Vive le Festival! Columbia’s Literary Event Draws Crowds in Paris
Five days, 28 writers from 18 countries, 30 events and 6,000 people in attendance add up to what organizers are calling a successful first edition of the World Writers’ Festival, a unique partnership between Columbia University and Bibliothèque nationale de France.
The festival was hosted by Columbia Global Centers | Europe, with events held in several venues throughout Paris and at the Center’s Reid Hall. The moveable festival traveled to Lyon on Monday, Sept. 23, for its final two days.
Paul LeClerc, director of Paris Center, said the event accomplished its mission.
“The strategic objective of the Festival was to announce—to Paris, France, and Europe—that Columbia is a now a major “player” on the Continent,” he said. “Through elegant and meaningful partnerships with other world-class organizations such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Columbia and the Paris Center can use its convening power to create globally-relevant, cultural programming for a very broad public.”
Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger welcomed more than 200 people at the opening reception at Reid Hall on Friday, Sept. 20. After attending all three days of events in Paris, he reiterated the objectives of the eight global centers, located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago.
“We believe that our global centers provide the right kind of flexible structure for deepening Columbia’s teaching and learning, scholarship and service around the world,” he said. “There will be many different ways our students, faculty, alumni and local partners will engage with ideas and issues at the various centers and the writer’s festival Paul has developed in partnership with France’s great national library is just one way we are doing that.”
The event is a significant step for the university’s global efforts, said Safwan M. Masri, vice president of Columbia Global Centers and director of the Columbia Global Centers | Amman.
“The festival helps establish the nature of Columbia’s unique approach in Europe and around the globe,” he said. “We are interested in creating connections between the local and the global, whether that is through arts and culture like this festival, or through research initiatives, educational programming, or outreach activities.
Professor Masri said that the festival is a prime example of what the global centers strive for around the globe: a dialogue in meaningful and pertinent issues.
The 30 events included one-on-one interviews, panel discussions, readings, a translation slam and a musical interlude. Just a sampling of the diverse group of writers included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Banville, Richard Ford, Walter Mosley, David Grossman, Ma Jian, Amin Maalouf, Petros Markaris, Catherine Millet, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie and Edmund White.
Festival director Caro Llewellyn, who has organized many literary festivals in New York and Sydney, said she was overjoyed by the enthusiastic way the mostly French audiences embraces the festival.
“We began with 350 people at an open-air reading under the gaze of a beautiful French full moon and finished with a standing-room only event for Salman Rushdie at the Louvre,” she said. “In between those two bookends were extraordinary and thoughtful conversations and discussions with some of the world's greatest literary talents.”
The World Writers' Festival's opening night event was Reading Around the World, featuring readings by Antonio Skármeta (below), Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Banville, David Grossman, Ma Jian, Elif Shafak and Ahdaf Soueif.
Photographs by Jeff Ballinger and Khanh Renaud