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  • ILB 2022: Our guide to the International Literature Festival Berlin


ILB 2022: Our guide to the International Literature Festival Berlin

Running from September 7-17 and filled with readings, panels, signings, books and drinks, ILB is Berlin’s premiere literature festival and it returns to its original City West digs with an exciting 10-day programme.

Photo: ILB

World stars in English

Good news for anglophones: this year’s festival is headlined by a genuinely diverse set of literary A-listers who all do their writing in English. And they’re not all Americans! Catch London-born superstar Zadie Smith in a bilingual conversation with Daniel Kehlmann (Sep 8, 19:00) about her new essay collection and the role of narrative. Essays will also be the topic of conversation when Canada’s Margaret Atwood sits down with the Kingston-born US poet and memoirist Claudia Rankine (Sep 15, 19:00). Atwood will also present a book of her poetry, recently published in German for the first time, alongside her translator Jan Wagner (Sep 16, 18:00).

The ILB has always mixed politics with literature, so it is no surprise to see Putin, Russia and the war in Ukraine appear throughout the programme

Last year’s Booker Prize winner, the South African novelist Damon Galgut, will be giving a reading (Sep 11, 19:00), so too will Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam (Sep 13, 19:30), whose novel A Passage North was nominated for that same award. Perhaps most exciting is the appearance of another former Booker winner – indeed, the first Black woman to win the prize – UK’s Bernardine Evaristo, who will be discussing her recent memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up on the main stage (Sep 12, 19:00) and then, the next day, presenting her celebrated novel Girl, Woman, Other in an event for young adults (Sep 13, 11:30).

South African novelist Damon Galgut. Photo: Michaela Verity

Gods and Men

Beyond the superstars, ILB sees the critically-acclaimed Argentinian-American novelist Hernan Diaz (Sep 9, 21:00) or you can catch the legendary US essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger in a whimsical, erudite discussion of angels and saints in Western culture (Sep 15, 21:00). Questions of divinity will also feature when Anna Della Subin reads from her recent history Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine (Sep 11, 18:00). There will also be a series of English-language events featuring authors who themselves don’t write in English: Amir Hassan Cheheltan, recently dubbed ‘the Balzac of Iran’, will present his historical novel A Love in Cairo (Sep 13, 18:00) and the Bosnian author (and winner of the EU Prize for Literature) Faruk Šehić will read (Sep 14, 21:00). Ethiopian author and current Berlin DAAD resident Maaza Mengiste will discuss the Project3541, an artistic and educational remembrance project about the Italian-Ethiopian War (Sep 8, 21:00).

The big issues

The ILB has always mixed politics with literature, so it is no surprise to see Putin, Russia and the war in Ukraine appear throughout the programme. Beyond a narrow focus on Ukraine, however, the “post- Soviet Cosmopolis” series brings together perspectives from Armenia to Belarus, and from Ukrainian-Americans to Russians in exile. Most of these events will take place in German (and post-Soviet languages), but English speakers should not miss Odesa-born US poet Ilya Kaminsky reading alongside the Russian star Maria Stepanova (Sep 10, 20:00). The multilingual poetry by Semjon Hanin of Latvia and Nijat Majedov of Azerbaijan embodies the breadth of the theme (Collegium Hungaricum, Sep 11, 20:00). For a more political angle, catch a panel of experts discussing the alliance between Russia and China (Sep 14, 18:00).

The opening address will be given by David van Reybrouck, a Belgian intellectual whose work – most famously his book Congo – spans literature, history and journalism. Hear his remarks on “The Colonisation of the Future” as well as a series of other readings (Sep 7, 18:00). Reporters, and the threats against them, will be the topic of a discussion by editors from Bellingcat (Sep 10, 16:30) and a panel featuring imprisoned journalists from Belarus, Mexico and Turkey (Sep 8, 18:00). One guaranteed highlight will be the Canadian reporter Matthieu Aikins discussing his recent book The Naked Don’t Fear the Water – a chronicle of his experience accompanying a young Afghan man fleeing to Europe – with the Berlin-based Afghan author Taqi Akhlaqi (Sep 9, 18:00).

Several of the successful literary-political themes of last year’s festival will be continued this year, including the exploration of environmental sustainability – unfortunately, most of these events will be held only in German. The worldwide misogyny theme does include a number of standout English- language events, most notably a conversation about sexual violence between the German Book Prize winner Antje Rávik Strubel and Finnish novelist Monika Fagerholm (Sep 14, 19:30). A panel on the state of feminism in Turkey is also worth a look (Silent Green, Sep 10, 20:00).

Inside tips for Berliners

Some of the ILB’s most promising events, particularly those of local interest to Berliners, take place on the fringes of the festival.

The ILB’s main draw is that it brings the world here for Berliners to see. But the festival also has many events of local interest. See two of the brightest stars of Berlin’s American literary enclave, Rebecca Rukeyser and Lauren Oyler read from their recent novels (Sep 16, 19:30). Another US Berliner, the graphic novelist and New Yorker cartoonist Everett Glenn, will star at Graphic Novel Day (Silent Green, Sep 10, 18:00).

Fans of Arabic-language literature – of which Berlin has many – shouldn’t miss the Egyptian novelist Haytham El-Wardany discussing sleep and dreams with Anna Della Subin in English (Sep 10, 21:00). Out in Schöneweide, Berlin Asia Arts Club will host an evening dedicated to literature written by Berliner*innen of Asian heritage, featuring Myanmar-born author Ma Thida among others (Novilla, Sep 9, 19:30).

Vigdis Hjorth. Photo: Agnete Brun

For Berlin’s multilingual readers, the ILB is a boon. If your Spanish is up to scratch, go see acclaimed Colombian novelist Pilar Quintana (Sep 13, 19:30); for Polish-speakers, there’s the celebrated author Szczepan Twardoch (Sep 17, 19:30). Francophones should not miss the Prix Goncourt-winning Jean-Christophe Rufin, who will read from his novel Le Suspendu de Conakry (Sep 17, 18:00). And our city’s Norwegian readers are in luck this year, with rising star Vigdis Hjorth – author of A House in Norway among other works – giving two readings (Sep 11, 19:30 and Sep 12, 19:30). All of these events will also feature German translations.

Finally, why not take advantage of the ILB’s many creative deviations from the basic read- ing format? Graphic Novel Day will, like last year, take over the former crematorium hall in Silent Green with multimedia presentations (Sep 10 and 11). Check out German indie pop darlings Drangsal and Mia Morgan discussing the art of songwriting auf Deutsch (Sep 16, 18:00).

Bad Belzig’s US novelist Nell Zink. Photo: Francesca Torricelli

And if you like your literature zum Mitnehmen, then head up to the Uckermark in Brandenburg for a birdwatching walk and reading featuring Rebecca Rukeyser alongside Bad Belzig’s own US novelist Nell Zink (Sep 17, 16:00).

5 Berliner*innen not to miss on stage

Yevgenia Belorusets

Until recently, the acclaimed Ukrainian writer-photographer Belorusets lived between Berlin and Kyiv. At the festival, she will participate in the “Post-Soviet Cosmopolis” opening panel and present her “Diaries from Kyiv”, composed before she had to leave the country in April 2022. [Collegium Hungaricum, Sep 9, 18:00 and 20:00. In German.]

Jan Wagner

One of Germany’s most celebrated poets is also a translator from English. Catch him on stage with Margaret Atwood as they discuss Die Füchsin, the first German-language publication of her poetry, which Wagner played a role in.

  • Sep 16, 18:00

Maaza Mengiste

Ethiopian-American writer Mengiste, author of the celebrated novel The Shadow King, was a guest at last year’s festival. Now, thanks to a DAAD Fellowship, she is a Berlinerin for the year – and will be discussing the Project3541, a historical re- membrance initiative that she founded, on the ILB stage.

  • Sep 8, 21:00

Rebecca Rukeyser

Long a feature of the anglophone literary scene – and a beloved local teacher of creative writing – US-born Rukeyser recently published her debut novel, a steamy Alaskan post-Western named The Seaplane on Final Approach. Catch her onstage alongside fellow American Wahlberlinerin Lauren Oyler.

  • Sep 16, 19:30

Everett Glenn

This US-born comics artist, who contributes to the New Yorker among other magazines, earned widespread plaudits for his debut graphic novel about art, race and masculinity named Unsmooth #1. At the ILB, he will be presenting the prequel, Unsmooth #2: BUM

  • Silent Green, Sep 10, 18:00