Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Aka Morchiladze and Nino Haratischwili were the literary speakers at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2018 opening day.
The Franfurt Book Fair. It doesn’t get bigger than that. This book fair is the granddaddy of them all having started 500 years ago in the wake of the invention of the printing press. The fair would regularly run until the war European countries like calling “World War 2” when it went silent for a while. It would open its doors to the public in 1948; this iteration of the fair would go on to be the most prestigious event in the world literary calendar. This is partly because this was where the world publishing industry chose to do their trade deals in their thousands.
This year, the fair would kick off on Tuesday October 9 at the Frankfurt Book Fair pavilion with a press conference from fair director, Juergen Boos, Heinrich Riethmüller the German Publishers and Booksellers Association chairman and Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The two officials would welcome the packed hall to the fair and they would give speeches about the fair and its illustrious history. They also spoke out about the excesses against those in the creative industries like authors, writers and journalists in countries all over the world have to endure. Riethmüller would even go as far as naming names appealing to Turkish president Tayyib Erdogan to stop with his dictatory tendencies.
The time would then come for the African literary scene’s sweetheart Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to give her keynote. She would speak of her growing up in Nssuka as a Roman Catholic with a popular progressive priest at her parish. On her return as an adult she would discover that his replacement, Catholics don’t do that women priest liberal mumbo jumbo, was a new breed of preacher man. Apparently this new guy stationed his lieutenants at the door ensuring that women who came to the place of worship had the right length of clothing to enter this hallowed ground. While Ms Adichie knew about this women policing thing, she went to the church in a long skirt and short sleeved top. She would encounter problems, a church lieutenant, entering the church as her sleeves were deemed to be “too short.” She would write an article about this experience in the Nigerian media but to her surprise, she would get a push back from the conservative elements in her country for daring to challenge this “man of God.”
What she would learn from this experience was that she needed to speak out. She has been called an activist but she had seen real activists who had done activisting when she was younger. She considers herself a writer, a storyteller and an artist but she was also a citizen.
She was adviced by a friend of hers that Nigerians had no problem with her books but with her politics. They would have preferred that she just wrote books and shut up. She saw that she had to speak up as this is a time for courage. She stated that we needed a wide variety of voices today. That domestic violence are human rights as much as refugee rights. Women simply wanted to be full members of the human family. In spite of all the progress, women and their experiences are still invisible.
She averred that it was time to expand our boundaries as we ask whether literature, her religion, mattered and if it was useful. She felt that it did matter and it was useful.
With her keynote done and dusted, she would leave the event for the airport to her next engagement (which we believe was in London).
The evening would see the official opening ceremony which introduced the book fair’s guest of honour country Georgia. Readers of this blog should already be familiar with this concept as the Hargeysa International Book Fair has a history of picking a headline country of the year. Alongside the guest country, the fair was focused on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was published in 1948. This is the same year of the rebirth of the Frankfurt Book Fair as earlier mentioned. There would be messages using the #onthesamepage in between the speeches which were given. The event speeches were from Jurgen Boos and Heinrich Riethmüller who spoke earlier in the day, Lord Mayor of Frankfurt Peter Feldmann, Volker Bouffier the minister president of Hesse the region we were in, Federica Mogherini the EU representative, and the Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze.
As is traditional with this blog we were mainly focused on the literary speakers. Georgian writer and literary historian Aka Morchiladze who uses the pen name of Giorgi Akhvlediani has written some of the best-selling prose of post-soviet Georgian literary fiction. He would talk about writing from his home country and the strong influence of poetry and other forms.
Another literary speaker would be Nino Haratischwili a novelist, playwright, and theater director who has written der cousin und bekina (2001), Juja, (2010), Mein sanfter Zwilling (My Gentle Twin) (2011), Das achte Leben (Für Brilka) (The Eighth Life (For Brilka)), (2014), and Die Katze und der General (The Cat and the General), (2018). She would speak about a unique situation in her life where her German and Georgian sides were in the same room at the same time. She would explain that she wrote in German because she could do so and could writer her stories more accurately. She would state that borders were changing using a short story based in the Ossetia region in Southern Georgia where the border is slowly creeping into the country.
With the speeches done with, guests would go to the Georgia pavilion to see what the Eastern European country had on offer.