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| 1/29/2009 12:00:00 AM

The Hay Festival in Colombia: An international literary and political gathering

Colombia´s most important literary festival began on Thursday in Cartagena with international personalities from the worlds of culture and politics.

For some people, Cartagena’s Hay Festival is known as the 'Woodstock of the mind'. For others it a space for literary tourism, a place where the authors sit among each other to talk about writing. Truth be told, from last Thursday until February 1st, Cartagena will be invaded by the most recognized personalities from the literature, music and art world, in which culture will be an excuse to have a real feast of the mind.

If last year the guest writers could have been considered as the great representatives of a multicultural feast, this year the list includes writers with strong political positions who have become the stumbling blocks in their countries and communities and have been censured by political and religious leaders. Bottom line, this year has a big share of guest writers that have been victims of political persecution.

The most remarkable guests, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, are today two of the most important British writers. They have both been described as neo conservatives within the prospect of the new British literature for their controversial points of view about Islam. On the other side of the political spectrum stands Ronan Bennett, Irish novelist and journalist whose criticism towards Amis' position has appeared in newspapers such as The Guardian. Bennett, who was unfairly punished by the British Crown in the late seventy’s because he allegedly helped the IRA , has now become a political critic in the United Kingdom.

Young U.S novelist Nathan Englander is also a guest at the Hay Festival. Englander has been openly questioned by the orthodox members of Judaism after his first book, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, was published. Recently, the young author has decided to write about Jews being persecuted during general Jorge Videla's dictatorship in Argentina in his novel The Ministry of Special Cases.

In addition, the book Mao. The unknown story will be presented by historians Jon Halliday and Jung Chang. This text, forbidden in China, reveals unknown details of the Chinese leader.

The environmental activist and solar energy entrepreneur Jeremy Legget, and Benjamin Zephaniah, and English poet who writes poems about England's social problems and veganism, will also be present in Cartagena.

Essential in this list is Colombian writer Fernando Vallejo, who seems to be harvesting new enemies by the minute, consequence of his constant criticism against the Colombian government. During the Hay Festival, Vallejo will be at a conference called “Los crímenes del cristianismo” (The crimes of Christianity), in which the author will criticize the Catholic Church's dogmas and morality.

But not everything will be about politics in the Hay Festival. Colombian poets Giovanni Quessep, Ramón Cote, William Ospina and Juan Felipe Robledo will be reading their chosen poems alongside Chilean Carmen Yáñez, Lebanese Joumana Hadad and north American poet Craig Arnold. Pulitzer Award winner (2008) Junot Díaz will also be present.

To add more elements to this cultural Babel, singers such as Juanes and Miguel Bosé will inaugurate the Hay Festival with their conversation about musicians and charity work for NGO's and international organizations, whereas the music group Asian Dub Foundation and jazz-soul singer Sarah James Morris will be the musical guests.

The children will also have their version of the event in the 'Hay Festivalito'. This original version wants the younger ones to discover the pleasure of reading. Writing workshops, conferences with Colombian writers Ramón Cote and Ricardo Silva Romero, and even a cooking afternoon will be organized in which desserts from Hansel and Grethel and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be reproduced. The Festivalito will also be present in Cartagena´s working-class neighborhoods with similar activities.

All in all, this year the great feast of the mind is ready to fill the streets of Cartagena with 45 events that will take place during four days in this, the most important cultural festival in the country.

*With information from cultural magazine Arcadia.
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EDICIÓN 1844

PORTADA

Francisco superstar

La esperada visita del papa a Colombia tiene tres dimensiones: una religiosa, una política y otra social. ¿Qué puede esperarse de la peregrinación del sumo pontífice?