Bergen’s bookish vibe

Written by Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //

During my recent artist-in-residency stay at USF Verftet in Bergen, I delved into the diverse literary landscape of this vibrant Norwegian city. Beyond immersing myself in the works of Norwegian writers, exploring the Bergen Public Library (Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek), the second-largest public library in Norway, and conducting an interview with the director of the Writing Academy, Sivert Nikolai Nesbø, I had the privilege of meeting three women, each contributing to Bergen’s literary mosaic. Allow me to introduce them: Inga Moen Danielsen, the driving force behind Tekstallianse and Tekstallmenningen; Ane Wraamann Wathne, the Managing Director at The Book Salon (Boksalongen) at Litteraturhuset; and Eira Søyseth, a literary scholar and poet.

 Østre Skostredet, Bergen © Art Box portal

Bergen: UNESCO World Heritage and Beyond

Bergen is a lively, historic city located on the west coast of Norway, renowned for its history as a Hanseatic trading town. It stands out as a culturally significant destination for literature, providing a lively and engaging environment for book lovers and literary enthusiasts.

Bergen, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1979 and named a European City of Culture in 2000, boasts a rich cultural history. Notable figures such as Ole Bull and Edvard Grieg were born in Bergen. From 1851 to 1857, the renowned Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen served as a resident dramatist and stage director at Det Norske Theater (The Norwegian Theatre). Additionally, Nobel Prize winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson also held the position of theater director in Bergen.

Bergen © Art Box portal

Today, Kode Museum and Bergen collectively possess the third-largest Edvard Munch collection in the world. This collection comprises over 100 works on paper and 50 paintings, including notable pieces such as „Jealousy,“ „Melancholy,“ „Woman in Three Stages,“ „Evening on Karl Johan Street,“ and „By the Deathbed,“ among others.

KODE, Bergen © Art Box portal

The city’s narrative comes to life in works such as Knausgaard’s ”My Struggle” and Tomas Espedal’s ”Bergeners.“ Knausgaard made his debut as an author at The Writing Academy — an experience he later celebrated in his most renowned book. Enrolled in the Writing Academy at the age of 19, he found himself under the guidance of none other than the Nobel Prize-winning author, Jon Fosse.

Tomas Espedal’s „Bergeners“ © Art Box portal

Inga Moen Danielsen: Nurturing Literary Networks

At Tekstallmenningen, located at Markeveien 4B in Bergen and surrounded by art books and journals, I had a conversation with CEO Inga Moen Danielsen. She runs two relatively young organizations: Tekstallianse, a regional organization for literature, journals, and criticism in Western Norway, and Tekstallmenningen, a national infrastructure for cultural journals and independent publishers.

Inga showed me various editions, magazines, and artist’s books. She elaborated on her professional journey, explaining that the Tekstallmenningen serves as a service to writers, supporting independent publishers, artistic magazines, and the production of artist’s books. It acts as an intermediary between them and customers, as well as between them and libraries. It handles a part of the job that is necessary in creative work, but for which creatives either lack time or a sense.

Tekstallmenningen © Tekstallmenningen

„Our mission is to bring cultural journals closer to readers and support independent publishers. Tekstallmenningen acts as a bridge between the literary community and its audience,“ Inga explained.

Additionally, Inga shed light on T-YARD Writers Residency, an initiative fostering exchange between international writers and the local literary field. The residency, a collaboration between designer T-Michael, contemporary art gallery Entrée, and Tekstallianse, seeks to mediate cultural events in Bergen to a larger international audience through creative and critical writing.

Text Alliance: A Literary Beacon

The initiators of Tekstallmenningen are the Norwegian Journal Association, the journal Vagant, and Tekstallianse. Founded in 2019, the Text Alliance plays a pivotal role in fostering literary culture in Vestland County. This collaborative effort extends beyond promoting literature, emphasizing the importance of enhancing expertise, improving conditions for literature production, and strengthening industry actors. The main office of Text Alliance, located at Markeveien 4b alongside Tekstallmenningen, embodies the spirit of literary collaboration in the region.

Ane Wraamann Wathne: Curating Literary Experiences

Ane Wraamann Wathne, the manager of The Book Salon and The Book Lounge at Litteraturhuset, shapes literary experiences for the diverse audience that frequents the venue. The Book Salon, also known as Boksalongen, stands as the bookstore within Litteraturhuset, the House of Literature, which is the literary center of western Norway, providing a space for literature, debate, and cultural experiences. Alongside the bookstore, Litteraturhuset features Colonialen, a café and brasserie.

Contributing to the city’s literary landscape, Litteraturhuset hosts LitFestBergen annually. The upcoming LitFestBergen is slated for February 7th to 11th, 2024, at the House of Literature in Bergen.

Østre Skostredet, Bergen © Art Box portal

Booksalongen offers a curated selection of quality literature tailored to the preferences and programs of the venue’s diverse guests. The bookstore is not only a hub for literature enthusiasts but also a venue for hosting book launches organized by publishers or authors.

Ane, responsible for social media and Norwegian and Scandinavian books, curates a collection that resonates with the venue’s vibrant programs. Despite attending the Writing Academy during the pandemic year, she currently pursues writing solely for her enjoyment.

Ane Wraamann Wathne in conversation with a visitor at Boksalongen © Art Box portal

„We do our best to read reviews and keep in touch with publishers, local authors, and other independent bookstores,“ shared Ane.

„Boksalongen not only provides books for events but also fosters reading circles and groups. We aim to create a community of readers who engage with literature in diverse ways. We have multiple reading circles in Fosse-stova, a room adjacent to the store. People meet up once a month to discuss a book they all agree on reading, whether it’s contemporary, feminist, or international, where people read and discuss in English. We recently started a new reading circle called ‘Reading for Writers,’ where people who write read to study, learn, and develop the craft of writing,“ added Ane.

Bergen’s Literary Recommendations and Residencies

As our conversations flowed, Ane Wraamann Wathne offered recommendations for Art Box readers, including works by Gunnhild Øyehaug, Kenneth Moe, and Henrik Nor-Hansen.

Boksalongen © Art Box portal

Eira Søyseth: Crafting Literary Worlds

At the renowned Opera café, I engaged in a conversation with Eira Søyseth, a literary scholar and poet based in Bergen. Holding a master’s degree from the University of Bergen and having attended the Writing Academy at USF Verftet, Eira offered insights into her debut poetry collection, ‘Farget flekket nå’ (‘Colored Spotted Now’).

Bergen Public Library, ‘Farget flekket nå’ by Eira Søyseth at the bookshelf © Art Box portal“

Our discussion spanned various aspects of creative writing, including her experiences at the Writing Academy, her preferences among Scandinavian female authors, and the unique challenges faced by young women writers in Norway. Eira elaborated on her writing process, distinctive styles, and the themes she explores in her work.

Eira Søyseth at Cafe Opera © Art Box portal

Eira talked about the challenges writers deal with in the 21st century. She mentioned that being a writer, especially a woman and young poet, in Norway is better compared to many other countries. This favorable situation lets her take a six-month break from the Writing Academy to concentrate on her writing. Before her current role at the Writing Academy, she held diverse positions, including editor, journalist, general manager, event host, and project coordinator. She even served as a music columnist for Bergens Tidende. However, her current aspiration is to channel her energy and attention toward her literary pursuits.

„Right now, I am in the first phase of writing a new book of poetry, and I am trying to maintain a routine that includes a significant amount of both writing and reading”, explains Eira.

“I can find inspiration by attending an art show, reading a book, or observing someone walking past me on the street. Just a few days ago, in the morning while it was snowing, I saw an ordinary man in his forties on his way to work, drinking a small carton of chocolate milk from a straw — that was inspiring!“, shared Eira Søyseth, offering a glimpse into her artistic process.

Bergen’s Love for Books Keeps Growing

The stories of these three women highlight Bergen’s role as a cultural hub, showcasing a unique and lively environment that fosters literary activities, reading, and a genuine love for books and literature.

Telephone box used as a library, Bergen © Art Box portal

Beyond bookstores and reading groups, Bergen’s enthusiasm for books infuses the city with a dynamic literary energy, seamlessly woven into the daily lives of its residents.

Since 2013, the Bergen Art Book Fair has been a notable event, showcasing art books and self-publishing. This festival provides a platform for local, national, and international artists, as well as small press publishers. The next edition of the fair is scheduled for April 12th to 14th, 2024.

Kurt Johannessen’s art books exhibited in Bergen © Art Box portal






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