The Power of Words at the Festival degli Scrittori

Margaret Atwood

May 3 – 5:  FESTIVAL DEGLI SCRITTORI (Festival of Writers).  Florence.  Venues and times vary. All the events are free of charge.

Can a book festival mirror both the contemporary political disquiet of the Trump era and at the same time the ups and downs of a whole generation of midlife people who are too young to retire and too old to start again?

Yes, if the answer is the Festival of Writers and the Premio von Rezzori (von Rezzori prize), held on May 3 to 5 in Florence.  This twelfth edition marks the 20th anniversary of Gregor Von Rezzori’s death, the Central European writer who lived and worked in Tuscany for more than 30 years and to whose memory the festival is dedicated thanks to the Santa Maddalena Foundation.


Canadian novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood is among the big names invited to speak at this year’s edition.  Shortlisted five times for the prestigious Booker Prize and the winner in 2000 with “The Blind Assassin,” she is back in the limelight after the airing of the TV adaptation of her anti-utopia classic “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  A story of female abuse set in a totalitarian regime of the near future, the book has been often seen as a feminist contribution to the world awakening after the Weinstein allegations and the found of the #MeToo movement.  Atwood always eschews these inferences, preferring to label her bestseller as a study of power.

The author is scheduled as a special guest at the Cinema La Compagnia on May 4 for the screening of “Handmaid’s Tale,” the 1990 movie by Volker Schlöndorff based on her novel (11 am).   The same day she will give a lecture entitled “Three Tarot Cards” at the refectory of the basilica of Santa Croce (6:30 pm).

Far from the gloomy atmosphere of Atwood’s drama, the Washington-born writer Andrew Sear Green brings to town the refreshing humor of his fifth novel “Less,” winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  The story is about a failed novelist, Arthur Less, who is turning 50 and is waiting through “his exclusion from any list of best writers under 30, under 40, under 50 — they make no lists above that.”  When Less receives an invitation to his former boyfriend’s wedding, he decides to embark on a literary tour around the world.  The funny adventures of the gay novelist end up being a witty satire of an American abroad and a sharp observation of the age issues in our youth-oriented society.  Green, director of the Santa Maddalena Foundation, has been invited to the Todo Modo bookstore (via dei Fossi 15/r) together with the Italian writer Andrea Bajani, director of the Festival, to discuss his work and the importance of the literary awards for writers and readers, from the Pulitzer to Von Rezzori prize (May 3 at 7 pm).

As every year the high point of the festival is a ceremony conferring the Premio von Rezzori for best work of foreign fiction published in Italy and will be presided over by Florence mayor Dario Nardella.  On May 5 at 6 pm in the Sala d’Arme of Palazzo Vecchio the award will go to one of the five shortlisted authors: American Katie Kitamura with the suspenseful novel Una separazione (A Separation), Russian-born French Andrei Makine with an anti-Stalin story set in the Siberian landscape of L’arcipelago della nuova vita (L’archipel d’une autre vie), Englishman Lawrence Osborne with thriller Cacciatori nel buio (Hunters in the Dark), American George Saunders with the experimental novel Lincoln nel Bardo (Lincoln in the Bardo) and Canadian-born English writer David Szalay with a collection of short stories Tutto quello che è un uomo (All that Man Is).

Another award will be given for the best translation of a foreign work to the Italian translator Claudio Groff who, since 1982, has expressed texts in another language of illustrious German authors such as Rilke, Kafka, Bernhard, Schulze, and Brecht.  Groff will meet the public on Saturday, May 5 at the Gabinetto Vieusseux’s Sala Ferri (4 pm, Palazzo Strozzi).

During the festival, the Sala Ferri will host the conferences by the finalists: Osborne will appear on May 3 at 5 pm, Makine and Kitamura on May 4 at 4:30 and 5:30 pm, Saunders and Szalay on May 5 respectively at 10:30 and 11:30 am.

The fourth edition of Premio von Rezzori – Giovani Lettori has involved 100 students from local schools in writing reviews of the books on the short list, and also provides an opportunity for them to meet and interact with the authors.  For the first time a special award of the Premio von Rezzori will be offered to the best three reviews of the five book finalists in a ceremony at the Sala d’Arme of Palazzo Vecchio on May 3 (6 pm).

For the full program, visit  (celeste giampietro collins)