Throughout several centuries, many writers and poets dedicated their words to Venice in the attempt to describe the uniqueness of this city. Not to mention that even when you don’t name Venice, it may happen you constantly refer to it, as Marco Polo in the Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
But this is not a post about Venice as a literary topos. This post is about spaces in Venice where you talk about literature, meet with the writers and… discover more of Venice than anywhere else.
The literature festival “Incroci di civiltà”
Since 2008 an international literature festival has been arranged in Venice by the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. It is called Incroci di civiltà, i.e., “crossroads of civilisations” versus “clash of civilisations”. It has become so famous that many visitors have started planning their visit in Venice during the days of the festival. Will you also? This year it is between April 3rd and 6th and here is the link to follow: https://www.incrocidicivilta.org
Not a simple book fair
You may think that there are many book fairs all over the world. What is it that makes this particular one so special? Well, it’s not exactly a book fair, but a series of public talks with international writers on the stage.
In the past, in Venice there have been different cultural projects aiming at bringing people together to talk about literary works. In a city where the printing industry had a leading role already in the 16th century, the pleasure of reading and the moment of confrontation, whether for simple pleasure or education, were common goals in prestigious academies and literary salons. Not to mention the role of cafes. A civilisation of conversation, if you wish, where written and spoken words tested the level of tolerance and respect for the other.
Incroci di civiltà follows that path.
Readers’ clubs in Venice
Before the festival starts, there are more events designed to prepare the readers to the meetings with the writer.
There are at least four different groups of readers’ clubs in Venice. I met a group of passionate readers in the library on the island of Giudecca called CZ95 (Centro Zitelle 95). In the past, similar readers’ groups had been involved in the festival. I participated to one of their meetings and I loved it. At the Giudecca it was mainly women, with different backgrounds. A librarian coordinated the discussion focusing on a book that had been chosen according to a theme. All members had been asked to read the book privately, on their own, but then the discussion brought all personal experiences and ideas to a public level. I found it great the librarian had provided every member with a copy of the book lent by other libraries. At the end, a glass of wine and some cookies were shared, too.
Waterlines: when authors become residents
But this festival involves the writers, too. A parallel project, called Waterlines (www.waterlinesproject.com), offers the authors the possibility to stay in Venice, too. For a minimum of ten days up to two months, some writers will live in Venice. A less celebrated artist will then work together with a more renowned writer in order to stimulate positive synergy and lead to more creative work on both sides. The outcome can be an essay, a poem, some fiction or other forms of art and will be linked to Venice. But not just. This is an opportunity for these writers to see Venice beyond whatever stereotypes of the city accompany them before their arrival.
And this is not all.
Free spaces in a city
The keynote regards availability of spaces where all this can happen, in particular public spaces.
Last year the Architecture Biennale was dedicated to free space and forced us all to understand that a city without free spaces weakens human relationships and endangers creativity.
Incroci di civiltà is therefore an occasion to “free” places that are usually not accessible except to the ones participating to the academic life, like the Aula Baratto in Ca’ Foscari, Ca’ Bernardo, Ca’ Dolfin, the Auditorium in the ex church of Santa Margherita. It is therefore an occasion for residents to see inside these ancient sites and to get in contact with the university of their city, too, hopefully feeling the university is an important part of their city and not something detached. A reverse experience also takes place after the talks at the gazebo in campo Santa Margherita. There, the writers can sign their books but then in the end they start talking to the readers, residents, students and the academic life continues there, out of the official and enclosed spaces, in the free space of the city.
Literature in prison: the project by “Closer” in Venice
But literature can break through, too, and enter spaces where freedom is deliberately out. Incroci di civiltà collaborates with the Association “Closer”, born in 2016 and run by very young Venetians.
“Closer” works in the women’s prison on the Giudecca island and runs a literary project called “Interrogatorio alla scrittura”, namely “interrogation to writing”. Some prisoners, after reading some fiction, interrogate the author, in the presence of a selected audience composed of free citizens and some prisoners sitting next to each other.
Literature for women in prison but not just
A prison is a place in the city, although a particular one, separated by a wall which you usually cross when you have committed a crime. The Association Closer believes that literature can bring benefits for the prisoners as well as for the free citizens that enter a space they do not often conceive as part of a city.
The prison becomes then a place of osmosis with the world outside and the means is a novel or some poems. This is the first time such a project has been carried out in Italy and it is in Venice.
Literature brings Venetian heritage forward
A literature festival and the city of Venice, its university and the prison: could this be arranged in some other cities, too? Well, the format would work somewhere else, too. The main theme Incroci di civiltà helps unveil is migration, ethnic contamination and multilingualism. This is the leading motif, which is not only present in the stories the writers narrate, but also in their own biographies. And such a theme is global. But right because the key to understand Venetian history is its relentless multiethnic character, then this literature festival and all that happens around it is the best heritage of Venice you can ever imagine. If you search for authentic Venice, please consider you may find it among some poetical lines.
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.
(from Nothing Twice by Wislawa Szymborska)
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
I would like to thank Pia Masiero, director of Incroci di civiltà and Giulia Ribaudo, Associazione Closer for the time and patience they dedicated me to explain their wonderful work. I am also very thankful to Silvia Marri for introducing me to the readers’ club at Giudecca.
In the photo cover, Furukawa Hideo signing his books at the Incroci di civiltà Gazebo in Campo Santa Margherita, Venice 2018 – credits by Venice Documentation Project
For Italian speaking readers, here is the link to the program “before” Incroci di civiltà