Aarhus literature festival wants internationals to be part of its story

The Local
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Aarhus literature festival wants internationals to be part of its story

Literary events in Denmark shouldn’t be limited to those who can read Danish, say organisers of an upcoming large-scale international literature festival in Aarhus.


Aarhus will be bursting with both Danish and international literature during LiteratureXchange, which runs from June 14th-24th at various cultural locations in the city, including ARoS art museum, Godsbanen and the ultramodern Dokk1 library in the redeveloping harbour area.

The festival, arranged by Aarhus Municipality Libraries, Literature Centre Aarhus and adult education institute Folkeuniversitet Aarhus, is the culmination of several years’ work by organisers to bring an international literature event to Denmark’s second city.

German-Romanian novelist Herta Müller, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009, is the headline name on a programme including 150 different events over eleven days.

“Aarhus has never had a big international festival and that is a mistake in a city with such a rich literary environment. So that’s something we’re glad to be able to correct,” Jette Sunesen, head of Literature Centre Aarhus, said via a press release.

“There will be something for everyone, whether you are interested in magical realism, Nordic crime, the future of Europe, World War II, trekking in the wild, the literary potential of the city, psychology or epic poetry,” the organisers write in a joint press release to promote the event.

With dozens of readings and discussion with authors in a wide range of languages, the festival is making a big deal of its international programme, with authors from Europe as well as the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North and South America all appearing.

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“Out of more than 150 events, 29 are in English. So around about a fifth. Moreover, we have two events in German and two in Russian,” Noa Kjærsgaard Hansen, Folkeuniversitet’s programme manager for the event, told The Local.

During her appearance, Müller will read in German, with running translation to Danish.

One of the aims of the festival is to bring the city together through the international context, Kjærsgaard Hansen said.

“LiteratureXchange has a worldwide perspective that we aim to achieve by inviting a range of international authors and focusing on contemporary, global themes. At the same time, it is very much a local festival which makes use of and involves a lot of different organisations and venues in Aarhus,” he said.

Literature has an important role to play – in Aarhus and elsewhere – in connecting people from different backgrounds and cultures, according to Kjærsgaard Hansen.

“Literature can present a perspective on the world that we don’t get from the news. With the international aspect, we make sure that the horizon is broader than just Aarhus. And hopefully it brings us closer to each other – no matter how cliché that sounds,” the event organiser said.

The outward-looking attitude which was embodied by Aarhus’ run as European Capital of Culture in 2017, and is now a key element of the new festival, will help “drag Aarhus’ image away from the provincial landmark that has characterised it for so many years,” according to Kjærsgaard Hansen, who added:

“Well, we don’t want to lose all of that provinciality. But this constant generation of new ideas and forms – like the festival – helps the city to be in balance.”

In addition to mother-tongue events in English and other languages taking place this year, a limited number of spots on the programme feature Danish literature translated into English.

“That's something we’d like to have more focus on next year – translation of Danish literature,” Kjærsgaard Hansen said.

A programme listing for LiteratureXchange's events in English can be found here.

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