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7th Amsterdam ‘Read My World’ Festival Celebrates Moroccan Literature

"So many talented young storytellers, writers and poets who are not yet translated are still invisible in the West, whereas their stories could add so many different layers to how we look at each other." - Willemijn Lamp

Amsterdam – The Read My World, Netherlands international literary festival has chosen to focus on Moroccan writers this year.

An annual three-day international literature festival, the event focuses on a certain region of the world each year. This year celebrates Moroccan literature through its novelists, storytellers, writers, poets, journalists, playwrights, spoken word artists, singer-songwriters, academics, and bloggers.

The October 10-12 festival will take place at the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam. The journalist Fedwa Misk and novelist Mahi Binebine, as “curators” of the festival, have chosen a variety of writers to represent Morocco, creating the program together with a Dutch team.

The festival, now in its seventh year, sheds light on topics such as feminism in Morocco and female voices in literature and arts. In addition, sessions that focus on poetry translation, intimate mother tongues, food stories, the language of the body, and roots, will all bring along authors’ personal stories and narratives about social life and culture in Morocco.

Morocco World News spoke with the festival’s artistic director, Willemijn Lamp, about the story behind the festival.

MWN: What inspired you to create Read My World Festival, and what is the story behind it?

Willemijn Lamp: In 2010 I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Ramallah, Palestine. There I met Asmaa Azaizeh, back then a young, award-winning poet, who taught me a lot about the function and role of literature and poetry in Palestine.

Although I thought I was quite well-informed, she introduced me to so many insights, so many new voices, that I started to question my frame on how we here in the West are informed about and introduced to writers and poets from the “Global South.”

For instance: whenever in the West poetry from Palestine is discussed, it often comes with the preconceived idea that a lot of the poets address the occupation, that the language is very rich and colorful, but obviously there is much more to it than this. Asmaa taught me that so called “resistance poetry” of course is very important, but yes, “we also write about love, about daily life issues, we have dreams and we experiment with ‘street slang’ etc., etc.”

It occurred to me that so many talented young storytellers, writers and poets who are not yet translated are still invisible in the West, whereas their stories could add so many different layers to how we look at each other. So, I thought: How great would it be if people here could get introduced to her specific vision and insights, instead of us here in Amsterdam just inviting people from abroad that we already know?

Instead of us here in Amsterdam setting the agenda for the kind of themes and topics that we want to discuss, wouldn’t it be more challenging and fascinating to actually invite people from abroad to set the agenda and choose the themes themselves?

So from there on I started dreaming of a festival that would each year invite people from different regions in the world and give them “carte-blanche” in terms of introducing us to themes and voices that THEY would like to address in Amsterdam.

This way, so I thought, we would have the best of both worlds: We introduce writers from the Netherlands to writers from the specific region and vice versa, we invite them to really engage with each other in preparation [for] the festival and of course on stage.

This way, I hope, we are able to open up new insights in the current role of literature here and there…. I want to create a space for truthful encounters, where it’s safe to be confronted with new ideas and get inspired by different languages. In the previous years we had writers coming from Palestine, Egypt (2013); Surinam, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Haiti, Trinidad [and] Tobago (2014); Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore (2015); Poland, Ukraine (2016); Black USA (2017); [and] Turkey (2018).

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MWN: The festival is in its seventh year now. Where did you get the inspiration to pick Morocco as a theme for this year?

Willemijn Lamp: Actually, I wanted to address Morocco already in 2013, during the first edition of the festival, together with the writers from Palestine and Egypt, but it turned out too complicated to achieve this on relatively short notice.

In the Netherlands we have approximately 400,000 people with roots in Morocco; we have a few very excellent Moroccan Dutch writers in the Netherlands as well….

So, it was through them that I got inspired to dive deeper into the literature of Morocco today, and the deeper I dove into it, the more complex it got, which I like. Since I believe that we need this complexity to gain a better understanding of current day literary Morocco and the Netherlands: The diversity in terms of people and languages are unfortunately all too often simplified for the sake of clickbait or rising populism.

MWN:  In the past and for this year you chose curators local to the theme region of the festival. How and why did you select the curator team for this year?

Willemijn Lamp: The way we find curators is different each year, but the most important thing is that there needs to be first and foremost a personal “click” with the curators. Of course, we have a profile in mind for ‘the type’ of curator: For each edition we look for someone who’s very independent in terms of thinking and creating….

We search for people who are outspoken on issues that matter to them and are generous towards their colleagues, people who have a genuine conviction that words do matter, that the need for sharing stories is universal and is just as important as the air we breathe.

All these characteristics (and so much more!) we found in the encounter with the curators of this year, Mahi Binebine and Fedwa Misk, and we are extremely honored that they accepted our invitation to be part of the Read My World 2019 team.

MWN: What are some of the topics that will be discussed at the festival, and can you tell me a little about the authors and speakers that will attend this year?

Willemijn Lamp: We have approximately 10 authors coming from Morocco (from the north to the south); writers, actors, and musicians with Moroccan roots who are living in France and Belgium; and approximately 60 writers, poets, thinkers, and creators from the Netherlands, some of them with Moroccan roots, but also writers who have no Moroccan roots at all….

This year we have many people involved who care deeply about the role that women have in both our societies, Dutch and Moroccan. So, a large theme this year is feminism, womanhood, the body, motherhoods, and how this resonates in our stories and literature. But next to that we also celebrate multilingualism by all sort of poetry readings and spoken word performances.

On our website you can check the full line-up which is quite impressive, if I may say so!

Photo credit: Read My World.

MWN: I noticed for this year you added a special element, performative translation, to the festival. Why did you choose to do so?

Willemijn Lamp: Here I would like to quote my colleague Canan Marasligil, who created this workshop.

“The idea for this pilot project on ‘performative translation’ came from an urge to change the narrative of how stories are told on stage at literary festivals. And quite simply: We are thinking that everyone has the right to express themselves freely on a stage, no matter where they come from, and that language barriers many times prevent such freedom in expression. Festivals and programmers often lack the resources to organize multilingual events and are therefore pushed into thinking of language knowledge as a barrier. This pilot seeks to create a methodology that could later be used by festivals and cultural organizers of literary events across the globe…. Our ambition is to show programmers across literary festivals that it is possible to move beyond the barriers of language knowledge.”

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MWN: If people would like to learn more about the Read My World Festival, the performers, and future Read My World events, where can they find more information?

Willemijn Lamp: They can go to our website, or check our social media [Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter].