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Winternachten is about something

Hello Darkness is the theme of the international literary festival Winternachten, this coming weekend in The Hague. It takes guts, in a time when everything has to be fun and cosy and we prefer not to spend our free time dealing with misery or 'heavy topics'. That's why we love Winternachten, because that festival is really about something and introduces the public to well-known and lesser-known voices from world literature. Besides, it is great fun. Ten highlights from the programme.

1. Opening Night: Free the Word!

Who hasn't read it: Wild Swans by Chinese-British writer Jung Chang? This extraordinarily impressive (and banned) novel about the history of China has sold 10 million copies worldwide. Jung Chang, who is still unwelcome in her native country, knows what it is on not being able to speak freely. She will do so in the Free the Word! speech, with which she will open Winternachten. Afterwards, three persecuted writers, who took up their pen at the risk of their own lives, will be honoured with the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award. Egyptian writer Omar Hazek will be able to receive the Award in person; the other two winners - Turkish journalist, writer and filmmaker Can Dundar and Amanuel Asrat from Eritrea - are in captivity and will be represented.

Thursday, 14 January, 20:00-22:00

2. Behind every evil lurks a man (and behind it again a woman)

Anyone who follows young writer Jamal Ouariachi on Facebook or in the newspapers knows that he likes a little polemic here or there, and does not hide his opinions. With his Belgian colleague Kristien Hemmerechts, he will debate the question: is testosterone the source of all evil? That promises something.

Friday 15 January, 20:00-20:40.

3. Past Evils, Present Problems. Winternachten Lecture

This year's Winternachten lecture will be given by American-German philosopher and writer Susan Neiman. She will talk about how countries deal with the black pages - slavery, colonialism, war - of their history, and what consequences this has in the present. The lecture will be followed by a debate with Neel Mukherjee and Geert Mak.

Saturday 16 January, 20:00-21:15.

4. Seven Deadly Sins

Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth - the seven deadly sins have inspired countless writers, musicians, artists, film and theatre makers. Winternachten invited seven writers to write a new story about one of these sins. José Eduardo Agualusa, Slavenka Drakulic, Mira Feticu, Petina Gappah, Daan Heerma van Voss, Andrej Koerkov and Neel Mukherjee treat the audience to sinful stories you can't get enough of... Dick van der Harst composed music to accompany them.

Saturday, 16 January, 22:15-23:05.

Rodaan al Galidi. ©Serge Ligtenberg
Rodaan al Galidi. ©Serge Ligtenberg

5. Welcome to Holland

Originally from Iraq, writer Rodaan al Galidi roamed the world without a passport before ending up in an asylum seekers' centre in the Netherlands. Without money, asylum or an integration diploma, he managed to build a writing career. In his new book, How I got talent for life, presented at Winternachten, he does a hilarious piece on our Dutch tolerance and his struggle with our neatly organised body. That will be laughter with the red of shame on your cheeks....

Saturday 16 January, 20:00-20:40.

6. Writing in Times of Turmoil

Can you still come up with fiction when the world is on fire? Is imagination still adequate then? Or should you as a writer then, like it or not, speak out in non-fiction about what is going on in the world? This is what Writing in Times of Turmoil is about, which features not only Egyptian writer Alaa al Aswani but also Ukrainian writer Andrei Kurchov. This author of eighteen novels was living in Kiev when protests broke out there. He decided Ukraine Diaries to write a non-fiction book about the annexation of Crimea and the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Friday 15 January, 21:50-22:50.

7. The writer as accomplice

Just as actors like to play a bad guy, writers also like to perform the not-very-bad types. Main character of Inge Schilperoord's acclaimed debut novel Seal is a convicted paedophile. Kristien Hemmerechts, who has already once stepped into the shoes of Michelle Martin, the complicit ex-wife of serial killer Marc Dutroux, shows in Everything changes her character Iris displays sexual borderline behaviour. Led by Marja Pruis, the writers will address the question: is describing an atrocity also an act of violence?

Friday 15 January, 21:10-21:55.

8. Wim Brands interviews Karl Ove Knausgård

He is, of course, the crowd-pleaser of this festival: Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård. With uncompromising honesty, he writes about himself, his background, what he sees and experiences in his daily, struggling life. Not for nothing did masses of people worldwide recognise themselves in his series of novels My struggle (Min camp). In the final section Woman, he writes extensively about Evil, about mass murderer Anders Breivik and about Adolf Hitler - how could it be otherwise with such a title. Wim Brands will interview Knausgård at length, and will discuss the book with Stine Jensen and Jamal Ouariachi in the Reading Club the same afternoon.

Saturday 16 January, 14:30-15:45 (interview) and 16:15-17:30 (reading club).

9. Stars of Arabic Literature

Wouldn't it be nice, now that we receive so many people from Arab countries in Europe, to take a closer look at their literature? Syrian poet Adonis receives the first copy of the Dutch translation of his poetry collection from the hands of Mayor Aboutaleb What remains. Egyptian writer Alaa al Aswani's new translation will also be presented: Cairo automobile club.

Friday 15 January, 20:00-21:05.

10. Hello, poetry and music

Take a breather with the fine sounds of poetry, music and poetry-on-music - you can do that at the end of Friday evening. Guests include the nominees for the VSB Poetry Prize - Pieter Boskma, Geert van Istendael and Maud Vanhauwaert -, German poet Michael Krüger and Belgian Runa Svetlikova. Dick van der Harst will provide the music.

Friday 15 January, 22:40-23:50.

11. Help, I'm debuting!

If you think you would like to write, be sure to visit Help, I'm making my debut! At this literary brunch, organised by internet community Cleeft, writers Bregje Hofstede, Jamal Ouariachi and Lize Spit will tell you all about what is involved. Workers' Press publisher Peter Nijssen explains what you should and should not do as a future debutant. Abdelkader Benali and Ferdinand Lankamp lead the discussion.

Saturday 16 January, 11:00-12:45 am.

Read your favourite book excerpt at Culture Press!

The international literature festival Winternachten takes place from Thursday 14 to Sunday 17 in Theater aan het Spui in The Hague. The theme is Hello Darkness: writers from home and abroad will engage with each other and the audience on questions and topics that concern us now.

For the programme and tickets, visit: www.writersunlimited.nl. The festival will end festively on Sunday with the writers' party and the presentation of the Constantijn Huygens Prize to Adriaan van Dis, the Jan Campert Prize to Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, the F. Bordewijk Prize to Annelies Verbeke and the Nynke van Hichtum Prize to Anna Woltz.

The writers performing during the festival will read their favourite texts at the 'The text of my life' section. Come and do the same at the Cultural Press Lounge! The Cultural Press Office has its own lounge at the bar of the Winter Café, where visitors can share their favourite book excerpt. This will be broadcast live on the Periscope channel of Culture Press. For that, keep an eye on our twitterstream on during Writers Unlimited Winternachten.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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