- 18 Apr 2013 9:02 AM
At the beginning of the restructuring of the Hungarian book market, those managing the Association at the time, President István Bart and Director Péter László Zentai, approached the legendary Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Peter Weidhaas, asking him whether he would help us in establishing – in addition to the Festive Book Week, the event of Hungarian literature that is unparalleled in Europe – in establishing an international book fair of regional importance.
We were lucky, because Peter Weidhaas immediately accepted our request without hesitating, and the expert team of the Frankfurt Book Fair not only advised us on how to build up an international event, but in the first year, it was them who invited the European book people to Budapest.
Thus, it was not by coincidence that the Hungarian cultural minister at the time, who later became President of the country, Ferenc Mádl, announced the launch of the new international book event of Budapest at an international press conference in Frankfurt. And it was Hungary’s first President Árpád Göncz who announced at the second Book Festival in 1995 that Hungary was the first to follow the UNESCO’s call, according to which each Book Festival has been held in the spirit of the World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April, following the nice Catalonian tradition of mutual gifts of books and flowers. We have always been aware that our goal was not to organise a small-scale Frankfurt Book Fair or business forum in Hungary, but, based on the many decades of the success of the Festive Book Week, a book festival tailored to the interests and preferences of the literature-loving Hungarian audience.
In cooperation with the Lord Mayor of Budapest we established an award, the Budapest Grand Prize, that gained its significance by the fact that it was presented to the most outstanding representatives of contemporary world literature: Ernst Jandl (1995), Ephraim Kishon (1996), Imre Kertész (1997), Salman Rushdie (1998), Victor Yerofeyev (1999), Sławomir Mrożek (2000), Robert Merle (2001), Lawrence Norfolk (2002), Mario Vargas Llosa (2003), Günter Grass (2004), Paulo Coelho (2005), Jorge Semprún (2006), Umberto Eco (2007), Bret Easton Ellis (2008), Ljudmila Ulickaja (2009), Amos Oz (2010), Per Olov Enquist (2011) and Claudio Magris (2012).
In the same year, we introduced the Guest of Honour country feature, which means that year by year European and oversees countries present their culture at the Book Festival. We were the first to come up with the idea of inviting the European Union, not the political community, of course, but literary Europe. On our invitation, notable authors from all the 27 member states of the European Union presented themselves in Budapest. Visitors got an insight into the latest production of Europe’s multifaceted and multilingual literature at a representative stand, and all authors presented themselves in their mother tongues at a large-scale gala.
The same kind of joint effort made possible the other unparalleled international programme of the Book Festival, the European First Novel Festival, to which we invite 18—20 talented European prose writers just starting their career every year in cooperation with the Budapest embassies and cultural institutes of the EU countries. So far, nearly 180 young writers had the chance to present themselves to each other and to the reading public at an international forum in Budapest, and many of them have become major representatives of their country’s literature by now. To mention just a few of the Hungarian participants: It was at the European First Novel Festival that Hungarian and international literature lovers first heard about, for example, György Dragomán, Krisztián Grecsó, Edina Szvoren or Viktor Horváth.
In the mid-1990s, our idea of the Book Festival was that of a regional cultural forum at the “border” between East and West building bridges between the two big cultural spheres. Today we can say that as a result of the intellectual range and the openness and up-to-dateness of literary translation in Hungary European and overseas countries and enterprises come to Budapest with pleasure to present their culture, their books and their authors. Luckily, the development of the Book Festival coincided with a series of international successes of classical and contemporary Hungarian literature, making the opportunity to meet the representatives of world-class Hungarian literature very attractive to writers from other countries invited by us.
Although our Book Festival will close before the World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April, its date is adjusted to the anniversary of the death of Cervantes and Shakespeare. On the opening day, each female visitor is presented with a red rose. President János Áder who will open this year’s jubilee Book Festival will also refer to the gesture of presenting books and flowers in his festive address.
The Guest of Honour country of the XXth jubilee International Book Festival Budapest is Italy, Italian culture, book publishing and contemporary literature. This is the first time that a country that had a Guest of Honour presence before is invited again, the occasion being that Hungary organises a large-scale cultural season in Italy in 2013, and this hospitality is returned by featuring Italy at the Book Festival. The presentation of Italian literature at the Book Festival was preceded by notable events: A few years ago Umberto Eco was awarded the Budapest Grand Prize, and last year – as a kind of preannouncement of this year’s Guest of Honour presence – it was presented to Claudio Magris.
Although this year’s turbulent elections at the Italian parliament made organising the Italian Guest of Honour presence more difficult than usual, we do hope, together with the Italian Cultural Institute in Budapest organising the programme, that all noted Italian writers invited – Tullio Avoledo, Giorgio Pressburger, Luca Cognolato, Stefano Benni, Daniele Cavicchia, Armando Massarenti, Nanni Balestrini, Tomaso Kemeny, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Tommaso Giagni – will be able to come to Budapest.
Our Book Festival is again truly international this year, as, apart from Italy’s Guest of Honour presence, it will be attended by writers from 25 countries. Hungarian publishers have again made their best efforts and thus welcome nearly every foreign author with a new or new edition of a Hungarian translation of their works.
The Book Festival received a birthday present from the Millenáris as well: The hall that previously accommodated the Csodák Palotája (Palace of Miracles) is now available as exhibition space. Thus, visitors can access the stands of the more than 500 Hungarian and international publishers and Hungarian publishers from the neighbouring countries through a single main entrance.
Despite the recession in the Hungarian book market, the number of Hungarian exhibitors has not decreased either. As last year, international and Hungarian exhibitors’ stands occupy an area of nearly 1600 m2.
It has been a tradition of the Book Festival for nearly twenty years that its Guest of Honour writer is presented in a large-scale on-stage conversation on the opening day. This year, András Forgách will talk to French Goncourt Prize winner Michel Houellebecq. After a laudation by Attila Bartis the world-famous French writer will by presented with the Budapest Grand Prize – established by the Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association and the Local Government of the Capital Budapest – by István Tarlós, Lord Mayor of Budapest.
Just as two thirds of the exhibitors are book workshops from Hungary and the neighbouring countries, the majority of writers, scholars and artists attending the Book Festival are also Hungarians. Although the major show of contemporary Hungarian literature is the Festive Book Week taking place a month and a half after the Book Festival, the latter is attended by the cream of Hungarian literature meeting readers on the occasion of their newly published books.
The nearly 400 authors from Hungary and the neighbouring countries include personalities like Gábor Albert, László Darvasi, János Háy, Noémi Szécsi, György Konrád, Sándor Kányádi, László Krasznahorkai, Mihály Kornis, Zoltán Kőrösi, Lajos Parti Nagy, Mátyás Sárközi, György Spiró and Pál Závada – to name just a few. As a Hungarian tradition, nearly all attending writers and artists sign their works published at the time of the Book Festival.
The International Book Festival Budapest is not just a literary event, but also a trade forum where current matters of the book market are discussed. The programmes at the Librarians’ Club have always attracted some 2000 librarians and publishing professionals. This year’s major topics are the future of printed communication and the development of digital book publishing.
The professional day on Friday includes an important EU programme: The experts of the Federation of European Publishers, the book trade organisation of the European Union, will inform Hungarian publishers about the Arrow Plus programme, the objective of which is to create a reliable publisher and copyright database aiming at completeness and to integrate it at European level.
In the three and a half days, the International Book Festival Budapest offers more than 300 programmes to visitors in seven halls of different size and capacity and at an indoor stage and an open-air theatre. The focus of the Book Festival is on presenting books. In addition to book presentations, readings and on-stage conversations, the programmes of related fields of art make the event a true festival. There will be concerts, record presentations and even a film presentation. Noted writers and poets, Virág Erdős, János Háy, Krisztián Grecsó and Balázs Szálinger perform each other’s poems set to music. Among others, there will be performances by the Palya Bea Duó and a dance performance by the Bihari Ensemble.
The Book Festival regularly hosts Hungarian and international exhibitions. The exhibition of ex libris etchings by 72 Italian artists on the occasion of Boccaccio’s 700th birthday is part of Italy’s Guest of Honour presence. Ireland, currently in charge of the revolving EU presidency, organises a large-scale Beckett Memorial Exhibition.
As every year since 1994, the members of the Hungarian Book Artists’ Society and the Hungarian Illustrators’ Society present their latest works at the Book Festival. Last year Israeli children’s book illustrations were shown, this year’s Festival features the works submitted in the Aranyvackor 2013 children’s literature and illustration competition.
Since the Book Festival moved from the Budapest Congress Centre to the Millenáris, the Children’s Lit Kingdom programme series jointly organised by the publishers of books for children has proven to be a great success. The authors and illustrators of children’s books, the competitions and activity programmes and the many opportunities of playing together create a fantastic atmosphere – especially at the weekend. In the Literature in Costume competition for promoting reading targeted at middle school students – announced by the Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association, the Hungarian Society of Literary History and Kossuth Publishing – Hungarian students dress up as their favourite literary characters and perform selections from dramas.
As a feature of the International Book Festival Budapest, the Millenáris turns into Europe’s largest bookshop from 18 to 21 April. The entrance tickets available for 500 forints can be cashed at nominal value for buying books at any Hungarian stand. Visitors can choose from an estimated 50,000 titles, among them 300—350 novelties. The latter are listed in a catalogue compiled in cooperation with the book trade magazine Új Könyvpiac (New Book Market).
We use all forums available to provide information to the public on the event, its wide range of books and diverse programmes. The weekly Heti Válasz and the daily Népszabadság publish special Festival issues; the literary weekly Élet és Irodalom and the quarterly Lettre Internationale feature the European First Novel Festival. The two most-visited online literary and cultural magazines, prae.hu and litera.hu, publish reports on the Book Festival. Information available on the www.bookfestival.hu website of organiser Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association includes the festival’s programmes and the presentation of international exhibitors in Hungarian and English.
On 21 April, the closing day, the book industry awards are presented in a ceremony, among them the Buda Prizesnd District of Budapest for the publishers of the book or audio book, respectively, that best serves education. Based on the secret votes of the members of the Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association, the Board of the Association awards the Publishing House of the Year, Regional Bookshop of the Year and Municipal Bookshop of the Year prizes in an award ceremony. For the first time this year, this ceremony will include the announcement of the results of the competition for popularising reading organised by the Supka Géza Foundation and the Hungarian Newspaper and Magazine Publishers’ Association and the presentation of the Audio Book Voice of the Yearr award.
As a nice tradition, the Festival’s closing event on Sunday is the Birthday Literary Salon saluting the cream of Hungarian literature. Among those celebrating a milestone birthday this year, we invited the following for the on-stage conversation hosted by Tamás Tarján: 85 years old: Samu Benkő, Elemér Hankiss, Ferenc Juhász; 80 years old: Zsolt Gálfalvi, Ágnes Gergely, György Konrád; 75 years old: István Ágh, Zsuzsa Radnóti, György Sándor, István Szilágyi, Zsuzsa Takács; 70 years old: György Dalos, L. Mihály Kocsis, Ferenc Kulin, Katalin Mezey, Imre Oravecz, Hans-Henning Paetzke, Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, Szabolcs Váradi; 60 years old: Gergely Angyalosi, P. József Kőrössi, Géza Szőcs; and Szilárd Podmaniczky who just turned 50.
Source and more details: konyvfesztival.com