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25th Winternachten Festival Writers Unlimited


‘I have witnessed how Indonesian, Surinamese and Moroccan-Dutch writers suddenly discovered their common background, and also how an audience that in fact sought confirmation of its own cultural background blended together […]. And all this thanks to the wonderful Winternachten Literature Festival.’

Adriaan van Dis

Before corona crippled the Netherlands and especially the performing arts, the international literature festival Winternachten celebrated its 25-year anniversary without any problems in January 2020. Every year the festival revolves around a theme that connects literature to current social issues. The theme of the jubilee was A Free Mind, or more specifically: the de-colonisation of Western thought. Thus, a connection was made to the first editions of the festival, which focused on the (post-)colonial relations of the Netherlands with Indonesia, Suriname, the Antilles and South Africa. The 2020 edition of the festival was extra festive and bigger in scale. With five thousand people attending, it also attracted more visitors than previous years.

180 degrees

Moreover, it was the last festival under the inspired leadership of Ton van de Langkruis. The task of replacing him falls to director Ellen Walraven. ‘A heavy legacy rests on my shoulders,’ she acknowledges. ‘But it is also rewarding to be able to organise this wonderful festival. Because of this crisis, we have to turn the festival 180 degrees. In 2021, we will not present Option B, but something completely new.’ Working with a skeleton crew, the organiser Writers Unlimited will stream a live programme from Theater ‘t Spui for five days. A moderator will talk with Dutch guests around the table and with international guests via Zoom. Walraven: ‘We will explore this year’s theme, ‘It is up to us’, together with writers, poets, wordsmiths, performers and journalists from all around the world. With Tsitsi Dangarembga from Zimbabwe for example, who made it onto the Booker Prize shortlist with her novel This Mournable Body’.