper Khaled Harara, Venezuelian journalist Milagros Socorro, Chinese writer and journalist Weli Ayup, Syrian poet Ola Husamou, Afghanian journalist and poet Mukhtar Wafayee, Syrian poet and novelist Souzan Ibrahim and Norwegian poet Inga Ravna Eira.
The major theme for Littfest 2020 is Conversion, as in conversion to a greener mindset. Many of the scene talks will focus on the inevitable environmental change that is required of us if we want to continue to live, love and create as full-fledged inhabitants of planet earth. Veganism in culture and in literature is a focus area, as is eco-poetry. But Littfest also tries its best to relate to the special surrounding environment in the Northern parts of Sweden, by putting the majority of its visiting guests on trains (instead of flights) up to Umeå. And the festival has promised to make an attempt to review the situation for the Baltic Sea, through the eyes of the legendary Finnish author Tove Jansson, and her Moomin characters.
All in all, three full days await, with a festival program running from 9am in the morning to 2am in the evening. You might not be able to find a ticket for this year, but make sure to visit www.littfest.se in mid-December for ticket information on the 2021 party!
Friday 10.00–11.00 Studion
Writer and multi artist Sjón is back with a new novel: Corn gold hair, grey eyes.This is the story of the young man Gunnar Kampen and a part of Icelandic history that is seldom spoken of. With the linguistic stringency and sharpness typical for Sjón, the novel depicts both the growing up of a young boy and how he becomes engaged in the nazi sphere, and also how the nazi ideologi found its way to the very top level in Icelandic politics. This history is also a mirror to our present day, and the rhetoric used by right wing populists of today. In conversation with Yukiko Duke.
Friday 13.00–14.00 Studion
The ALMA-winner of 2019 is Bart Moeyaert – writer, poet, playwright and essayist. His novels Hornet’s nest and Everybody’s Sorry Nowadays has been published in Swedish and been critically acclaimed as well as loved by readers of all ages. At Littfest he talks to publisher Erik Titusson about the great questions of life and how to mirror them in text and images.
Friday 13.00–14.00, Miklagård
Abduweli Ayup is a linguist specializing in Uyghur language education. He is a strong proponent of linguistic human rights, specifically, the right for the intergenerational transmission of language and culture. For his fight for the rights of Ugurians to use their language and practice their own culture, he came to be imprisoned for over a year, in what Chinese authorities call retraining camps. In 2015 he managed to escape the country. At Littfest, Ayup talks about writing, the importance of language and translation, with Camilla Engkjaer Laursen, translator and project manager at Aarhus Literature Center. Also on stage, to present newly translated texts by Ayup, is translator Rune R. Moen.
Friday 14.30–15.30, Balder
Although they originate from different continents, the two ICORN writers Milagros Socorro and Mukhtar Wafayee, from Venezuela and Afghanistan, have a lot in common. In their homelands they're praised for their journalism and their fight against despotism, corruption, terrorism and human rights violations. Here Socorro and Wafayee talk about investigative journalism and human rights, with Ola Nordebo, political editor-in-chief at Västerbottens-Kuriren.
Friday 14.30–15.30, Äpplet
A discussion of the literature where women use violence against the patriarchy. The Geography of Fear by finnish writer Anja Snellman and Befrielsen (“the liberation”) by Swedish writer Maria Sveland are two books about women who organize and fight back, and also questioning what their actions will mean. These books are part of the same tradition as Dirty weekend and Manrape. What has the reception of these books been like? What does it mean to write them? Is Valerie Solanas right when stating in the SCUM Manifesto: “Dropping out is not the answer; fucking-up is.” The conversation is led by writer Ida Linde.
Friday 16.00–17.00, Studion
Ananda Devi grew up in Mauritius, just outside the west coast of Africa, and this is also where her novel Eve out of the ruins take place. Here the spotlight is set to the parts of Mauritius that the tourists seldom see, beyond the hotels and swimming pools. In the outskirts of society you will find violence, disillusions and vulnerability. At Littfest Devi will discuss with writer and poet Athena Farrokhzad. Devi’s Swedish translator Maja Thrane will also take part.
Friday 16.00–17.00, Idun
The Taking of Izmail is Russian exile writer Michail Shiskin's breakthrough novel, for which he was awarded the Russian Booker Prize for best Russian novel of the year. Shiskin is universally praised for a language that is wonderfully lucid and concise, and he often deals with universal themes like death, resurrection, and love. The taking of Izmail is not an exception. The protagonist in the novel is a lawyer. With his words, he recreates reality, and that changes people’s fates. This allows the author to go deep in to the stories of Russians, Russian life, Russian customs and Russian history. At Littfest, Shiskin meets journalist Ulrika Knutson.
Friday 16.00–17.00, Balder
In her songs and poems Ola Husamou pleads for peace and for the violence in Damascus to seize. Khaled Harara started to write early and has written about the Israeli occupation of Gaza, but also about the Palestinian politics under Hamas wich he considers to be just as bad. Both have been granted shelter in Sweden, and at Littfest they meet for a discussion about being creative in the shadow of war. The conversation is led by Siri O Risdal, festival leader of the Norwegian festival Kapittel.
Saturday 10.00–11.00, Idun
In his latest non-fiction book We are The Weather writer Jonathan Safran Foer collects his thoughts on how to save the world. He mixes facts and personal anecdotes, humour and seriosity, in a way that has become his signature way of writing. And, he claims, there is a way to help save the planet. By changing change how we eat, one meal at a time. Among Jonathan Safran Foers previous books you’ll find the non-fiction classic Eating animals, and the praised novels Everything is illuminated, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Here I Am. At Littfest he will meet Stefan Ingvarsson, columnist and translator.
Saturday 10.00–11.00, Balder
After years of political, sectarian and moral decay that has divided Syria and thrown the country into an unsparing civil war, Suzanne Ibrahim is forced to flee. Her book När vinden exploderar mot min hud (“When the wind explodes against my skin”) depicts the downward spiral. At Littfest she discusses the process of publishing her diary novel in Swedish, with translator Anna Jansson and editor Helena Fagertun. Is it possible to express the experience of war in a language beyond the news reports? And how do you translate that into a new language? The conversation will also touch the specific challenges in translating between Arabic and Swedish. The conversation will be led by translator and writer Daniel Gustafsson.
Saturday 16.00–17.00, Miklagård
Four poets established in their native countries are presented to a Swedish audience within the European project Versopolis. Poetry readings by Krystyna Dąbrowska, Poland, Dorta Jagić, Croatia, Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, Lithuania and Kim Moore, Great Britain. Introductions by Per Bergström.
Saturday 19.00–19.45, Bildmuseet Floor 6
Poetry readings by Tua Forsström, Ananda Devi, Kim Moore and Aušra Kaziliūnaitė. Introductions by Per Bergström and Kristofer Folkhammar
In collaboration with: Versopolis, Tranan Publishing house, Institut Français, Studieförbundet Bilda
Saturday 21.30–22.30, Bildmuseet Floor 6
Poetry readings by Sjón, Krystyna Dąbrowska och Dorta Jagić. Introductions by Per Bergström and Kristofer Folkhammar
In collaboration with: Versopolis, Rámus, Icelandic Literature Center