For almost a quarter of a centur, Vestfold Literature Festival has been spreading the love of books to the people of the region. This year, the programme is more versatile than ever, in both geographical and literary terms, making it an autumn highlight for the book nerd, as well as the more sporadic reader.
By Lisa Marie Berg | Main image: The beautiful library in Tønsberg is the venue for the opening ceremony on 4 November. Photo: Peter Fiskerstrand
For seven days, the entire Vestfold region – on the west side of the Oslofjord, the closest airport being Torp – will fill to the brim with literature. There will be words on every street corner, in every concert hall, library and church. With a programme including everything from literary stars and debutants to children’s theatre and talks, it makes for the ultimate end-of-autumn cultural event.
For the love of words
At the helm of it all sits festival manager Steinar Engeland – a manager with an above-average love and passion for literature. “A book is a wonderful thing. If you give the same book to ten different people, you will end up with ten different experiences, ten different sets of faces and places. A good book is one opening up, giving room for the reader to step inside,” says Engeland. He is part of a team that – as the first in Norway – spreads its festival campus across an entire county. Spending the 45th week of the year in Vestfold is like going on tour with your local book bus, only the librarian has been supplied with literary stars from both Norway and beyond.
Studies conducted, some at the The University of Stavanger, have, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that children who are read to at a young age become better readers and writers. Engeland sees the love of books as one of the founding pillars of the festival. “We want to give the love of books to people at a young age. Literature has a quality like no other art form, to open up an entire new world to its readers. It’s as if one is allowed to, just for a little while, step out of one’s own everyday life, enter into someplace else and see the world through different eyes,” he explains. The festival has always had a strand of events designed specifically for young people and families. With talks from youth literature writers and theatre for the whole family, it invites children to attend the festival both during and after school time.
Freedom of speech
The week-long festival is not all about the joy of books, however. Engeland talks about a deeper meaning to the literary event, as well. “When putting on a festival like this, there will always be a focus on the very core of literature: freedom of speech,” he says. Words hold huge power, and Vestfold Literature Festival has been harnessing this for 24 years, now. “We don’t have to go further than our daily news to see that people all over the world are being denied the right to freedom of speech. If we can help teach children and young people that this right cannot ever be jeopardised, we are doing something right,” Engeland insists.
Of the people, for the people
Supported by the local council, the festival speaks of a political desire to bring art to the people. There is an understanding, across party lines, that this festival not only should be happening, but it needs to be happening. “It’s a mission – a mission to give our audience access to literature where they live. This festival only comes to life because of the work that happens across a range of people and institutions: libraries, public offices, politicians, schools, churches and local businesses all help pull their weight,” explains Engeland. And what a pull. With the community at its core, the festival has set the standard in Norway for how to organise a literary event outside of a big city or the capital.
The festival has a varied programme, including everyone from Norwegian literary stars such as Dag Solstad, Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Vigdis Hjorth and Jørn Lier Horst, to debutants just starting out on their literary journey. Alongside the more renowned writers, there are also those representing genres perhaps less known to the audience. “We believe our audience to be a wise one, one that is up for a challenge,” says Engeland. “There’s nothing that’s as fun as sharing new poetry or short stories from emerging writers with a new audience. It’s the breadth of our programming that makes us unique.”
With an eclectic and innovative programme, Vestfold Literature Festival looks certain to get to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. But for now, don’t forget to book your tickets for this year’s literary, autumnal treat.