On a good day, I can see the post office tower from our office window. Maybe we could ask them to change the countdown to the Olympics (which really feel much too far away) to the start of JBW…. 43 days still seems bearable, the panick only sets in when we turn the calendar page from January to February and the festival is there, looking back at us from the page.
So, as promised, a look behind the scenes. The programmes have gone out, quite frantically, to as many people as possible. So far, the reactions have been encouraging as witnessed also by ticket sales but no reason for complacency. There is still an awful lot to do and too many people who don’t know about the festival or wrongly think it’s not for them either because they are not Jewish or not bookish.
I’m afraid this is also when we realise we have made mistakes and have to make amends for them. For instance, in the printed programme, we credited the wrong producer for the film on Jewish life on Poland, A Different World, we will be showing on Thursday 4 March. It was actually written and produced by Raye Farr and we are very thankful to Martin Smith for undestanding that the mistake came from an American website and still graciously allowing us to show the film. I think many people enjoy these free screenings on weekday afternoons which depend on the film makers or producers waiving their fees.
I also had to apologize to Sharon Harnoy, the lovely cultural attachee at the Israeli Embassy without whom we could not bring as many Israeli speakers as we do but who confirmed her support after we had gone to print. What so many people don’t understand -who have in the past called for the boycott of festivals where Israeli artists only appeared because the Embassy had paid for them- is how broad minded they are and often willing to sponsor writers or film makers regardless of their political opinions. On a slightly different note, it is interesting to see how most of the fiction that gets translated from Hebrew in this country are the ones who deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Alon Hilu and Assaf Gavron being cases in point. Both try to write from both sides’ perspectives. I’m still waiting for a copy of House of Rajani in English but I’ve read Crock-Attack and was completely stunned by it. Gavron tells the story of a man who survives three terrorist attacks which makes him a symbolic hero. Not surprisingly his life is utterly disrupted and he can’t go back to his usual routine now bereft of any sense. It also follows a young Palestinian involved in the attacks and now lying on a hospital bed. The novel is utterly gripping, very raw, sprinkled with terribly black humour and its conclusion very powerful.
I would be curious to know what is the percentage of novels written in Hebrew dealing with the conflict overall. What is translated reflects the interests of the country commissioning the translations of course.
We’ve been kept quite busy by the quiz. I’m sure everyone will have loads of fun on Monday night, we certainly did when writing the questions. We are lucky to have a fabulous intern helping us from now until the end of the festival and great friends who’ve joined the team to devise entertaining rounds. Apparently calling the quiz “literary” has scared some people away. In fact the questions are a mix of gossip, general knowledge and call on imagination and creativity, so really nothing to be scared by. And I’m sure our hosts, Cosmo Landesman and Lana Citron, will make it all quite hilarious.
The rest of the week has also been busy with lots of exciting events. It started on Monday night with the 2009 translation prizes (one of my favourite events as I deeply believe in the need for increased access to foreign literature) and a very impressive lecture delivered by Will Self on Sebald and his writing as Holocaust literature. It was brilliant, deep, extremely well researched and insightful with the right zest of humour and provocation. We’ll post the link to it as soon as it is published. It makes me look forward even more to his conversation on Jews in all their forms with Adam Thirlwell at JBW.
On Tuesday night, Jonathan Miller was opening the exhibition on movement that he has curated at the Estorick collection in Islington, a wonderful collection of photos that influenced the Futurists. His interview at JBW09 was one of last year’s highlights. On Wednesday night, Ben Uri opened an exhibition of some of their masterpieces, including their recently acquired Chagall painting. I can only wish them they eventually get the home they deserve for their impressive collection. Then Thursday was Tiffany Murray’s booklaunch at Daunt’s. Tiffany was our writing coach for a day last year at JBW. Her new book, Diamond Star Halo, has already had an enthusiastic review in the Guardian.
A friend commented she was surprised to see me out in the run up to JBW but it’s quite the opposite, we have to be out and about as much as possible and leave a trail of JBW information behind us. These were all great events to attend but in theory also perfect to spread the word and distribute programmes. I don’t want to appear rude and am completely incapable of going up to utter strangers and start peddling JBW so I try to find the right balance and hope the small piles of programmes I’ve deposited in various venues have not been thrown away. As to those of you who for some reason have received more than one programme, please pass them on…