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It's Up to Us & PEN Award

Mirthe Frese in conversation with writers Arnon Grunberg, Eva Meijer, Raoul de Jong, Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) and Samanta Schweblin (Germany). With contributions by Salena Godden (UK), Simon(e) van Saarloos and Jaap Tielbeke. English spoken.


"It's up to us" is a statement made by philosopher, songwriter and author Eva Meijer in a radio program, as she was speaking about her novel De nieuwe rivier (The New River), which deals with the climate crisis. It's no longer up to you, the individual, to make the difference, but up to us. This statement became the theme of this online edition of the Winternachten Festival. But we also pose the question of which "us" we are talking about. Who is we?

We discussed this matter with writers Arnon Grunberg, Eva Meijer, Raoul de Jong, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Samanta Schweblin, moderated by Mirthe Frese.

0:00 - Intro.
1:52 - Arnon Grunberg (Netherlands), opening statement.
11:13 - Eva Meijer, Raoul de Jong (Netherlands), intro discussion
12:21 - Eva Meijer, recitation
14:01 - Raoul de Jong, discussion and recitation
17:16 - Eva Meijer, Raoul de Jong, discussion
32:11- Raoul de Jong, recitation
33:12 - Salena Godden (UK), spoken word
39:28 - Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), interview
52:57 - Simon(e) van Saarloos, performance
1:00:40 - Samanta Schweblin (Germany), interview.
1:11:52 - Jaap Tielbeke (Netherlands), performance.
1:16:58 - Arnon Grunberg, interview.
1:21:43 - Tsitsi Dangarembga, life and work video
1:30:08 - PEN Award for Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Arnon Grunberg opened the discussion by a statement from New York. In his speech on Remembrance Day in The Netherlands, Grunberg made it clear that we must take a good long look at ourselves; racism is deeply rooted in our culture. Our "we" is still far from inclusive.

In connection with his new novel Jaguarman, Raoul de Jong told Dutch daily de Volkskrant that, currently, one is often expected to feel like the representative of a group. He prefers to stay true to his own rhythm and message.

The Zimbabwean writer and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga, taking part from Harare, spoke about what "we" means to her in Zimbabwe's current postwar society. Dangarembga's novel This Mourning Body was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

With the Argentinean author Samanta Schweblin, Mirthe Frese talked about the interconnectedness of mankind, and about humanity in an era of new technologies. These appear to form a new universal language between people. In her novel Little Eyes Schweblin investigates how technology creates togetherness and alienation.

To broaden the sense of "we", the Winternachten Festival asked three authors to write a dedicated contribution about the Winternachten festival theme. We saw and heard, from here or far away, Salena Godden, Simon(e) van Saarloos and Jaap Tielbeke. From whose idea of "we" do they want to make a difference? What is needed to feel a sense of "us"? And is it even really up to us? Arnon Grunberg concluded by reflecting on the conversations and sharing his thoughts.

Following this discussion, the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression was handed out to Tsitsi Dangarembga. With The PEN Award, in a co-production with PIP The Hague that supports the Award, writers organisation PEN International honours authors who seek and speak out the truth risking their freedom and lives.

Read here the contributions written for this programme on request of the Winternachten international literature festival The Hague:

(Find the Dutch-language versions here/Lees hier de Nederlandstalige versies)

Learn more here:

Tsitsi Dangarembga
"Life in an 'ever narrowing Zimbabwe'", interview with Tsitsi Dangarembga, Al-Jazeera, 2020
Video: "Being shorlisted for the Booker Prize changed my life", interview with Tsitsi Dangarembga, France24, 2020

Salena Godden
Video: Salena Godden recites her poem The Letter from the collection Pessimism is for Lightweights, ArtHouse Jersey, 2020

Video: Salena Godden, spoken-word performance I want to be your wife, lead track of her newly released The Lockdown EP, Nymphs & Thugs, 2020

Arnon Grunberg
Video: conversation with Arnon Grunberg about what the covid19-pandemic means for our society and democracy, De Balie Live, 2020

Raoul de Jong
Audio: interview with Raoul de Jong about his novel Jaguarman, Radio Rijnmond, 2020

Eva Meijer
Interview with Eva Meijer about De nieuwe rivier (The New River), Het Parool, 2020
Video: Interview with Eva Meijer about her book De nieuwe rivier (The New River), Kunststof, NPO Radio 1

Simon(e) van Saarloos
Audio The Asterisk Conversation #1 podcast: Simon(e) van Saarloos, Nalo Hopkinson, Tirsa With, Writers Unlimited, 2020

Samanta Schweblin
Video: Samanta Schweblin talks about her book Duizend ogen (Little Eyes, 2020)

Jaap Tielbeke
Essays and articles by Jaap Tielbeke in De Groene Amsterdammer