Franz Hohler Welcome speech on the occasion of the international literature festival odesa 25.9.2019


Sadness and Hope

The stories we tell


“How’s it going?” said Sadness to Hope.

“I’m a little sad,” said Hope.

“I hope so,” said Sadness.


I’d like to welcome everyone who’s come to read and to listen, to discuss, reflect and dream together these next few days.

Literature is like a vast house. It has more than one door and many different rooms. It has little nooks and expansive chambers. There’s a basement and an attic. And there are many windows through which, when they are open, snippets of the world can be seen. If a room’s shutters are closed, you will find that you’re alone with yourself; perhaps there is a lamp that invites you to read. But should the light all of a sudden go out, you will sit in the dark feeling the beat of your own heart.


There are rooms in which sadness is at home: sadness over the things in life that haven’t worked out, sadness over lost love and lost youth, over lost time and lost laughter, sadness over the death of our loved ones. Michael Krüger has written a short poem about it:


The Eleventh Commandment


Thou shalt not die.


When these rooms are hushed, for we must wipe away a tear at Larissa’s discovery of the dead Dr. Zhivago, laughter can be heard coming from other, nearby rooms. Those are the rooms in which satire is at home, the humor that turns pain on its head by making it ridiculous, by gazing up at the monument from a worm’s-eye view, or looking at the heroic deeds of the war through the eyes of the good soldier Švejk, who’s only wish is to survive. In laughing at the comedy, we realize that there is no getting past life’s tragedies. That’s why the laughter doesn’t disrupt the mourners, for humor is the work of mourning.


To that effect, I’d like to share one of my fairy tales with you:


The Chalk and the Sponge


Leisurely, a piece of chalk began to write a sentence on the blackboard:

“The most important thing in the world is…”

“Well?” said the sponge, dripping as he inched closer.

“…the sponge,” hurriedly wrote the chalk.

“That’s what I thought,” said the sponge as he sunk contentedly back down into his dish beneath the blackboard.


Yes, fairy tales are told in the House of Literature, old ones and new, because we need brave princes, third sons, and enchanted princesses, so we never stop believing that Sleeping Beauty will be kissed awake after a hundred years of sleep. We need a Fellowship of the Ring to see to it that justice is done and we need to know that in London’s Victoria Station there’s a platform 9¾ from whence a train will take us to a magical castle.


We need imagination.

It transports us to worlds in which we’ve never been. We need do nothing more than sit down inside the House of Literature before we’re chasing whales through the world’s oceans with Captain Ahab, are the Leopard’s guests in Sicily, or meet the Devil in Moscow.

In darker encounters, in the house’s basement, we may find ourselves in a concentration camp, a trench, or Kafka’s penal colony. For without mankind’s capacity for cruelty, the House of Literature would not be complete. Kafka himself commented on how this cruelty comes to be unleashed in a statement he made about the First World War:

“War is a monstrous failure of imagination.”


Imagination is the patron saint of the House of Literature. We who write call upon her when our minds have drawn a blank, and those who’ve grown close to her can accomplish incredible things. Karl May was never once in America, and yet we believe beyond the shadow of a doubt in Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Indeed, every work of historical fiction is a piece of cheek, as none of us has ever been in the past.


The House of Literature is packed with guides to the past, and it offers the cheapest mode of travel. I was excited to make my first trip to Odesa, even though I was here a hundred years ago when Konstantin Paustovsky took me with him in his book The Story of a Life. I lived with him in a former mental institution on Chornomors’ka Street, we ate firinka together and went to steal wood for his stove at the arkadiy. In summer, I accompanied him to the Kowalewski Tower, where he set up camp in an empty summer house. A brief passage from that time has stayed with me:


“I needed only to stoop down, pick up a white stone from the road, and blow the dust from it to be able to say, without even looking at it, that it was a granular beach pebble warmed by the midday sun, and to feel sad at the impossibility of describing the life of this stone, which had seen many millennia.”


When I read that, I thought, “Konstantin, master of portraying life, why should you be unable to describe the life of a stone? Don’t be sad on that account; I’ll do it for you.” So I sat down and wrote a story called “The Stone,” which recounts the biography of a stone, from the creation of Earth to the moment it is thrown at a police officer during a demonstration and hits a girl instead. This story can be found in my collection Der Präsident (The president), which was translated into Russian by Vyacheslav Kupriyanov.


We are all competitors, eyeing each other with suspicion. How many people have written about refugees and migration, about artificial intelligence, about global warming? But we can also be generous. On a journey through Switzerland, Goethe delved intensively into the legend of William Tell, but then gave the material to Schiller when he realized it suited him better. And Paustovsky gave me his stone.


We encourage each other, we shake each other’s hands, even across centuries, we who work in the House of Literature. We shout poems to each other in all the languages of the world and give them to a courier, a translator, who carries it from one room to another so it can be understood there as well.

I was reminded of one such poem when, in his inaugural speech, the young president of this country expressed the delightful sentiment that everyone is the president of his own country.

It’s by Dora Koster, a Swiss writer who was forced to earn her living as a prostitute and who passed away two years ago.


I am my own president

my own worm

my own nothing

my own distance

which on its own can change everything

when necessary

I am my own amazement

at the many possibilities

my own sea

in which I search for corals


But dealing with the powers that be isn’t so easy for everyone, or else the PEN Club wouldn’t have to organize an annual day for writers in prison. Tomorrow at noon while this very festival is taking place, a reading will be held at the main post office to remember a writer who is currently in prison. In the words of Solzhenitsyn: “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”


I’d like to tell you another of my fables.


The Jackhammer and the Egg


A jackhammer and an egg were arguing about who was the stronger of the two.

“Naturally, it’s me!” cried the jackhammer.

“Ha!” screeched the egg, “I’m much stronger than you.”

The jackhammer shrugged. “If you say so. I’ll smash you into a thousand pieces.”

“And I’ll break open your skull!” squeaked the egg.

“Silly egg,” the jackhammer said and shook his head. “How do you possibly expect this to end?”

“You’ll see,” boasted the egg and pounded his chest.

“It’d take nothing more than a whisk of my little finger,” laughed the jackhammer.

“I’ll turn you to mush with my yolk,” crowed the egg and hopped belligerently from one leg to the other.

That was just too much for the jackhammer, who, as he’d promised, smashed the egg into a thousand pieces.


That’s it. What’s wrong? Did you think the egg was going to win? How naïve! This is a story taken from life.


But back to the House of Literature.

In spite of everything I’ve just said: It’s not entirely clear what this house is meant to do. What is clear is that it should be accessible to all who are curious, or, as the Austrian writer Ernst Jandl once said:

“There’s a place at my desk for everyone.”


Whenever it becomes difficult to access the House and the desks within it, when prohibitions are posted, whether for the books themselves or their import, we can be sure it’s not a good sign. For the House of Literature is clearly a House of Freedom. Whatever we writers invent and dream up, whatever is born in our minds and transformed into language, whatever flits along our synapses and comes out as a poem, story, play, narrative, or novel should have room in this house.


In this house, no question is off limits, whether it is about the future, the present, or the past. Even more than a House of Answers, the House of Literature is a House of Questions. One answer, however, is always present, and that is the writing itself. What was it the Dadaists – who came together in Zurich during the First World War, flabbergasting and distressing audiences with their strident verses – said about their art? “It is our response to the thunder of the batteries rumbling across Europe.” Every poem is an answer to reality, be it its filth or its beauty.


We don’t know exactly where the House of Literature is located; I imagine it on an incline at the edge of the world, a border station to an alternate reality. It’s often said that the alternate reality of literature has no effect on the world in which we live. When asked in interviews whether or not we believe we can change the world with our books, there is but one answer: “No, of course not!” And yet then there is a little “but.”

The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe led to the abolishment of slavery in America. Unfortunately, it also required a civil war. When Abraham Lincoln received Ms. Stowe, he’s said to have greeted her with these words: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” It was surely hardly the author’s intent to instigate a war; literature is the opposite of war.

The slim book A Memory of Solferino, in which Henry Dunant described the battlefield of Solferino, led to the founding of the Red Cross – an attempt to ease the sufferings of war.


More important than any such major consequence is the effect a book can have on the individual who reads it. The journey to another world helps us see our own with new eyes.


One of my favorite rooms in the House of Literature belongs to the children. Children don’t ask the questions adults do about the function and relevance of literature in society. For them, stories are staples of life, and their laughter when they hear a story they like is one of my favorite sounds. They are our confederates, because all children are poets.


Often, I receive poems and stories written by children who’ve read my poems and stories, and I’m impressed by their creativity and inventiveness. I’m going to read you two stories written by children. They are about sadness and hope, or rather, about war and peace.


Two Legs


There once were two legs. They went everywhere together. They were good friends who never wanted to part. They always went on walks together. But when they went walking, the right leg always led. The left leg wasn’t too happy about that, but he never said a word. One day, the left leg had had enough. He said: “It’s not right that you always get to lead.” And they argued for a very long time. Suddenly, the left leg said: “I’m not going to go walking with you anymore!” They parted ways and never went walking together again.


Imagine what it means for the left leg to separate from the right. What an approach to solving conflict!

And yet the solution could be so simple, as the next story shows.


The Cat and the Mouse


Once upon a time, there was a cat who lived in a house, but she had a lot of problems, because she couldn’t catch any mice. Every day, she’d make a new plan, but none of her plans ever worked. The mouse was very intelligent. The cat would lay traps, but the mouse always noticed them and would make it so the cat would get caught in her own traps. One night, the cat decided she should just befriend the mouse. The next morning, she asked the mouse, and the mouse agreed. And they’re living together happily still.


How many of us tell the tragic story of the two legs that separate, secretly hoping that in the telling, because tell it we must, we are helping the tragedy to keep itself from repeating? Every book that tells of war does so out of a desperate desire for peace, from Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front to Andrei Kurkov’s Grey Bees.


I hope that these next few days will be full of inspiration. I’d like to leave you with the second part of my fairy tale.


The Chalk


When it came time for the schoolhouse to be renovated, the blackboard, the sponge, and the chalk were all thrown together into the dumpster.

But the chalk rolled off the rim of the dumpster and broke in two on the ground.

With its front half, it slowly began to write on the pavement: “The most important thing in life is…”

“Well?” called the sponge from above.

“…happiness,” wrote the chalk, making one exclamation mark after another and another and another.



Program of the ILO 2019

Program Booklet ilo 2019


25.09.19 WEDNESDAY


9.00-10.30 Puppet Theater


»Malenka Widma ta Kir«

In »Malenka Widma ta Kir« (tr: The Little Witch and Kir) twelve-year-old Marinka gives shelter to a stray cat only to find out that she is a gift from a magician. Now Marinka has to decide whether she wants to continue living a normal, human life, or whether she wants to be initiated into the ancient art of magic. She chooses magic and gets into exciting adventures with her cat friend Kir.


Ages 7-11

Languages: Ukrainian, Russian


10.30-12.00 Puppet Theater


»Das große Buch«

Why are there so many mountains in Switzerland? Is a dwarf at 1.89 m still a dwarf? And where exactly is paradise located? Franz Hohler asks the most puzzling questions and uses them to create children’s stories full of humor and fantasy. Ninety-one stories and yet each one is surprising and a new pleasure to read again. Franz Hohler gives unexpected facets to the everyday.


Ages 7-12

Languages: Ukrainian, German


12.0013.30 Puppet Theater



Weston’s award-winning rhymed epic reveals a fantastic world full of bizarre magical creatures. Brave little Katrina and her friend the Zorgel Mortimer search for the lost inhabitants of Zorgamazoo and thus succeed in their greatest adventure: liberating the kidnapped Zorgels from Zorgamazoo and rescuing the last magical creatures.


Ages: 7-12

Languages: English, Ukrainian


9.30-11.00 Odessa Mechnikov University, Cultural Centre



Since 2014, the journalist and poet has repeatedly traveled to the front in Eastern Ukraine as a volunteer. He processes his impressions of these journeys in »Arteria« (tr: The Artery), a collection of poems written over the course of seven years and which above all zero in on his inner state. They are intense texts about hatred, love, and war that search for new forms with words that seem to pulsate.


Language: Ukrainian

16.30-18.00 House of Scientists (Green Hall)


»In Search of Barbarians: Journey to the regions where the Balkans begin and end«

Andriy Lyubka went on an extensive voyage of discovery between Odesa and Trieste. He wandered through capitals as well as remote provinces and unrecognized republics. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes factual, and always well-researched, Lyubka’s private diary questions all things both known and stereotyped and provides an impressive portrait of the Balkans and its people.


Language: Ukrainian


18.00-19.30 House of Scientists


Opening speech: Franz Hohler (Switzerland)

Franz Hohler is regarded as one of Switzerland’s most important storytellers and a subtle observer of the everyday. He made a name for himself as a writer, children’s and young adult author, cabaret artist, and songwriter, and has been honored with numerous prizes and awards, including the Salzburger Stier and the Solothurn Literature Prize. This year he will open the 5th international literature festival odesa.

Languages: Ukrainian, German, English, Russian


20.30–23.00. House of Scientists (Green Hall)



The Ukrainian poet and journalist Dmytro Lazutkin reads texts from his collection »Arteria«, which were written after his trips to the front in eastern Ukraine. Andriy Lyubka, one of Ukraine’s most productive poets and a translator of Polish poets, presents his poems from over the years. Yuriy Izdryk, a representative of the »Stanislaw phenomenon« and Ukrainian postmodernism, reads from his lyrical works.


Language: Ukrainian


26.09.19. THURSDAY



»Tretja podorozh Ali«

Malyk was awarded the O. Kopylenko Prize for this novel, in which she tells of the third journey of a girl named Alia. Together with her friend Saschko, she wants to help her friends in Nedolandia who are under the power of Queen Jabilschenebudu. But Saschko and Alia are not alone – old friends and new help them with their mission, among them the parrot Feri, who flies all the way from Africa to Alia’s aid.


Language: Ukrainian

Ages 7-12


»Ma mère« / »Monstres malades«

Sometimes she appears as a garden, sometimes as a fox or a wolf – it is a mysterious and fascinating mother who takes shape through her child’s eyes. »Ma mère« (tr: My Mother) is like a love song for mothers. »Monstres malades« (tr: Monsters with Maladies) shows terrifying figures with human aches and pains: The devil has diarrhea, the werewolf suffers from nosebleeds, and the witch is horse. They find healing through butterfly kisses, warm drinks, and a cuddly toy.


Ages 7-12

Languages: French, Ukrainian


12.00-13.30 Puppet Theatre


»I See That«

Romana and Andriy have created an educational picture book about human vision and the things that are invisible to the human eye. This book explains the principles and functions of microscopes and telescopes, eyeglasses, color hues, and optical illusions. The book was awarded the 2018 Bologna Ragazzi Award, the most prestigious prize for children’s literature.

Ages 6-9


Language: Ukrainian


09.30-11.00 Odessa Mechnikov University, Cultural Center


»In Search of Barbarians: Journey to the regions where the Balkans begin and end«

Andriy Lyubka went on an extensive voyage of discovery between Odesa and Trieste. He wandered through capitals as well as remote provinces and unrecognized republics. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes factual, and always well-researched, Lyubka’s private diary questions all things both known and stereotyped and provides an impressive portrait of the Balkans and its people.


Language: Ukrainian


18.00-19.30 House of Scientists (Green Hall)


»Grey Bees«

Beekeeper Sergey wants to ignore the military conflicts in Eastern Ukraine. While Ukrainian fighters and pro-Russian separatists are shooting at each other, he tries to keep out of it and just care for his bees. One spring, he sets off to bring the bees to an area where they can collect nectar again in peace.


Languages: Russian, Ukrainian


19.30-21.00 House of Scientists (Green Hall)

Maxim Biller (GERMANY)


»Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz«

This masterly novella portrays Bruno Schulz in the then-Polish city of Drohobych, where he hires out art teachers, writes a letter to Thomas Mann, and dreams of his literary breakthrough across Europe. The disaster is already looming, and an apocalyptic vision emerges in the writer’s mind. »Biller is a fantastic finder of stories with old-fashioned splendor, who cares about the world, about truth, about life.« (FAS)



Languages: Ukrainian, German



19.30-21.00 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)


»La balade des perdus« 

Four supervised young people with handicaps travel in a minibus along the summery roads of the Alps. One of them had previously, unintentionally, given advice under a false identity in an internet forum to a minister and inspired him to make a controversial reform of the health system. Now they want to clear up the matter. A biting satire about our performance-oriented society.

Moderation: MAYA DIMERLI

Languages: French, Ukrainian, Russian


27.09.19. FRIDAY


9.00-10.30 Puppet Theatre


»Sekretne tovarystvo boyaguziv abo zasib vid strachu № 9«

Anxious little Klim, who fears the hooligans above all else, one day learns about a secret society of cowards. When he joins them, he discovers that the earth is threatened by aliens who spread the virus of fear. Klim experiences an adventure in which he not only has to save himself, but the whole world. Voronina’s book was named the BBC Children’s Book of the Year in 2012.


Language: Ukrainian



10.30-12.00 Puppet Theatre


 »The Tiger Prince«

After hunters kill her children, the tigress takes revenge on the people and attacks their villages. But the king’s son reawakens her trust. She accepts him like a mother and shows him what little tigers can and must know. But his royal parents become greatly concerned for their son and send soldiers after him. Chen Jianghong questions our acquired understanding of the relationship between man and animal.


Ages: 7-10

Languages: French, Ukrainian


09.30-11.00 Odessa Mechnikov University, Cultural Centre


»Grey Bees«

Beekeeper Sergey wants to ignore the military conflicts in Eastern Ukraine. While Ukrainian fighters and pro-Russian separatists are shooting at each other, he tries to keep out of it and just care for his bees. One spring, he sets off to bring the bees to an area where they can collect nectar again in peace.


Language: Ukrainian



»Over a Precipice, in Rust«

What do trains say about our lives? With this question in mind, Stekh spent a total of eighteen days on trains, covered hundreds of kilometers in Ukraine, and listened to conversations for hours. It was difficult to remain an observer in the cramped environment of the carriages. The reality in Ukrainian trains now becomes tangible in his dynamic and metaphorical texts collected in »Nad prirvoju v irshi«. ( tr; Over a Precipice, in Rust


Language: Ukrainian


15.00-16.30 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)


»Slovo svogo rodu«

Eugenia Kononenko, author and literary translator of French and English as well as literary theorist, presents autobiographical essays in »Slovo svogo rodu«. Here, she reflects not only on her own origins and influences, but also on language and the changing meanings of words, especially when transferring them into other contexts.

Moderation:  HALYNA DOLNYK

Language: Ukrainian


16.30-18.00 House of scientists (Green Hall)


»Day In Day Out«

Mora received the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2005 for her first novel, »Alle Tage« (Day In Day Out), which describes the uprootedness of modern man with precision and eloquence. Her novel is about a translator who has to leave his homeland because of the war, who, despite all his efforts in his new environment, remains a stranger, a figure on the margins of society. The book was published in Ukrainian translation in 2009.


Languages: German, Ukrainian


18.00-19.30 House of Scientists (Green Hall)



Andriy Bondar has presented a new collection of short prose with »Cerebro«. The multifaceted texts were written over the course of two years and reflect ironic, but also self-critical observations of everyday life, telling of coincidental encounters and situations that seem familiar to everyone. Some of them seemingly reflect real experiences, others are completely fictitious and located in the realm of magic and ambiguity.


Language: Ukrainian



19.30-21.00 House of Scientists (Green Hall)



With brilliance and spirit, Biller tells the story of the bizarre lives of two descendants of Holocaust survivors. On the run from their lies, during their adventures between Berlin and Prague, Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, they finally find their way to the place in Ukraine where their families were expelled by the Nazis. »›Biography‹ is the great German Jewish novel we’ve been waiting for: angry, sad, epic, melancholic, and very funny« (Daniel Kehlmann).


Languages: German, Russian


17.30-19.00 TEO Theater


»La chute des comètes et des cosmonautes«

In her first play, the author writes about two characters who set out towards the east in search of their identity. Together with actors from the TEO Theatre, the  author Marina Skalova reads from the family road trip from Berlin to Moscow which questions the commercialization of love, the escalation of individualism, and the decline of collective values.


Languages: French, Russian


19.00-20.30 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)


»Wie die Milch aus dem Schaf kommt«

In her autobiographically-inspired novel, Johanna Lier links the history of refugees in eastern Switzerland with the industrial and migration history of the 19th century. The text traces a search for one’s own origins. This journey takes us back in time to the 19th century and geographically to the small hamlet of Donzhausen in Thurgau, Ukraine, and Israel.


Languages: German, Ukrainian


Poetry Night II  House of Scientists (Green Hall)


Ludmila And Boris Khersonsky, DURS GRÜNBEIN

Ludmila and Boris Khersonsky are one of the few couples who disprove the popular idea that poets cannot get along with each other. Both publish regularly and have been honored with various literary awards. They performed together internationally and published the poetry collection »Vdvoem« (tr; together)  in 2018. At this year’s festival, they will read poems from their latest publications. Durs Grünbein is one of the most well-known contemporary German poets. His texts have been honored with numerous prizes and translated into several languages. In his work, he addresses scientific and philosophical topics.


Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, German


28.09.19. SATURDAY


14.00-15.30 House of Scientists (Green Hall)



The year is 1947: Klavka, the secretary for the Writers’ Association, knows everything about its members on account of her profession and witnesses dramatic events associated with the suppression of Ukrainian literature. She is also involved in a triangular relationship with the Central Committee official responsible for the event and a young writer who has just returned from the front.


Language: Ukrainian


15.30-17.00 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)


»Doki switlo ne zgasne nazavshdi«

Despite their unusual names, the sisters Ruta and India live a normal life. India wants to become a doctor, while Ruta is preparing for her school graduation. When India’s friend dies in an accident, the sisters, who were previously very close, are driven apart. Ruta loses herself in dark dreams which seemingly allow her to influence reality. She becomes increasingly caught up in the desire to return to her former life.


Language: Ukrainian



15.30-17.00 House of Scientists (Green Hall)


»Family Archive«

The poems in the book »Family Archive«, which has already been translated into several European languages, describe the fate of Jewish families in the 20th century. They draw from the biographies of Khersonsky’s close and distant relatives, as found in photographs, letters, diaries, legends, and documents. They will be read for the first time at the festival in Odessa, together with other lyrical texts that the poet has recently written.


Languages: Russian, Ukrainian


17.00-18.30 House of Scientists (Green Hall)


»The Jewish Century« / »The House of Government«

»The Jewish Century«, an interpretation of the 20th century, begins with a bold thesis: Modernity is a Jewish age – and we are all Jews to varying extents. »The House of Government« is a saga of the Russian Revolution, told via the famous Moscow building that was built at the end of the 1920s as a residential building for the Soviet elite and in which the history of the USSR was condensed in a special way.


Languages: Russian, Ukrainian



18.30-20.00 House of Scientists (Green Hall)



»Medicine is a science of uncertainty, and an art of probability … «. In his second memoir, the internationally renowned neurosurgeon remembers various cases in his career and comments on them with very personal contemplations. He looks back on his time in Nepal and Ukraine and reflects on memory, mortality, and the fatality of political decisions for medicine.


Languages: English, Ukrainian


29.10.19. SUNDAY


15.00-16.30 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)


»Bijsja golovoj do stini«

»Bijsja golovoj do stini« (tr: Hit Your Head against the Wall) is about a complex and difficult father-son relationship. While the father is dying, his son deals with their shared past and wants to heal the wounds that have been inflicted in numerous incidents. Protsiuk looks into the deepest corners of the human soul and reveals the abyss of human despair.


Language: Ukrainian



16.30-18.00 House of Scientists (Chestnut Hall)

Natalka Sniadanko (ukraine)

»Okhayni propysy ertshertsoha Vilhelma«

This novel traces the life of a Ukrainian politician of Austrian origin: Wilhelm von Habsburg, also known as Vasil Vyshyvaniy, who had every chance of becoming king of Western Ukraine at the beginning of the 20th century. His story is told from a female perspective, with three generations of women describing their experiences, which are closely linked to the multinational and multilingual microcosm of Galicia.


Language: Ukrainian



18.00-19.30 House of Scientists (Nut Hall)

Michael Fehr (SWITZERLAND)

»Glanz und Schatten«

In Michael Fehr’s stories, people, animals, places, and objects undergo a metamorphosis. With virtuosity and overwhelming word and sound images, in his lyrical prose texts, he shows the tender sides of the tangible, the filigree in the mighty, the shadow in the splendor. »With neither a dot nor a comma, the words sometimes hurry across the pages, lurk briefly, and sneak about in order to soon make a run for the next jump.« (»The Tagesspiegel«)


Languages: German, Ukrainian


16.00-17.30 Odessa Literature Museum


»Moldovanskoye otrodie«

Yulia Werba describes her childhood memories in her début. Without falling for the typical clichés about Odesa, she describes her years in Moldavanka in the 1980s. Thus, the reader dives into the equally arduous and cheerful life in a backyard in Odesa, with its family celebrations and a rich cast of picturesque characters. And one holds the keys in one’s hands – to the door of childhood, of summer, of Odesa.

Moderation: Maya Dimerli

Language: Russian


19.30-21.00 House of Scientists (Chestnut Hall)

Dimitré Dinev (BULGARIA/AuSTRIA)


An angel with a mobile phone adorns the grave of a Serbian gangster at the Vienna Central Cemetery. Supposedly, every immigrant in need who asks for help at this gravesite receives it. Enter two Bulgarian immigrants in need of money. Their encounter unfolds into a wide-ranging and ramified family panorama, which Dinev also uses to tell of Bulgarian history in the 20th century.


Language: Ukrainian




international literature festival odessa 2019

We are pleased to announce that the 5th international literature festival odessa will take place from 25th till 29th September 2019. The participants of the festival are 33 authors from 9 countries of the world. Guests of  odessa literature festival 2019:

Maxim Biller (Germany)

Andriy Bondar (Ukraine)

Dimitré Dinev (Bulgaria/ Austria)

Michael Fehr (Switzerland)

Durs Grünbein (Germany)

Maryna Hrymych (Ukraine)

Yuriy Izdryk (Ukraine)

Boris Khersonksy ( Ukraine)

Max Kidruk (Ukraine)

Eugenia Kononenko (Ukraine)

Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)

Dmytro Lazutkin (Ukraine)

Johanna Lier (Switzerland)

Andriy Lyubka (Ukraine)

Henry Thomas Marsh (UK)

Terezia Mora (Germany)

Stepan Protsiuk (Ukraine)

Marina Skalova (Switzerland)

Natalka Sniadanko ( Ukraine)

Thomas Sandoz (Switzerland)

Yuri Slezkine (USA)

Pavlo Stekh (Ukraine)

Yulia Werba ( Ukraine)



The children and youth program:


Chen Jian Hong ( China/France)

Franz Hohler ( Switzerland)

Emmanuelle Houdart ( France)

Andriy Lesiv  and Romana Romanyshyn (Ukraine)

Galyna Malyk ( Ukraine)

Oleksiy Nademlynsky (Ukraine)

Lesia Voronina (Ukraine)

Robert Paul Weston ( United Kingdom).

The opening ceremony of the festival will take place at Odessa house of scientists on September 25th at 6.00 pm. The opening speech will be held by a renowned Swiss author, winner of various literature awards, member of the international PEN Club, Franz Hohler.
In the framework of the festival there will be held discussions on literature, history and urbanism.
Locations of the festival: Odessa house of scientists, Odessa Metchnikov University, Odessa puppet theatre, Terminal 42.

All events of the festival are free.

Opening speech of Oksana ZABUZHKO 2018

Opening speech at the 4th international literature festival at 26.09.2018
House of Scientists, Odesa
English translation by: Ali Kinsella
Dear friends, readers, and colleagues! Ladies and gentlemen!
The organizers have asked me to say a few words of salutation at this year’s festival, for which I am sincerely grateful. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am greeting a ship coming into port.
The feeling is apprehensive, yet somehow, in some way familiar, as if from a forgotten film or dream: You stand on the wharf, the wind from the sea tousles your hair, a concert band (for full effect) plays behind you, the crowd is anxious—and here comes the ship into the bay. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the word. There’s movement and commotion on deck: The chains are clanging, the anchor falls, the ladders are coming out. And the ship’s cargo, to which the crew (that is, the festival organizing committee) has devoted sleepless nights and countless hours of work so that it may arrive at its destination, is finally brought forth from the cabins and the hold for the public; it becomes visible.
Ukrainians are a maritime people, so it’s no surprise that this image was lurking within me—on the firmware of collective unconscious—to be activated right here and now in Odessa. For Odessa is undoubtedly a magical city: a city of mixed heritage, a city of Surzhyk, like all Mediterranean cities from Casablanca to Istanbul. The blood of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Republic of Genoa, of the Crimean Khanate and the Zaporizhian Sich have mixed in its sleepy veins along with half a dozen now extinct state formations varying in degree of antiquity and mythologizing. And such cities, just like high-born beauties, continue to enchant even when all that remains of their former beauty is wrinkles and ruins for the simple reason that they are inexhaustible. The concentration of stories in one square kilometer here has always exceeded human ability to tell them. For nearly the entire last century, Odessa, and Ukraine in general, was furthermore denied the opportunity to speak for itself in all its own, natural voices. Rather than the cultural polyphony native to these shores, a monody was imposed on it, and now the scope of the untold that has accumulated in the meantime teases it like the invisible vestiges of the Khadzhibey Fortress, which it is said lie two meters deep somewhere beneath Prymorsky Boulevard in the the middle of downtown like a treasure under the floor of an old house. No more than a month ago, the newspapers informed us that thanks to ground-penetrating radar, it was finally possible to determine its exact location, and new debates about the city’s history broke out in Odessa: Did the city start with the destruction of the castle (which would make it a very young two-hundred years old), or with its first written mention (immediately making it six-hundred years old), or perhaps from the construction of the castle (in which case, the castle would need to be dug up to ascertain the precise age)? Despite the surrealism of the plot (are there many cities in Europe that don’t know for sure how old they are, two-hundred years or six?), no one can deny that this is precisely that magic that leaves no writer indifferent: This is literature in fluenti, in the process of being created, where Odessa is at once the hero and the author who decides what the hero should be. It is precisely this state of unfinished myth-making that makes the city the ideal humus for literature, regardless of how many writers have been born here and how many have left.
I understand why the most recent Odessa novel, written by the young Odessan Ivan Kozlenko and published just last year, takes its title, Tangier, from the William Burroughs epigraph. And why, in the book, our day and age is stitched together with the extinct 1920s and the “Ukrainian Hollywood” of the Odessa Film Studio, where unjustly forgotten geniuses worked alongside the authors of other, also unjustly forgotten Odessa novels. To this day, the museum at the Odessa Film Studio does not mention anyone whom the Soviet authorities had identified in their day as untrustworthy. Their disembodied shadows now rustle around in that space in vain, pretending to be sycamore leaves underfoot. So a whole throng of them readily invades a text that is open to them, rushing to speak after all these decades of silence, choking the text, tearing the film, demanding footnotes, and in this way creating what is either a remake of the 1920s or what in the future might become the “new Odessa style,” but which for now best conveys this state of unfinished myth-making.
And I, although in no way an Odessan, also have my own shadows here. These are my literary forebears whom I now imagine standing behind me like an excited crowd at a celebration, here at the Odessa port to greet our festival ship. One hundred years ago in spring 1918, the seven-year-old son of a midshipman’s helper strolled here with his mother, staring at the new flags on the ships of the Ukrainian fleet. Later, he, Mykhailo Stelmakh, became a writer with a tragic fate of his own, never mind that he was a Soviet laureate and a recipient of orders. After the defeat of the Ukrainian National Republic and the arrival of the Bolsheviks, the Stelmakh family fled Odessa for the interior, pretending to be peasants, and the writer lived with this scrubbed biography his whole life. That is, until in the 1970s, when a wave of repressions against the Ukrainian intelligentsia threatened to again cast into the hinterlands—not him, this time, but my parents from Kiev—that he deployed all his authority as a laureate to save our family. It is to him that I owe both the first foreword to my still childish poems and my first publications. In my mind, I’m standing up straight, sensing Stelmakh’s presence behind me; I know he would have been ineffably pleased to see his hometown as the final port of call for a landing party of international writers.
A bit earlier yet, 105 years ago, a woman in a white hat and black lace arm warmers (there is a photo) took her final walk along Lanzheron Beach. By her pedigree, she was perhaps the most “Mediterranean” writer of the 20th century—my beloved Lesya Ukrainka, in whose worldly biography Odessa, to be fair, remained an unrealized project (at one time, she hoped to become the editor of the local newspaper Yuzhnye zapiski [Southern notes] and seriously considered moving here with her husband). But in her texts, always facing the sea, a careful reader will recognize the scent of the acacias here, the Khadzhibey Estuary, the Shabo grapes, and even the famous catacombs she descended into with her Odessa friends. Without a doubt, the Roman catacombs that hide the heroine of her dramas on the history of early Christianity came from here, from Odessa. Who, if not she, our great “Europeanizer,” who in her plays and poems rewrote all of European mythology from a woman’s point of view—from the Trojan War (in Cassandra) to the chivalric romances and legends of Don Juan (in The Stone Host)—could take greater joy from the fact that the city in which, as a young girl, she made plans to translate Western literature into the forbidden Ukrainian and with her girlfriends did translate Maupassant, Hauptmann, and Leconte de Lisle, has for the fourth year in a row now welcomed a festival of new contemporary writers who represent twelve world literatures?
One more character: In that very same 1913, one of the long-standing pillars of the Odessan literary scene, Mykhailo Komarov, publisher, critic, bibliographer, and owner of a unique Ukrainian library, which he left to the city of Odessa—although Odessa was not able to preserve it, just as it could not even preserve his grave (the Second Christian Cemetery where he was buried was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and out of the entire large Komarov family, of seven children, only one son, Bohdan, survived, who, without waiting for an extension, fled to Tajikistan after his first exile)—stared out at the sea for the last time. Despite numerous petitions from the public, the Komarovs’ names still do not appear on the map of Odessa today, but they are all in my crowd waving and joyfully greeting our ship: the beautiful translator Marharyta-Gretkhen with her husband, a professor of mineralogy at Odessa University; the clever Liuba who studied medicine at the Sorbonne, defended her doctorate, and disappeared without a trace in 1937; Halia, the talented poet and translator who disappeared in 1938; and the aforementioned Bohdan, the outstanding botanist, the only one to die a natural death, having lived to old age without ever being rehabilitated during his life or allowed to return to Ukraine. In their youth, they all worked on making Ukraine a full participant in the intercultural dialogue, for which they were all destined to be destroyed. Therefore, regardless of the fact that their return home has taken so long, today is their holiday as well.
Why am I telling you all of this? I often get the chance to travel to literary festivals of various kinds, and I see how at all latitudes doubts are gradually growing as to the effectiveness of this format for literature’s existence—as to the festival as a cultural institution. It’s understandable: More and more people are coming to realize that we live in a time when a new world war is unfolding—you can, of course, choose not to see it. You can convince yourself that it is “somewhere far away”—in Georgia, in Syria, in Ukraine—and that “nothing like that could happen to us.” But juvenile incantations against reality are good in their time; being an adult, however, is something else. This means understanding that, without exception, whatever has already happened to someone can happen to anyone. And here a question inevitably arises: What can (could) culture do under these conditions, and why hasn’t it prepared humanity for the reality currently nipping at their heels, dully rumbling like the top of a volcano? And from there comes the unpleasant suspicion that we, perhaps, have been fooled. Did we not revel in the niches of our festivals like children at a fair with our smart conversations and good wines, forming around ourselves that which on social media is called a “filter bubble,” while beyond the borders of our niches, entire nations first stopped reading en masse and then voted for such blatant swindlers that it is truly hard to believe how it could have happened to us, we who are so beautiful and smart?
Recently, I heard a decisive verdict from my Polish friends who, for a few years now, have been unable to recover from a very cruel awakening: Basically, all these festivals are for naught if there aren’t any systematic government programs to promote reading. But my country’s experience is different. I come from a culture that, for the entire modern and post-modern age, hasn’t been able to tally even ten years of systematic state support put together, and which instead, for generation after generation, learned to survive by circumvention and in spite of all the government programs, since for the majority of history these programs were aimed against it. Paradoxically, today, under conditions of global crisis, this seems like rather decent training in Realpolitik (do what you can, and it is what it is!). It is no accident that in the country’s “peaceful” territories, today’s Russian-Ukrainian War revolves around a burst of cultural activity and simply feverish revival of festival life. Ukrainians are used to seeing every available form of communication (and there’s no sense in denying that the literary festival has communication as its goal) as an advantage in itself, a sort of seed for a Maidan. For wherever people gather united by common values, the reign of swindlers ends. And only where there is an exchange of living human energies is there a chance to give birth to something new. So we are not simply having a festival, we are building horizontal ties in society beyond extant institutions—we’re investing in the future.
So it is with my whole heart that I applaud the brilliant German-Swiss cultural intuition that a few years ago gave birth to the idea of bringing a beautiful, hand-selected ship of world literature to the Ukrainian shores of the Black Sea every year. Odessa needs this ship. And this ship needs Odessa.
Good luck!

Author´s voices on ILO 4

Anushka Ravishankar (India)

A huge thank you for inviting me to the festival. I had a wonderful time, both with the children at my sessions and with the other authors, translators and moderators. It was a very enriching and stimulating few days.

I had one session at the Puppet Theatre and two at schools. There were 150 children at the Theatre where we had a most interesting conversation about monsters under beds. We also sang some silly songs.

Both the school sessions were wonderful, with bright children, full of curiosity and enthusiasm. The second one, at school no 64, Malinovski Str., stood out for the involvement of the teachers. The children asked excellent questions. They were excited, engaged and responsive. It couldn’t get more rewarding for a children’s author! Children at both schools asked if they could get a Ukrainian version of the book. I’m in the process, therefore, of trying to contact a publisher there. Hope it works out!

A special mention for the actor who was doing the readings. I couldn’t understand a word, of course, but I could see that he was doing a great job from the reactions of the children and I could sense that he was really connecting with them.

Thank you once again, for inviting me. This is such an important festival, and I’m honoured to have been a part of it.


Volodymyr Kadenko (Ukraine)

Huge thanks for wonderful days in Odessa!



Meg Rosoff (US/UK)

Thank you for a really wonderful few days in Odessa. The festival had such an incredibly warm and friendly atmosphere, and I loved meeting the other authors.

It was beautifully organised and you were so helpful — it was altogether a brilliant experience.

I felt really privileged to be invited to Odessa.


Wolf Biermann´ songs released in Russian for ILO 4!

Download the PDF file .

E-Reader of ILO 3

We are pleased to present the ILO 3 E-Reader in Russian and ILO 3 E-reader in Ukrainian!


Pearl of the Black Sea: Nora Gomringers opening speech on ILO 3

Nora Gomringer: Pearl of the Black Sea – Odessa, Capital of Humour, where the poets paint a picture of “their Europe”.

Opening speech at the 3rd international literature festival odessa

28.09.2017, Hotel Londonskaya, Odessa

Film project on the Declaration of Human Rights: “What matters”

Artists from all continents  each read an article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their native language before the camera.

Please find a first version of our film with Russian subtitles here:


The following authors, unfortunately, have had to cancel their trip to Odessa:

Anushka Ravishankar (India)

Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe/ UK)

Mircea Dinescu (Romania)

Johannes Kister (Germany)

Wojciech Kuczok (Poland)

Adam Zagajewski (Poland)

Priya Basil (GB/ D)

Jochen Schmidt (Germany)



The third international literature festival odessa

The third international literature festival odessa will take place from September, 28 till October, 1. More than 50 authors from 23 countries will participate at the festival. The following writers and artists have already confirmed their attendance at the third international literature festival odessa:


Bachtyar Ali (Iraq/Germany)

Priya Basil (Great Britain/Germany)

Wolf and Pamela Biermann (Germany)

Alida Bremer (Germany)

Rafael Cardoso (Brasil/Germany)

Maite Carranza (Spain)

Oleksiy Chupa (Ukraine)

Jennifer Clement (USA/ Mexico)

Bora Ćosić (Serbia/ Germany)

Mircea Dinescu (Romania)

Victor Erofeyev (Russia)

Maria Galina (Russia)

Evgeniy Golubovskij (Ukraine)

Nora Gomringer (Switzerland/Germany)

Evgeniy Demenok (Ukraine)

Olena Herasymyuk (Ukraine)

Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe/ Great Britain)

Christos Ikonomou (Greece)

Peter Stephan Jungk (Austria/ France)

Aleksandr Kabanov (Ukraine)

Gennadiy Katsen (Ukraine)

Boris Khersonsky (Ukraine)

Artur Klinau (Belarus)

Felix Kochricht (Ukraine)

Jan Koneffke (Germany)

Wojciech Kuczok (Poland)

Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)

Sjoerd Kuyper (Netherlands)

Michael Krüger (Germany)

Halyna Kruk (Ukraine)

Myroslav Laiuk (Ukraine)

Nicol Ljubić (Germany)

Perihan Magden (Turkey)

Andrei Malaev-Babel (USA)

Anushka Ravishankar (India)

Marjana Savka (Ukraine)

Armin Senser (Switzerland/ (Germany)

Paata Shamugia (Georgia)

Adania Shibli (Palestine/ Germany)

Jochen Schmidt (Germany)

Peter Schneider (Germany)

Janne Teller (Denmark)

Ilija Trojanow (Bulgaria/ Austria)

Iryna Tsilyk (Ukraine)

Simon van der Geest (Netherlands)

Haris Vlavianos (Greece)

Yuriy Vynnychuk (Ukraine)

Peter Weber (Switzerland)

Anna Weidenholzer (Austria)

Lyuba Yakymchuk (Ukraine)

Adam Zagajewski (Poland)

Serhij Zhadan (Ukraine)


The future of Odessa:

Omar Akbar (Germany)

Sonja Beeck (Germany)

Bohdan Cherkes (Ukraine/ Austria)

Ievgeniia Gubkina (Ukraine)

Oleg Drozdov (Ukraine)

Johannes Kister (Germany)

Saskia van Stein (Netherlands)

The second international literature festival odessa

The second international literature festival odessa will take place from September, 28 till October, 1. More than 20 authors from Europe and Asia will participate at the festival. The following writers and artists have already confirmed their attendance at the second international literature festival odessa:
Ivan Andrusjiak (Ukraine)
Milena Baisch (Germany)
Zsofia Ban (Hungary)
Azouz Begag (France)
Meriam Bousselmi (Tunisia)
John Boyne (Ireland)
John Burnside (Great Britain)
Artmen Chapeye (Ukraine)
Boris Chersonsky (Ukraine)
Sonja Danowski (Germany)
Jevgenij Demenok (Ukraine)
Victor Erofeyev (Russia)
Zsuzsanna Gahse (Switzerland)
Ines Garland (Argentina)
Evgenij Golubovskij (Ukraine)
Olga Grjasnowa (Germany)
Ilya Kaminsky (USA)
Esther Kinsky (Germany)
Julia Kissina (Ukraine)
Felix Kochricht (Ukraine)
Yitzhak Laor (Israel)
Pedro Lenz (Switzerland)
Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia)
Tanja Maljartschuk (Ukraine)
Sehij Mazurkevitch (Ukraine)
Amanda Michalopoulou (Greece)
Laksmi Pamuntiak (Indonesia)
Maxim Prasolov (Ukraine)
Katja Petrowskaja (Ukraine / Germany)
Vladimir Rafeyenko (Ukraine)
Jaroslav Rudiš (Czech Republic)
Ivana Sajko (Croatia)
Samuel Shimon (Iraq /Great Britain)
Ales Steger (Slovenia)
Marcin Szczygielski (Poland)
Raphael Urweider (Switzerland)
Edward van de Vendel (Netherlands)
Serhij Zakharov (Ukraine)

The future of Odessa:

Omar Akbar (Germany)
Alexander Golovanov (Ukraine)
Johannes Kister (Germany)
Jose Mateus (Portugal)
Larissa Merkulova (Ukraine)
Mickhail Reva (Ukraine)
Silja Tillner (Austria)
Vadim Zaplatnikov (Ukraine)