Writing home

The fourth International Writers’ Festival draws on Jewish themes, with a tribute to Yehuda Amichai.

Tzila Hayoun. ‘We want to appeal to as many people as possible.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzila Hayoun. ‘We want to appeal to as many people as possible.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The fourth edition of the International Writers’ Festival, which will take place at its perennial berth of Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, offers something for a wide range of literary leanings, tastes and fields of interest. Artistic director Tzila Hayoun admits to intentionally spreading her marketing net as wide as it would go.
“We want to appeal to as many people as possible, regardless of their literary preferences,” says Hayoun. “Art and literature are wide areas, and there is room for all tastes.”
The festival generally has a strong Jewish aspect to it, from home and abroad. This year’s event features an intriguing documentary called Unmasked about iconic Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Philip Roth. The Jewish American novelist has not generally made himself readily available to the media during his long career. The film, which was written and directed by William Karel and Livia Manera, was shot last year over a period of 10 days. It marked the first time that the then 80-year-old Roth allowed a journalist to spend so much time with him, and the result is a fascinating portrait in which Roth sheds light freely on intimate aspects of his life and art. The screening will take place at noon on the first day of the festival and will be followed by a discussion, in English, with Prof. Michael Kramer of Bar-Ilan University.
“There is always a Jewish thread to all Roth’s works,” notes Hayoun, “and there are always fascinating conflicts.”
The subject of the Holocaust is a staple of the festival. This year’s lineup includes a panel discussion titled The Second Generation and Other Stories, with British author Jake Wallis Simons on the writer team. Simons made the headlines in 2011 following the publication of his book The English German Girl about the life and travails of a teenager from Berlin who was sent by her family to England as part of the Kindertransport operation shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Simons’s Israeli colleagues on the May 21 panel (6 p.m.) include celebrated playwright and author Nava Semel, whose parents were Holocaust survivors; Esti G. Haim, whose oeuvre includes several works about the Second Generation; and Swiss-born Hebrew University professor of psychology Carlo Strenger.
One of the interesting benefits of the International Writers’ Festival is the enduring effect of the visiting writers’ experiences here on their subsequent works. One high-profile foreign guest due is 39-year-old French author and film director David Foenkinos, whose 2010 novel La delicatesse became a best-seller and formed the basis for his 2011 film that starred Audrey Tautou.
“Foenkinos was here two years ago and was taken to visit Yad Vashem,” says Hayoun. “While he was there, he came across the story of Charlotte Salomon.”
Salomon was a German Jewish painter form Berlin. She was 15 when Hitler came to power, and she escaped to the south of France in 1941. During the two years in which she managed to hide from the Nazis there, she produced an autobiographical series of paintings consisting of 769 works. In 1943 Salomon was captured and deported to Auschwitz, where she perished in the gas chamber. Her paintings were discovered after the war, and some are on display at Yad Vashem.
“Foenkinos started writing a novel based on Charlotte’s life, and he has almost finished it,” continues Hayoun. “He will talk about the book at the festival. It is a very moving story. And the latest book by [39-year-old American novelist] Nicole Krauss [who is on the festival roster] was inspired by a previous visit here, too.”
The opening day of the festival also takes in some hands-on activity, with the 4 p.m. The Storyteller Observes – A Writer in the Israel Museum slot, which will address “Israeli Identity between Dream and Reality.” The museum tour, which will start from the museum entrance, will be led by writer Assaf Inbari and Israel Museum curator Daniella Shalev.
Back at Mishkenot Sha’ananim at 4:30 p.m., the festival tent will host a panel discussion titled The Writer: Passive Observer of Reality or Active Participant? It will look at the roles and responsibilities of the writer in an era of political change. The participating speakers include author and newspaper columnist Oudeh Bisharat; Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize-winning writer Gail Hareven; Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le; and Jan-Philip Sendker from Germany. The event will be held in Hebrew and English with simultaneous translation. Admission is free, but advance registration is required.
Sendker will be on duty again in the evening when he teams up with celebrated Israeli counterpart Gabi Nitzan for the Art of Hearing Heartbeats session, which will feed off the more emotive and spiritual side of literary endeavor. The outdoor encounter will take place at The Windmill and will include Indian musical entertainment courtesy of a trio led by bansuri (bamboo flute) player Ron “Shpatz” Cohen.
Another highlight of the six-day gathering is a tribute to late Jerusalem poet Yehuda Amichai, to mark the 90th anniversary of his birth. That will be primarily marked by the Words Are Stairs session, which opens the festival proceedings on May 20, in which local high-school students will come to grips with Amichai’s works. The slot also includes a literature class with poet Agi Mishol, as well as writing workshops with authors Ariel Levinson, Gilad Meiri, Mishol, Hava Pinhas-Cohen and Bacol Serlui.
The Amichai spotlight will continue later in the day, with another jaunt to the Israel Museum for the Israeli Art and More through the Prism of Amichai’s Poetry guided tour of the art repository “in the Footsteps of Yehuda Amichai.” Participants should meet at the museum entrance at 4 p.m.
Many of Amichai’s poems have been put to music. The Between Two Points reading and musical spot on May 20 features A-list musicians Assaf Amdurski, Israel Gurion, Maya Belsitzman and Ania Bukstein. The reading roster includes Amichai’s children David, Emanuella and Roni, as well as 90-year-old Israel Prize-winning writer Haim Gouri, Yehudit Katzir, MK Reuven Rivlin, fellow politician Shelly Yacimovich and poet Ronny Someck.
Budding novelists can get a handle on the craft at the May 21 (7 p.m.) Writing Jam led by Eshkol Nevo and Orit Gidali, while other matters will be addressed later in the evening (8:30) at Sapir Gems: Our Pain – A Dialogue on the Widening Social Gap in Israel and in Contemporary Literature discussion in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim auditorium. The session features 2013 Sapir Prize for Literature laureate Noa Yedlin, along with Ayelet Gundar-Goshen and best-selling novelist Yishai Sarid.
Science fiction writing is an increasingly popular genre, and that will be noted at the Night Birds Are Nesting on the Festival Stage end-of-day slot on May 21. The stellar lineup includes Sarah Blau, Haim Be’er – who will talk about Jewish mysticism – and Weizmann Institute lecturer in particle physics Prof. Eilam Gross, who will look at “the scientific side of the impossible.”
And there will be some entertaining visual aesthetics on offer throughout the festival, with the “ReCover” exhibition, at which some of our top illustrators, such as Orit Bergman, Hadar Reuven and Igor Tapikin, display their takes on the covers of books by various guests of the festival. The exhibition opens at the Dwek Gallery on the first day of the festival and will run until June 30.
For tickets and more information about the International Writers’ Festival: *6226, (02) 623-7000 and www.writersfestival.co.il