The Cluster’s Literature Festival 2020
The 10th anniversary of the Bayreuth Literature Festival of African and African-Diasporic Literatures was held during the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The festival team, however, found new formats to present two interesting days of discussions, readings, music and academic contributions on the topic of “Care, Responsibility and Solidarity”.
By Susan Arndt, Professor of English Studies and Anglophone Literatures, University of Bayreuth, Dr. Katharina Fink, Deputy Director of Iwalewahaus, Bayreuth.
“Care, Responsibility and Solidarity: Narrating Resistance in African and African-Diasporic Arts, Academia and Activism” was the theme of the 2019 Digital Literature Festival. Curated by Prof. Dr. Susan Arndt, Professor of English Studies and Anglophone Literatures at the University of Bayreuth, and Dr. Katharina Fink, Deputy Director of Iwalewahaus, the festival took place over the course of two days (July 3 – 4 2020). Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic the organizational team chose a Zoom room as the most fitting modus operandi for bringing together the participants and streaming the festival’s proceedings both on YouTube and Facebook. Chosen for its ongoing relevance in a changing society and an academic landscape affected by COVID-19, the guiding theme of “care” wove together academic contributions, poetry, music, and book discussions. The contributions also included a presentation of the book Ghosts, Spectres, Revenants: Hauntology as a means to think and feel the future, which emerged from a previously active Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies working group.
Both days of the festival opened with brilliant keynotes, and featured readings and performances by emerging and famous authors. One of the many highlights of the festival were the appearances of the pan-African poet and novelist Véronique Tadjo and renowned Kenyan writer and scholar Ngugi wa Thiong'o. On day one, the keynote was delivered by Christine Vogt-William, Director of the Cluster of Excellence’s Gender and Diversity Office, who talked about intersectional responsibility in times of COVID-19. On day two, the audience was presented an interesting keynote by Amanda Gouws, Professor of Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, who discussed COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement in the context of the festival’s theme. A welcome address was also given on the first day by the Cluster’s Vice Dean of Research, Erdmute Alber.
Over the course of the two days, the festival featured three interesting panel discussions: BLM in the USA, Queer Care, and Decolonisation. This year, the festival also presented a mourning slot that focused on the victims and circumstances of anti-black police violence. Each day concluded with an evening concert, rounding up the heavy discussions and lending them an embodied depth. The festival also featured a dance event, as a playful inquiry into the somatic impact of holding events online. The clear highlights of each evening were the lectures given by two very prominent contemporary intellectuals: Achille Mbembe and Alice Hasters. The researcher, educator and artist Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja was in attendance throughout the festival, note-taking and collecting material for a possible zine publication with Iwalewabooks.
The festival had live audiences of 30 to 170 people during the live event, whereas the documentation videos on social media and YouTube have received over 1.000 hits since then. While the digital format was born out of the necessity to find solutions for the challenges that the global pandemic entails, the festival team also considers the new form to be a “blessing in disguise”: “The new format posed a challenge but also brought beautiful new perspectives. During our first experience with a digital festival of this magnitude we were able to identify the possibilities the digital world has to offer. For the future, we intend to host the festival in a hybrid format, combining live and online events to broaden and diversify our audience,” Susan Arndt explains.