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Opening Night: 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. In English.

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"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 was chosen as the theme of this online edition of the Winternachten Festival. However, we 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.

Arnon Grunberg opened the discussion with a statement from New York. In his Dutch Remembrance Day speech, 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 the Dutch daily De Volkskrant that, these days, one is often expected to represent 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.

The Argentinean author Samanta Schweblin spoke 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 commissioned three authors to write a short piece on the Winternachten festival theme. From their own perspectives, we heard from Salena Godden, Simon(e) van Saarloos and Jaap Tielbeke. From whose idea of "we" do they intend to make a difference? What is needed to feel a sense of "us"? And is it even really up to us? To conclude, Arnon Grunberg reflected on the conversations and shared his thoughts.

Following this discussion, the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression was presented to Tsitsi Dangarembga. In a coproduction with PIP The Hague, which supports this prize, the writers' organization PEN International honours authors who currently seek out and speak the truth at risk to their freedom and lives with the PEN Award.
Watch a film portrait of Tsitsi Dangarembga here.

You can read the contributions commissioned for this program by the Winternachten International Literature Festival The Hague here:

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

More background:

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