Time to Polish our literary taste

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In Poland, the writer is king. The main square of the Polish city of Krakow, the former royal capital, does not carry a monument to a king or statesman or warrior. Instead, we find a statue of the Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz.

From the late 18th century for long periods, Poland was not consistently recognized as a sovereign nation on the map of Europe. However, a shared sense of identity and language, cultivated by literary figures, kept the country united as an “imagined community.” This power will be unleashed by a delegation of litterateurs as the spotlight falls on Poland at the MBIFL.

The delegation includes Zenon Fajfer, Szczepan Kopyt, Maciej Plaza, Joanna Roszak, Dariusz Sośnicki, Bogumiła Kaniewska, Tomasz Mizerkiewicz, Piotr Sliwinski, Marcin Jaworski, Justi Guziak, Krzysztof Hoffmann and Natalia Malek. They will discuss a range of topics from poetry and the language of politics to experimental literature. The annals of Poland’s history are Time to Polish our literary taste, a tapestry of strife and turmoil.

As the nation was dissolved at the close of the 18th century, it then rose from the ashes after World War I, only to fall victim to the brutal grasp of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. In this tumultuous landscape, Polish literature emerged as a shining beacon, preserving the nation’s soul and patriotic values. Even as Poland was occupied by Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary, the nation gave birth to its greatest masterpieces, particularly during the Romantic era.

Many Polish artists and writers were exiled to France, where their works — such as the novels of Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, and Henryk Sienkiewicz — stirred the hearts of their countrymen and contributed to the awakening and construction of Polish consciousness.
In the 20th century, Poland was once again subjected to the tyrannical rule of Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes. Those writers who refused to bend to the dictates of the imposed ideology were either physically exiled or forced into spiritual exile. It is to these rebellious minds that we owe some of the most unique and powerful works that convey the experience of war, the horror of the camps and the resistance in the face of oppression.

The literature of this period is marked by a division between national and emigration literature. Among the writers of this time, one can find such luminaries as Czesław Miłosz, Witold Gombrowicz, Gustaw HerlingGrudzinski, Stanisław Mrozek and Zbigniew Herbert, whose works continue to inspire and enlighten to this day The role of the writer has changed much in Poland over the years.

Instead of the sovereign authority of an oppressed nation, the writer is more of a commentator and critic of its freedom. Contemporary Polish literature is a phoenix that continually rises from the ashes of its predecessors, a fact exemplified by the Nobel Prize won by Olga Tokarczuk in 2018.

Throughout the years, the Nobel Prize for literature has been bestowed upon six Polish writers, including Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905), Władysław Reymont (1924), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978, Yiddish), Czesław Miłosz (1980), Wisława Szymborska (1996) and Olga Tokarczuk (2018), each one leaving an indelible mark on the literary landscape.

The works of Wiesław Myśliwski, Andrzej Stasiuk, Szczepan Twardoch, Dorota Masłowska, Andrzej Sapkowski, Mariusz Szczygieł, Zygmunt Miłoszewski and countless others are widely read and celebrated for their unique perspectives and profound insights. Polish literature, like Poland itself, has survived centuries of turmoil and oppression. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of words to transcend time and borders.

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