Written by Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //
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.
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.
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.
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.
„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.
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’).
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 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.
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.