The City of Love has had a falling out with literature. And in its quest to get back to its literary pinnacle, Paris is turning to outsiders for help.
This weekend, Paris hopes to turn around a several decades-long literary decline with an international conference of literary leaders, featuring names like Salman Rushdie, John Banville, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. Various city cultural organizations have donated to the efforts to get Paris back on the map, including the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Louvre museum.
But despite those homegrown efforts, the real thrust for the conference came from outsiders. The key benefactor is none other than New York City-based Columbia University, which is paying for both the writers' transportation fees and for the cost of translating the festival's panel sessions into French. And the idea behind the conference comes from an American working with Columbia, Paul LeClerc, and an Australian working as the festival's artistic director, Caro Llewellyn, according to The New York Times.
That Paris needed to reach out to this foreign help to hold a major literary conference shows some of the issues it has been having in the cultural realm.
“There’s a sense in America that France is a country of culture, but when you are looking from the inside, a lot of people have been complaining that France needs to find its beating heart again,” said French-Iranian writer Lila Azam Zanganeh, who now lives in — you guessed it — New York. "There was a bit of a trough, a slump, and I think France is looking for its pulse.”
If the French are in need a pulse, they enlisted foreigners to act as the AED. Even the festival's description admits that its goal is to honor "the idea that New York and Paris are intellectual and cultural capitals as well as centers of their respective publishing industries." The Big Croissant's brightest hope is to reach an equal level as the Big Apple.
So will the plan to enlist foreign help work? The Louvre website certainly thinks so. “Fortunately, the Americans are here to remind us that Paris is a great literary capital — at least for the weekend.”
Also this weekend is the Brooklyn Book Festival. Coincidence? We think not.