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Building a Better World With Words #4: Krakow

Elżbieta Foltyniak
Wed 17 Jun, 2020

Building A Better World With Words is a blog series asking how international Cities of Literature are coping with the Covid-19 crisis. This week, we speak to Krakow City of Literature.

Mandatory quarantine surprised us in mid-March. Our eight-person team working in the Kraków Festival Office, an operator of the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature title has been separated not only from the daily routine, but also from each other. Immediately it turned out that both the core of our work and what we lack most are people. Writers, poets, readers, publishers, booksellers, and - of course - ourselves.

We immediately decided to replace direct contact with the online contact. We could meet the youngest readers virtually thanks to the "Reading for Second Breakfast" campaign, in which the authors read their texts for children and teenagers. Every day at 9:30 parents working remotely and their children can discover a book that they may not have known before. On the occasion of the World Poetry Day poetry enthusiasts received a large dose of poems by Czesław Miłosz read by poets on our social media channels. Science lovers have been invited to a series of interdisciplinary, popular science lectures "All sides of the book". However, because literature is primarily for reading, not listening, we have launched a special edition of "Read PL" - the largest reading campaign in Poland, which allows free access to ebooks. In cooperation with publishers we were able to offer 30 bestsellers absolutely for free. We haven’t forgotten about debutants and future writers - we moved our creative writing courses to the virtual reality.

Moving literary life to a virtual track does not stop the real world. The closure of bookshops lasting several weeks is a real threat that after lifting the restrictions, these wonderful and important places will disappear from the cultural map of our city. Therefore, in order to prevent this, together with booksellers we bend over backwards to make books, despite the pandemic, a necessity to Kraków inhabitants. We have implemented the "Resistant Bookstores" program, thanks to which 22 local bookstores received financial support for their activities. In addition, we constantly encourage to buy books online (and of course we do it ourselves) and carefully visit open bookstores (masks and gloves mandatory!).

Canceled meetings, postponed festivals and events are the everyday life of all of us, but the artists suffer the most from the stagnation of the literary world, which partially cut them off from the source of income. During this difficult time, artists can apply for the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature Award of Krakow dedicated to authors, editors, illustrators and translators planning to publish a book.

What about us? Although we have become accustomed to a new, digital reality, we are still thinking about the future and meeting again at literary festivals. And about those less distant times in which our literary team would be able to brainstorm live, not on Skype. For now, however, without losing our fortitude and hope - which we need after all - we do our work and celebrate literature as it is.

Krakow City of Literature's Reading List:

Watch the YouTube video above for a summary of each title.


Tahar Ben Jelloun "This Blinding Absence of Light"
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa "The Leopard"
Olesya Turkina "Soviet Space Dogs"
Stanisław Lem "Devil and masterpiece"
Poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Vigdis Hjorth "Will and testament”
Bohumil Hrabal "I Served the King of England"
Jonathan Safran Foyer "Everything Is Illuminated"

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