Columbia Global Center Europe Hosts Inaugural World Writers' Festival in Paris

September 18, 2013

Columbia Global Center Europe kicks off its first-ever Festival des Écrivains du Monde—World Writers' Festival—this weekend, bringing more than 30 renowned writers from a host of countries to give talks and read from their works at venues in central Paris. The event is designed “to reinforce the fact that New York City is the cultural and literary capital of the U.S. and Paris is that of France,” said Paul LeClerc, director of center, which is based in Paris. “They are twin cities linked in this instance by combining their two best cultural and educational organizations.”

The festival highlights the long association between France and Columbia, which dates back to 1784, when Rev. John Peter Tetard was appointed Columbia College’s first professor of French. In 1913, Columbia’s Maison Française was the first French language house on an American campus. In the 2011-2012 academic year, 224 students from France attended Columbia, more than Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined.

It is also an outgrowth of a new partnership between Columbia and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The bibliothèque is the repository of all works published in France, akin to the role the Library of Congress plays in the U.S. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world, founded in 1386.

Columbia established its first global centers 2009 in Amman and Beijing. It has added six more since. "We believe that our global centers provide the right kind of flexible structure for deepening Columbia’s teaching and learning, scholarship and service around the world,” said President Lee C. Bollinger. “There will be many different ways our students, faculty, alumni and local partners will engage with ideas and issues at the various centers and the writer’s festival Paul has developed in partnership with France’s great national library is just one way we are doing that.”

This is one of the first events to bring together all eight of Columbia’s global centers, not just in the authors represented but also in the Columbia faculty members who will participate in it. “The network of global centers strives to leverage Columbia—with its diverse intellectual capacities—to add depth and value to discussions with experts, academics, and thought leaders in all corners of the world,” said Safwan Masri, vice president of the centers and director of the Middle East Global Center in Amman.

In the past few years, the global centers have organized discussions and panels from leading feminists discussing critical women’s issues in various contexts in its centers located in Istanbul, Mumbai, Amman, Santiago, and Paris; and brought together academics, journalists, and activists studying geopolitical developments and press freedom in the Middle East. In the past year Columbia has added two more centers, in Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro.

The writers’ festival, which will be conducted in French and English, will include such events as a “Translation Slam,” where authors will read their original works and translators will simultaneously render them in French—a live illustration at how literature can get lost in translation, or not. Participating authors include Salman Rushdie, Catherine Millet, Michael Ondaatje and Walter Mosley.

Six Columbia faculty members will also be on the program. They are Richard Ford and Deborah Eisenberg, both writing professors at the School of the Arts; University Professor Gayatri Spivak; Elisabeth Ladenson, who chairs the University’s French Department; history professor Carol Gluck; and Steve Coll, dean of the Journalism School.

“A great benefit of the festival will be to recognize writers whose artistic accomplishments add substantially to the quality of global, in additional to national or regional, culture,” said LeClerc. “One French magazine called this a G20 of the world's best writers.”

—by Bridget O'Brian