passa porta seminar 2014: the time of the author



International Writers' Seminar with Céline Curiol (FRA), Joke Hermsen (NLD), Iman Humaydan (LIB), Jens Christian Grøndahl (DNK), Anne Provoost (BEL), Goce Smilevski (MKD) and Juan Gabriel Vásquez (COL). Moderated by Ortwin De Graef (BEL).

In his ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound wrote that ‘literature is news that stays news’. In the writer’s ideal world, he or she decides what is news and makes sure it remains heard always and everywhere. But how does the writer relate to the news that he never entirely has under control, the news that we call ‘current affairs’ or ‘today’s world’? Literature is often requested to keep up to date and be aware of events. But what exactly does that mean? Should it deal with current topics, or express the spirit of the age? Should literature use ‘contemporary language’ and forms, and who is to say what language and forms those are?

Requirements of this sort are by no means self-evident. Not only because there can be no consensus about what is ‘current’, but isn’t good art and literature somehow unrelated to time? How can literature and imagination respond to the actual challenges and problems of our times? What is the time that the author requires, makes, deals with, and possesses?

The first Passa Porta Seminar offers seven authors from Belgium and abroad the opportunity to exchange and reflect together on their ‘time’ and ‘our time’, the time we share – with whom?

The authors spent three days together at Villa Hellebosch, in the Belgian countryside. Here they presented their keynotes and shared their thoughts and questions on the role and place of literature in today's world.

  • Report by Jack McMartin
  • Video of the presentation at Flagey, Brussels, on 12 March 2014





After her studies in Paris, Céline Curiol (France, 1975) moved to New York, where she worked as a journalist for Libération and France Culture, and as a correspondent for BBC Africa and Radio France. She has also lived in Buenos Aires and Kyoto. At the moment, she is living in Paris. Her first novel Voix sans issue (2005) has been released in fifteen countries and was shortlisted for the International Foreign Fiction Prize. It was published as Voice Over in the United Kingdom by Faber&Faber and in the US by Seven Stories Press. The novel deals with loneliness and the character’s separation from the world around her, themes which reoccur in later publications. Her second book Permission was released in 2007, as well as the travelogue Route Rouge. Voyage en Sierra Leone. Recent titles are the novels Exil intermédiaire (2009), L'Ardeur des pierres (2012), written in Kyoto, and A vue de nez (2013), a literary essay on memory, smell and writing, on which she worked during her residency at Passa Porta.

Joke J. Hermsen (The Netherlands, 1961) is a novelist, essayist and philosopher. With Dana Villa she published a work on Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy, The Judge and The Spectator. Her first novel Het dameoffer (The Lady Sacrifice, 1998) was followed by Tweeduister (The Smokefall), a historical novel situated in the interbellum, which introduces Bloomsbury artists such as T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. This novel was translated in German as Die Garten von Bloomsbury. Her successful work Stil de tijd. Pleidooi voor een langzame toekomst (Time on our Side, 2009) includes essays about philosophers as Henri Bergson, Ernst Bloch, Hannah Arendt. It offers an overview of thinking about time in modern philosophy and explores the importance of tranquillity, deceleration and boredom in literature, music and visual arts: values that seem to be forgotten about in modern times. Stil de tijd is followed by Kairos (2014), dedicated to the Greek God for 'the right moment' and 'due measure'. Hermsen interprets the Kairos time from a philosophical, literary and artistic perspective and combines it with classical notions of the nunc stans - 'everlasting glow' - and the festina lente - 'make haste slowly'-principle.
Author’s website.

Iman Humaydan (Lebanon, 1956) is a writer, anthropologist, journalist and creative-writing teacher. She has a weekly article in the Lebanese daily Assafir and has published three novels to date: B as in Beirut, Wild Mulberries, and Other Lives (Interlink Books). Her work has also been translated in French, English, Italian and Dutch. Wild Mulberries was shortlisted for the Banipal Translation Prize 2009 for its English translation by Michelle Hartman. War memories and the situation of women and their rights feature as major topics in Humaydan’s work. The film Here Comes the Rain (2011), based upon her research on forced disappearances in Lebanon, won nine international prizes. During her Passa Porta residence in 2013 she worked on her fourth novel Rassa el Istanbul (Letters of Istanbul), due for publication in 2014.

Jens Christian Grøndahl (Denmark, 1959) studied philosophy and film direction in Copenhagen. Since 1983 writing became his main occupation. Love and modern relationships form the leading themes in his numerous novels, such as Silence in October (English translation 2000), An Altered Light (shortlist International IMPAC Dublin Award 2008). In 2010 his youth memoires appeared under the title of Om en time springer træerne ud. In his essays Grøndahl often reflects on his position as a European writer and his relation to political and cultural issues. Grøndahl was a guest of honour at the Passa Porta Festival 2011, on the occasion of which he wrote the opening lecture “The Radiance of Unspeakable Spring”.

Anne Provoost (Belgium, 1964) is the author of a series of provocative novels that examine topics as varied as right-wing extremism, sexual abuse, and religion through the eyes of young protagonists. She also publishes essays on literature and on (ir)religion. Her second novel, Falling (1994), in which the pitfalls and allurements of extreme right-wing rhetoric are dealt with extensively, was translated into English in 1997, and was made into a feature film starring Jill Clayburgh and Alice Krige (2001). The idea of watching and showing the world from the perspective of a character of young age occurs in later work of Provoost as well, such as the novel In the Shadow of the Ark (translated in 2004), in which she tackles the problem of inequality, starting from a biblical story. Her latest novel In de zon kijken was published in 2007 and translated in French (Regarder le soleil, Fayard, 2009). Provoost's work has been published in 20 different languages.
Author’s website.

Goce Smilevski (Macedonia, 1975) is the author of several novels, theatre plays and essays. He studied at Charles University in Prague, Central European University in Budapest, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in his hometown Skopje. In 2003, he received the National Novel of the Year Prize for his novel Conversations with Spinoza. Freud's Sister (Penguin), a novel against ‘the great forgetting’, is a personal story giving voice to Freud’s sister Adolfina. It mirrors the rise and fall of the era that begins with optimism in the middle of the nineteenth Century and ends with the Holocaust in the Second World War. Smilevski won the European Union Prize for Literature 2010 with this novel and it has been published in more than thirty languages. In 2012 he was a writer-in-residence at Passa Porta. See also the Citybook which he wrote for deBuren.
Author’s website.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia, 1973) is one of the key figures in a new generation of Latin American writers. Mario Vargas Llosa described him as ‘one of the most original new voices in the region’. After completing his studies in Colombia he went to Paris where he acquired a PhD in Latin American literature at the Sorbonne. He then lived in the Belgian Ardennes for a time before settling in Barcelona. After living abroad for sixteen years, he returned to Colombia in 2013. He writes regularly for magazines and newspapers and has a weekly column in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. In his novels, he often returns to dark periods in Colombian history, in which corruption, violence and opportunism are rampant. In The Informers (2004) he writes about the harsh treatment the Germans received in Colombia during WWII and in The Secret History of Costaguana (2007) about the construction of the Panama Canal and the bloodshed that accompanied it. In his most recent novel, The Sound of Things Falling (2011, Premio Alfaguara), he looks back, in a language that is beautifully atmospheric, at the rise and success of the Colombian drug trade in the seventies and eighties and the impact drug terrorism has had on his generation. Lately, The Sound of Things Falling has also been awarded the Prix Roger Caillois (2012) and the Premio Gregor von Rezzori-Città di Firenze (2013).


Ortwin de Graef (Belgium, 1963) is Professor of English Literature at KU Leuven, Belgium, and currently Dean of Research at the Arts Faculty there. He is the author of two books on Paul de Man (Serenity in Crisis [1993] and Titanic Light [1995]) and of numerous articles on writing in the postromantic condition, ranging from Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold and George Eliot over Virginia Woolf and Pearl S. Buck to Hafid Bouazza, Alan Warner and A.L. Kennedy. His principal research interests are the VeryLongNineteenthCentury ideologies of sympathy, science and the State reflected and refracted through the transmission technologies of the literary. He has co-edited (with Tom Toremans) special issues of the Belgian literary journal DW B on Scottish writing and on multilingual writing and has organised and hosted public literary events with John Banville, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott, David Grossman, David Mitchell, Michael Cunningham and A.L. Kennedy.