A new chapter in Athens’ rich literary history began in April this year, when the Greek capital was declared UNESCO World Book Capital for 2018. Inspired by the slogan “Books everywhere,” the city has been celebrating literature, and the reading of literature, more than ever, with events taking place all over the city.
The Municipality of Athens hopes the program of events will promote the city as a hub of culture, knowledge and history, while the publishing industry expects it will engage both regular readers and those keen to get back into the habit of reading.
“This is a very important international honor from UNESCO, following on from a collective proposal, which focused on how to associate books and reading with enjoyment and creativity in a way that would appeal to a larger and more diverse group of people,” says Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis. “Athens is a rising cultural destination that combines tradition with contemporary innovation. The variety of choices and landscapes, both natural and social, are what make this city so special. The title of UNESCO World Book Capital is both a challenge and an investment. In an interesting collaboration of city bodies, we are responding with activities that will appeal to everyone. We all stand to learn something from this.”
From prominent cultural institutions to lesser-known groups – institutes, libraries, culture venues, popular festivals and open-air corners – the city is participating in the festivities in its own way.
What, then, does Athens’ designation as 2018 World Book Capital signify? “It means that the city and its government, its residents, individuals, organizations and institutions must all deepen their networking and partnerships, employ their passion and imagination, and work to convince donors and sponsors of the value and distinctive character of the activities they have proposed; it also means that the city is returning to a path of creativity and extroversion,” says Erifili Maroniti, program coordinator of Athens 2018 World Book Capital.
And the slogan “Books everywhere”?
“It means that we read more than surveys show, that a tablet can also be a book, that an SMS can also be a text, and that narration is a large reservoir of life and of stories, where everything co-exists: language and dialect, the familiar and the alien, novels and science, arts and technology, classic stories and modern takes on the same themes. Yes, Athens is reading! The city is celebrating!”
Visits by renowned authors to Athens are endowing the festivities with an international and multicultural character. The city has already welcomed Ian McEwan, Herta Müller, George Saunders, Hanya Yanagihara and John Connolly. On September 6, the psychoanalyst and writer Joseph Knobel Freud (a great nephew of Sigmund Freud) is expected at an event on “Adolescents in our society” at Pataki Bookstore while on November 1, the Swedish writer and literary critic Arne Dahl and the Greek writer Petros Markaris will hold a discussion at Ianos Bookstore.
The year-long program of events also extends to other forms of art, including film and music. More than 30 leading institutions are involved, offering activities which appeal to foreign-language audiences as well.
The 8th Athens Open-Air Film Festival will show some well-known film adaptations of books.
On August 24, Terence Davies’ “The Long Day Closes” (1992), will be shown on the pedestrianized Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and on August 29, Peter Brook’s classic “Lord of the Flies” (1963), based on William Golding’s book of the same title, will be screened in the courtyard of the Numismatic Museum.
Musical performances, a summer feature in Athens every year, will also be included in the program. On July 11, the Hellenic Music Workshop of the Municipality of Athens will perform music to works by celebrated poets Giorgos Seferis, Kostas Karyotakis and Nikos Kavvadias at Pangrati Park (Alsos Pangratiou). A few days later on July 16, German rockers the Scorpions will join the Athens State Orchestra for a concert in one of the most spectacular venues in the world, the Panathenaic Stadium.