By Oleksandra Kharchenko
LVIV — The world literature spotlight will focus on Lviv next September. Hundreds of writers and thinkers are to gather here from around the world for the annual congress of PEN International, the association of poets, playwrights and novelists.
Every year, one spinoff of this gathering of high powered writers is reports about the host city and country in the world media.
This is first time that Ukraine hosts PEN since the group was founded in London in 1921. Ukraine joined in 1989. Last month, Lviv’s city administration signed an agreement with the Ukrainian Center of the International PEN-Club to host the event.
PEN International has autonomous chapters in over 100 countries. It is considered the largest such association of writers, translators, publishers, journalists, and historians.
A Literary Eurovision?
“A PEN Congress is a more remarkable event for Ukraine than Eurovision,” argued Andriy Kurkov, vice-president of the Ukrainian PEN Center. “It will bring opinion makers to Ukraine and will give a chance to present Ukrainian culture.”
The Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Kyiv in May. Contestants from 43 countries are to compete over three rounds from May 9 to 13. Last year’s Eurovision drew an estimated combined television audience of 200 million.
To win the PEN congress, local PEN members courted John Ralston Saul, a philosopher, novelist and President of PEN International. Ralston is from Canada, a nation with a 1 million strong Ukrainian diaspora. Visiting Ukraine recently, Ralston toured Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, which dates back to 1615, attended the Odessa International Film Festival.
“He recognized that this country is worth the attention,” said Mykola Ryabchuk, president of Ukraine’s PEN chapter and tour organizer.
The Congress budget is to be over $100,000. Free publicity for Lviv and Ukraine should be worth far more.
“The event in Spain cost nearly three times as much,” Ryabchuk said in an interview, referring to the 2016 PEN congress. “Sponsors in Ukraine and abroad have to be found. Also, Ukrainian authorities have to realize that this a unique event for the country.”
Exposing Opinion Makers to Modern Ukraine
The PEN congress will expose intellectuals from Europe and around the world to contemporary Ukraine.
“Globally, writers became interested in Ukrainians after the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014,” said Andrij Pavlyshyn, a Ukrainian PEN member.
“They wish to visit Ukraine, explore and communicate their impressions of the country.” said
As a draw to foreign writers, the PEN Congress will immediately follow Lviv’s annual International Book Fair and Literature Festival. Taking place every September, this is Ukraine’s largest largest book fair and one of the largest in Eastern Europe.
Three months ago, Lviv’s Book Festival drew 158 publishers and 50,000 visitors.
For comments and news tips, please email UBJ Western Ukraine Correspondent Oleksandra Kharchenko.
Photo: As a strong warm up the PEN congress next September, Lviv’s annual book festival is to held days before. This year, the book festival drew 50,000 visitors. (Credit: Oksana Prokhorets).