At the International Literature Festival in Timisoara (22nd – 24th of October), we had the opportunity to meet twelve great writers: Paul Bailey (Great Britain), Florin Lăzărescu (Romania), László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), Radu Pavel Gheo (Romania), Daša Drndić (Croatia), Filip Florian (Romania), Noémi Kiss (Hungary), Ornela Vorpsi (Albany, France), Jean Mattern (France), Bogdan Munteanu (Romania), Cătălin Dorian Florescu (Switzerland), Mircea Mihăieș (Romania). Because we couldn’t interview all of them (even if we would have loved that), we started a kind of questionnaire, asking each author (except Mircea Mihăieș, whom we didn’t manage to catch after the first event) these two questions: „How important is it for you to meet with other writers, either in a formal context, like this, at a festival, or in privat? Does it help you somehow in your creative process?”.
So I invite you to read their wonderful and very different answers in the following rows.
Pentru versiunea în limba română a anchetei, click aici.
I like to think of writers as people, in the first place. When you go at a literary festival, there’s a certain performance that goes on, you know, it’s a necessity to act a little bit. I only know one or two writers personally, I tend to make my friends from different parts of life. I know a lot of actors with whom I stayed friends, my students and doctors, etc. One of the reasons I like the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal is that he stayed away from writers. He preferred to stay in parks and talk to prostitutes than with writers. And he said he learnt more about life in this way.
But I enjoy meeting other writers. Even so, I don’t want to spend my time around writers because my interest is in everybody, not just authors. Some writers are more interesting than others, some talk about themselves the entire time, it’s like a public masturbation, telling everyone how wonderful they are, some never talk about themselves, which is interesting, and so on.
I thought about it many times in my life and I still do, it is something that’s in my head: to quit writing. If there is an argument for not quitting writing, one of the few things, beyond the joy of writing, it is precisely this: the meetings with other writers, possibly also with the lady who came from Germany to Timisoara and tells you that she reads you, etc. Because, otherwise, you have a weirder relationship. You don’t realize for whom you write, if someone reads your work, if there is someone interested in what you do. But one of the great joys of being a writer is that yes, I have traveled a lot, I met with people who think like me, who have the same writing-related depressions like me and so on. It is something that makes me go on. After each meeting similar to this, I feel like writing more than normal.
When I meet with the public, with people who never wrote to me, never spoke to me, but they have took out some bucks from their pocket for my book, it seems thrilling for me, in a world where all could live very well without reading Lăzărescu. For me it is a small miracle. Otherwise, I have appetite for writing, I would write from morning to night, what stops or limits me is the contact, I don’t know for whom I do it.
I don’t know if you noticed, I am very active on Facebook, I write, I would say, literature. Why? Because I have a contact, I know it interests somebody, I am encouraged to do this. Otherwise, left in my loneliness, I have very many doubts.
In these kind of meetings I had the opportunity to make friends and they are very dear to me. I have a lot of friends from the literary world, but also from the art life, almost in every country where I’ve been. Some friends of mine don’t live anymore and I miss them, like Allen Ginsberg – one of my closest friends in America. Allen’s death was actually in time, it was ok, with his age and illness, but Max Sebald’s death was a terrible accident, he was so young, I miss him very much! Last year, I was at a conference and I was invited to name and bring my best friends. It was like another funeral, because most of my friends died. It was interesting for the audience, but very sad for me.
Radu Pavel Gheo
I think it is very important, for any writer, to meet with other writers. It is – let’s not say indispensable, because one can live without it – however necessary, you feel the need to do that. In the first place, it’s like any communion in any guild, in any profession that you assumed and in which you are not always completely reliable, you have your hesitations, your doubts. And then these meetings invigorates you. Another aspect is that by talking about what some of them do, we are somehow abreast of what it is called Romanian or European literary life, that exists at least as a concept. For me, it is also a break from routine, because the writing, the profession, the job itself and the rest of the daily activities become, at a certain point, a routine. While the meeting with others is a break from routine, exactly in the world which you best understand.
As for the actual influence on the work, I don’t know if I could say that it still exists. Twenty years ago, when I was a newbie, it existed, not imitation, but emulation, admiration, a certain type of learning, not only in writing, but also in discussions. Now we are ossified into what we call our style, so it is no longer reflected in the writing. But it is reflected into the mindset of writing, the worldview and, perhaps, from this point of view, it even influences the choice of a theme or a particular perspective on an idea.
Well, it’s not more important than meeting people, in general. I don’t have a very big thing about writers, I’m interested in meeting people. So, it happened to me very often to meet a person who doesn’t have anything to do with writing that was much more interesting, intriguing than a writer, who can be very boring or irritating. It’s always good to meet people, to travel, to make contacts. And, if you meet a writers, it’s better to be one whose work you have read, then you can get in a sort of critical discussion and say what you hopefully like and don’t like. It’s also interesting when you have read the works of some writers because, when you meet them, you can see this difference between the ethics in the book and the ethics in the person. When you read a book, you imagine who’s behind it and when you meet that person you are or not disappointed. It’s interesting in any case and it’s nice.
It has a great importance in terms of the ability to form long lasting friendships. Luckily, in my life, it happened to bind great friendships from a stuff like this, a festival. Eventually, it is the same as in any other place, just as you meet people at a movie, a game, anywhere. But some you like, some you don’t, with some of them you immediately feel as if they were your friends for a long time, with others you can even stay one hundred nights, it simply doesn’t work. Because he is here, I will give Florin Lăzărescu as an example: if I haven’t written, I probably wouldn’t have known him. Not to mention Attila Bartis, it’s almost a bond between brothers, we met in Berlin, also at a festival. So, clearly, I won two friends. The gift of friendship is, perhaps, the greatest in the world. So yes, I think it’s a win to meet other writers.
But it has nothing to do with the creative process.
It is also very important for a writer to meet writers whom he or she only read before. For example, I read on the way to Timisoara one of Filip Florian’s books, which I loved, and now I also met him. It’s very cool. Some time ago, I also read a book by the invited Croatian author, Daša Drndić, and now I am very glad that I had the opportunity to know her.
For me, places and trips are very important, they are also inspiring. I’m going to do many photos here and then I intend to write something about Timisoara.
I am very curious about the human being. So, if a person that I’m meeting is a writer or not, it doesn’t mean so much to me. It’s the meeting, the sharing, the quality of relationship or how we meet that’s important to me. If, for example, the person is a writer, I am obsessed with some questions: how they work, do they have pain or joy when they write, how they construct a book, etc. This is the only difference between a person who’s a writer and one who’s not. But, for me, it’s not that important to meet other writers. To put it in another way, it is as important as meeting another human being. As other people, writers can also be very boring, very full of themselves, so the real contact matters, the share of thoughts, souls, minds counts.
It’s a very difficult question. We, the writers, are very strange animals. I think we like meeting with each other a lot and, in the same time, we are cautious, observing each other – if we are to be honest. I don’t think we are competitors. We know that we’re doing the same kind of thing, even if every writers has a different philosophy, style, main themes and so on. For me it is always enriching, it gives me motivation to go on, but it is also a weird situation because sometimes you are embarrassed that you didn’t read the book of a writer near whom you are sitting – and every writer wants to be read.
But this is definitely a part of the charm of being a writer, to meet other writers, go to literary festival, have a drink with them, etc.
I participated in all three editions of the International Literature Festival in Timisoara. I met many writers, also from Romania, whom I never met before, and from other countries. It is important to the extent that, wanting to know more of what they wrote and having no contact with them before, I do a research before the festival, I read their books as much as possible. To sum up, I pull up my socks towards this way. It is also important that, after the evenings of readings and debates with the public, we meet in an informal setting, where we can have relaxed discussions about literature, in general, about literature from other countries and, thus, one can establish some connections that lead, later perhaps, to the publication of some texts from the Romanian literature, namely those of the Romanian writers, in other newspapers in those countries the foreign writers come from.
Cătălin Dorian Florescu
It isn’t important at all and it has no influence on my creative process. I have a great distance from my fellow writers. In what we do there is a lot of suffering, a lot of fear and deceptions. I experienced these things at too many authors, through their works, and I also know them, so I don’t want to complicate my life too much with friendships that are not spontaneous. In general, my friends aren’t writers. I only have better acquaintances who are writers and, for me, it is very good they remain this way. Punctually, I meet them, I go to dinner with them, we discuss, but I don’t need them to create. In this respect, I am an total loner.