Kikinda is a town located in the north of Serbia, only a few kilometres away from Hungary and Romania. People from the “Jovan Popovic” library have decided to use the town’s favourable geographical position in order to connect young European short story writers. The festival has taken place four times already, with more than fifty authors from thirteen countries participating in its making. Writers who take part in the festival are those born during the ‘70s or the ‘80s, who have come to prominence by either publishing stories in collections or in literary magazines. Aside from them, a few already renowned authors are always invited as special or surprise guests. The organisers intend to demonstrate how nothing in literature appears ab ovo, but it’s rather derived from the preceding literary tradition.
There are numerous reasons for organising an international festival in Kikinda. As a result of the 90’s civil wars, Serbia found itself completely isolated. Writers were deprived of the chance to travel, unable to meet their foreign colleagues or even read their works. There weren’t any literary magazines, all of the big publishing companies were bankrupt and publishing was completely commercialised. It has all lead to the fact that post-modern poetics - which reached its peak in surrounding countries back in the 80’s - still remains dominant in Serbian literature. The festival’s organisers want to show how that approach is long surpassed and that it’s necessary to make room for new artists and new ways of experiencing literature.
Moreover, the short story genre as a whole is neglected. There is certain awareness regarding the unfavourable status of poetry and its obvious inability to sustain itself. However, the same level of concern isn’t reached when it comes to the problem of the short story genre. There are a number of festivals and awards promoting poetry, while there had been a complete lack of short story festivals until the Kikinda Short was created. Publishers would put a first time writer’s novel in print without hesitating, while short story writers usually wait for years for the publication of their work. The reason could probably be found within the characteristics of the genre, because a short story doesn’t possess the soothing effect of a novel. Novels keep taking the reader into another world for days, a world which is better or maybe just different from the one in which the reader lives. However, the strategy of quickly entering and exiting the storyline won’t sway you into pleasant forgetfulness; on the contrary, it will face you with the things you might not be willing to perceive as a problem. The festival aspires to show that there are people who don’t appreciate literature just for its therapeutic value.
One of the primary goals of the festival is arousing interest in short stories, primarily through media coverage. More than a hundred articles about it have been published in regional newspapers and on the Internet. Reports from the festival have been broadcasted in prime time and the writers have been interviewed for the national television. Due to the attractiveness of Anglo-Saxon literature, British writers Clare Wigfall, Paul Ewen and Peter Hobbs greatly contributed to the promotion of the festival last year, by being featured in a two-page article in the highest selling Serbian daily newspaper.
Enabling intercultural exchange and establishing a connection between nations are some of the main aims of the festival. That’s why the organisers encourage the writers to promote their colleagues in their home countries as much as possible, either through media presentation or by recommending them to their publishers. Owing to the contacts made during the festival, the participants’ stories were published in magazines in Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Austria. The organisers’ motto is the line from a popular Serbian children’s song: “Everything’s better when we’re together!”
A long-term goal of the festival is popularising literature and the cultural content provided by the “Jovan Popovic” library, primarily among young audience. That’s why the authors are uninhibited to dance, act or even demonstrate karate moves if they think it fits well in the concept of their story. This kind of approach to literature was very well received, which was proved when after three hours of listening to the writers reading their stories during the last year’s festival, the audience called for an encore. For at least one more story.
Srdjan Papic, project coordinator