Worlds is the UK’s premier international literary Salon, hosted by Writers’ Centre Norwich in June each year. In a unique residential week, writers from the UK and around the world gather for an extended conversation over four days about writing as an art, craft and profession. Alongside this, a public events programme enables audiences in Norwich to engage with outstanding writers from around the world.
At the heart of Worlds is the private Salon, a space created and fed by the writers who take part and driven by a series of commissioned provocation papers. While the team at the Writers’ Centre and Professor Jon Cook of UEA have some sense of the shape of the discussion over the four days, where the conversation might lead is determined primarily by the visiting writers.
The unifying theme for 2014 was Nostalgia, a word with powerful literary and emotional resonances. The first syllable of the word, nostos, was used in Homeric epics as both a theme and a structure. It connected the idea of telling a story to a notion of return to a homeland after a long period of absence. Its second syllable, also derived from Greek, speaks of pain, the kind of pain that comes from yearning and loss, perhaps for a place that cannot be recovered or that never existed.
Some consider nostalgia to be a means of escape from complexity and responsibility and some a trope offering acute historical critique. It finds powerful expressions in literary work of both the Romantic and the Modern periods. But then so apparently does its opposite, for ‘home’ must often be left behind in the search for freedom and autonomy.
Worlds 2014 was devoted to the concepts, structures and emotions associated with this equivocal world. Is there a compulsion in story telling to return to a moment of real or imagined origin? Is nostalgia, as writers from Schiller to Benjamin have argued, a distinctly modern form of sensibility? Is it a feeling that literature both resists and exploits at one and the same time? And what, if any, relevance does it have in today’s world of migration, diasporas and nomadic wandering?
From this year’s festival we have chosen a number of pieces for your delectation. From the provocations we have: Akhil Sharma’s ‘Nostalgia’, James Scudamore’s ‘The Ecstasy of Impossibility’, and Denise Riley’s ‘Is Nostalgia a Bromide?’. In addition, we have Sharlene Teo’s reflection on the event, ‘Nostalgia and its Discontents’. Finally, as a special treat, we have Bae Su-Ah’s meditation on the experience of translating W. G. Sebald into Korean, ‘After Sebald – A Tribute’.
Worlds 2014 was curated by Jon Cook, Chris Gribble and Jonathan Morley.