Authors and artists from 24 countries were gathering in Lillehammer this week for the 23rd annual literature festival, the largest to be held in the Nordic countries. Freedom of expression was a central theme, even as Norway’s own culture minister ignored it in China just last week.
Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland was under heavy criticism as the week began for failing to bring up human rights and the need for freedom of expression while on a six-day visit to China. Norway has just renewed relations with China after a six-year diplomatic freeze following the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. Helleland clearly didn’t want to jeopardize the reconciliation.
She nonetheless opened the literature festival in Lillehammer on Tuesday but was only registered to take part in two events tied to literature for youth and children, along with a seminar on international translations. She was invited to take part in an even sponsored by Norsk PEN (among the critics of her silence in China) about jailed authors, but that was not on her agenda.
The festival is expected to attract even more than the 25,000 who attended events last year. A highlight was Thursday’s evening conversation between US critic John Freeman and Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård, on Knausgård’s work and his recent publication of a book on Edvard Munch. Other Norwegian authors on the program include Frode Grytten, Vigdis Hjorth, Åsne Seierstad, Unni Lindell, Tove Nilsen and Kjartan Fløgstad. The festival in Lillehammer runs through Sunday.