September saw Aimee, our Head of Artistic Development, fly to Ukraine to speak at the Lviv Book Forum in Ukraine, presenting on projects that WEM is currently delivering in Nottingham (and across the region) and sharing our approach to inclusivity in creative writing.
The Lviv International Festival of Literature has hosted 538 authors from 38 countries and welcomed audiences of over 60,000 people to the city. This makes it one of the biggest festivals in Eastern Europe
I was delighted to be invited by the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature to present on WEMs work within Nottingham, and our organisational approach to engaging diverse audiences at the Lviv Book Forum in Ukraine.
Led by the Lviv UNESCO City of Literature, which had programmed a series of fringe events called Under LitMove, an “underground literary movement” where literature is the driving force for social and cultural change in Lviv, I spoke about WEM’s projects, Write Here: Sanctuary and the Elder Tree. I was able to share learning within a public events forum and with other UNESCO representatives from Edinburgh, Norwich, Heidelberg and Krakow. The programme highlighted different experiences of bringing literature and literary processes together to deliver quality change within culture and beyond.
Under LitMove takes place amongst Lviv’s popular Publishers and Book Forum, now in it’s 26th year and the second largest in Ukraine. Starting back in 1994, a time of deep economic recession and high inflation for the country, the onus of the event was to bring together people who write, publish and read books. It has grown from strength to strength, and now boasts of over 1440 events which bring in 50,000 visitors from all around the country and beyond to celebrate their shared love of literature and reading.
And celebrate, they do. During the Book Forum the city is alive with people interested in sharing this love and discovering new writers. Most of Ukraine’s writers and publishers also flock to the city during this time, using the opportunity to meet and share valuable ideas and networks. Our hosts from UNESCO Lviv were very gracious, and we were shown around the main book fair building, feeling particularly impressed with the high number and wide variety of children’s books which were available, clearly this is a city which welcome’s their young people into the joy of reading. And as well as enjoying the Under LitMove programme, which curated such events as ‘Inclusivity in the City of Literature’, ‘ Who needs Literary Festivals’ and ‘Tell me Comics’, we were able to explore the Book Forum programme at large. Through this, we enjoyed talks by a range of eminent writers such as Arundhati Roy, whose 1997 Booker Prize winning ‘God of Small Things’ has only recently been translated into Ukraine. As well as having a strong history of literary culture and traditions of its own, translations of international literature play an important part in Ukraine’s literary landscape, with 8 of the 12 books shortlisted this year for the Lviv UNESCO City of Literature Book Prize being that of translations of books from other parts of the world.
“Clearly this is a city which welcome’s their young people into the joy of reading.”
Lviv is a city which deeply values culture, in all its many multifaceted forms, and literature plays a prominent part in this. There are many museums, art galleries, theatres and important heritage sites to explore, lose and find oneself in. On the Friday evening we had the delight of attending a concert of modern Ukraine poetry, programmed in honour by the much revered and loved Hrytsko Chubai, a central figure of underground Ukrainian culture in Lviv in the late 1960s and the 1970s, who was harassed and repressed by Soviet authorities for most of his adult life. The poetry was presented within a large, historical theatre to a full house through the medium of music and sang to the accompaniment of a full orchestra. The atmosphere was electric with warmth and appreciation of the poetry, and the power of literature to bring us together and to fight oppression.
On the Sunday we attended a reading marathon, where prominent members of the council, actors and cultural figures read letters from Ukrainian writers who remain incarcerated by the Kremlin. There are currently 86 writers in prison in this manner, many of whom have been there for some time in difficult circumstances. The event took place at the foot of the Ivan Franko statue, who was one of Ukraine’s most prominent and prolific writers and thinkers, and was very powerful, reinforcing the need and importance of free speech in these changing and turbulent times.
“It is a city of free thinkers, where every third person is a poet”
Lviv is a city of lions, of revered cultural figures and much cherished history. It is a city of free thinkers, where every third person is a poet, and reveres its rich literary heritage. It is a place where, after decades of political change, both the national and international literary voice is of vital importance for the people of Ukraine to understand not only its cultural identity but also its place in the world. I am incredibly grateful for my time there, for the opportunity to share ideas with other UNESCO city partners and am very excited about their future plans to further explore and embed literature activity within their beautiful city.