365 days with literature

The year 2015 confirmed once again that literature is one of the fundamental pillars of Krakow’s cultural life. Its development means intense and active work on our part, but also great satisfaction. We have a lot of reasons to feel proud; looking back, we see a fascinating assortment of hundreds of events, institutions and above all, people, who cannot imagine life without books. For them, Krakow as a UNESCO City of Literature provided a vast number of unique literary experiences.

Thanks to us, our national literature took centre-stage during the international Salon du Livre in Paris, the largest event involving the promotion of Polish literature and culture abroad in 15 years, attended by over 200,000 participants, including many politicians, literary celebrities and journalists. The 7th edition of the Conrad Festival, whose scope and scale grows with each year, broke records with the number of participants, all 15,000 of them! During this exceptional time, when on the Main Square the light from Joseph Conrad’s ‘lighthouse’ shined once again, Krakow hosted the stars of the literary and artistic world, with Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, Jonathan Franzen, Hanna Krall, Wiesław Myśliwski, Martin Amis, Robert Coover, Margarethe von Trotta and Hooman Majd at the forefront. The second of our largest literary festivals, with Czesław Miłosz as its patron, is also developing dynamically, and following the 2015 edition, it will be held annually. Because we are invested in building literature’s presence during all cultural events, for the first time in its history, we prepared a diverse literary programme for participants of the Jewish Culture Festival, during which we organised events with the most interesting and popular Polish authors, presented new literary benches as part of the City Codes project, and created a new book corner, filled with fascinating books.

One of the most important elements of our City of Literature vision is building support for all the places in which readership and interest in books blossom. We are very happy that thanks to our engagement the City Council of Krakow favorably adopted resolutions, including one that supports the cultural activities of bookstores and another that established the Conrad Award. To show the life of the book “from the inside”, as part of the project “Read local” we organised a series of interviews with the people who make Krakow’s bookstores tick. In parallel, we conducted a promotional campaign in which booksellers can reward their most loyal customers with designer bags, designed by the iconic book cover artist, Przemysław Dębowski. They quickly became popular on the streets of Krakow, making it easy to identify the most committed bibliophiles. Thanks to our cooperation with the Polish Book Institute we also initiated an innovative two-year conference programme “Biblioteka Nova”, with the participation of the most prominent foreign experts as well as representatives of libraries and local governments from throughout the country. We also organised an event series during the Conrad Festival focused on the “Book Industry”, and it was a time of fruitful discussions and long-term plans for the book market in Poland, a future that we care very deeply about.

A lot of effort and enthusiasm was devoted to the support of young literature, hence the groundbreaking programme dedicated to emerging and debut writers. The programme consists of not only the Conrad Award, a total novelty among Polish literary awards, but also an innovative project called “Promoters of Debuts”, which encourages publishers to put out works by emerging writers and the UNESCO City of Literature Creative Writing Course. The latter involved engaging writing specialists, authors and book industry representatives who introduced participants to the secrets of the publishing process.

In 2015, we also took a huge step forward in the use of new technologies. It shows above all in the development and the huge success of the project ReadPL!, the largest initiative to promote reading in Poland and the first of its kind in the world. This time it includes not only Krakow, but also other cities in our country: Gdańsk, Katowice, Poznań, Wrocław and Warsaw. And the trend toward increasing the scope and reach of the largest free bestselling e-book rental initiative is something we want to keep growing. A novelty in the world of culture were also two hackathons, co-organised by us. These were full-day marathons, where developers intensively worked on pre-defined problems, developing innovative solutions for the City of Literature. The result of our cooperation with the developers was the official application of the Conrad Festival Full speed ahead!, the first city game to use the revolutionary beacon technology in Krakow.

The past year was also a time when literary initiatives involved the protection and defense of human rights. Such was the goal of Aslı Erdoğan’s stay in Krakow. Erdoğan, a persecuted writer and journalist from Turkey, was the fifth guest writer as part of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) programme. An unforgettable event was also the meeting with Jarosław Mikołajewski and Dr. Pietro Bartolo, during which the fascinating reportage Wielki przypływ [The Great Tide] about Lampedusa was presented, as well as the heroic life and acts of Dr. Bartolo, who continues to save the lives of refugees and immigrants on the Italian island. We are convinced that literary life in Krakow should nurture debates that inspire solutions to important contemporary problems.

Bearing in mind these as well as many other moments from life in the City of Literature in 2015, we are happy that this was an active and interesting time – sometimes surprising, but consistently exciting. With great enthusiasm we take on new challenges, preparing new events, debates, projects while keeping readers at the forefront of our minds, thanks to whom literary culture is created and developed. Ahead of us is another wonderful year, with another edition of the Conrad and Miłosz festivals, and many more projects and initiatives, including our celebrations connected to Shakespeare. We’ve planned a lot, and we intend to keep Krakow, the already exceptional UNESCO City of Literature, buzzing with literary activity.

10 strategic areas of development

1. Integrate a rich and diverse literary sector
2. Create linkages: literature, new media, creative industries
3. Influence reading trends
4. Organise literary events and festivals
5. Support the development of the publishing sector
6. Initiate and support the presence of literature in public spaces
7. Develop literary scholarship programmes
8. Advance the connections between literature and human rights
9. Strengthen international cooperation in the field of literature
10. Support literary education