“The Dream We Carry”

Norway shines as the guest of honor at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair

Photo: Christie Ericson
Designed by Norwegian architectural firms Manthey Kula and LCLA, the Norway Pavilion consisted of sculptural tables reflecting various literary genres and themes as well as other artistic elements.

Christie Ericson
Anchorage, Alaska

Frankfurt, Germany, has a long history related to book publishing, dating back hundreds of years, and since 1949 it has been the location of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books. The annual fair, which takes place over five days every October, is a key marketing and networking event for booksellers and draws publishers, literary agents, authors, illustrators, film producers, and translators from around the world.

Photo: Christie Ericson
Norway was the fair’s guest of honor. Here, a banner welcomes visitors to the exhibtion hall.

Since 1976, the Frankfurt Book Fair has also selected a “Guest of Honour” or focus of interest to feature during the event. Selection as a guest of honor offers a unique opportunity for a country to highlight its literature and culture to a German-speaking audience, as well as to the world. For 2019, the Frankfurt Book Fair selected Norway as the national guest of honor.

NORLA, Norwegian Literature Abroad, was the organization responsible for organizing the 2019 Norway guest of honor program. Financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture and supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NORLA disseminates information about Norwegian books and authors to other countries and promotes the export of Norwegian literature as well as the translation of Norwegian books.

As a librarian at the University of Alaska Anchorage and a languages subject specialist, I have always dreamed of attending the Frankfurt Book Fair. After learning that Norway was going to be this year’s guest of honor, I knew I had to figure out a way to attend. While attending the University of Oslo International Summer School this past summer, fellow student Kathleen Maris Paltrineri and I had the opportunity to visit the NORLA offices in Oslo. As aspiring translators, Kathleen and I were very grateful to NORLA Communications Adviser Mette Børja for taking the time to meet with us regarding NORLA’s work and inspiring us to attend the book fair.

Photo: Christie Ericson
A gathering space in the exhibition hall.

Norway’s slogan as guest of honor was “The Dream We Carry,” or “Der Traum in uns,” in German. The slogan was inspired by the poem “Det er den draumen” (“It is that dream”) by Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994). In 2016, Hauge’s poem was voted the greatest Norwegian poem of all time by readers and viewers of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).

The 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair took place Oct. 16-20. Crown Princess Mette-Marit, ambassador for Norwegian literature abroad, kicked off the events with her popular literature train. Along with her husband, Crown Prince Haakon, the crown princess traveled by train from Berlin to Frankfurt, accompanied by a number of Norwegian authors and taking part in a variety of literary events along the way. Upon their arrival in Frankfurt, the crown princess opened the book fair with a reading of Hauge’s poem. Prime Minister Erna Solberg also participated in the opening ceremony, along with Norwegian authors Erika Fatland and Karl Ove Knausgaard, while Elle Márjá Eira concluded the ceremony with a Sámi joik.

Although I knew it would be large, I was not quite prepared for the immense size of the fair. The event takes place at the Frankfurter Messe, a massive complex of buildings with nearly 4 million square feet of indoor exhibition space, as well as outdoor space. While the first three days of the fair are restricted to professional visitors only, the last two days are open to the public. This year, over 300,000 were in attendance—the highest number in 10 years—and there were over 7,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries. 

The majority of the events that related to Norway took place in a special exhibition hall dedicated to the guest of honor. Designed by Norwegian architectural firms Manthey Kula and LCLA, the Norway Pavilion consisted of sculptural tables reflecting various literary genres and themes, with other elements demonstrating the connection between art, design, and literature in Norway. After the fair, various items from the pavilion will be sent to selected libraries and bookstores in Germany. As the guest of honor, Norway also planned an extensive cultural program, carried out in collaboration with Norwegian Arts Abroad and other Norwegian cultural institutions. During the fair, over 200 events associated with Norwegian literature, art, and culture took place in Frankfurt.

Photo: Christie Ericson
Sámi poet and performer Niilaas Holmberg reads at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Over 100 writers from Norway participated—far too many to list here—but they included authors of fiction, non-fiction, Sámi literature, children and young adult literature, and crime fiction. There were approximately 120 events in the Norway Pavilion, and it’s estimated that more than 100,000 people visited the pavilion over the five days of the fair. Most program sessions consisted of 30-minute conversations with Norwegian authors, one after another all day long. While I wasn’t able to attend all of the sessions in the Norway Pavilion, I sure tried my hardest! Sessions were conducted in either English, German, or Norwegian, with some in a combination of one, two, or all three languages. Luckily, with my knowledge of German and Norwegian, I was able to follow along for the most part, and while it was good language practice for me, I was pretty much brain-dead at the end of each day. 

Photo: Christie Ericson
Lars Saabye Christensen, Knut Hoem, and Gunnar Staalesen participated in a panel discussion of Norwegian literature in the Norway Pavilion.

NORLA did an exceptional job as the guest of honor at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair and was highly successful in promoting Norwegian literature to a whole new audience. Kathleen and I were positively giddy throughout the whole five days of the fair, and we were beyond thrilled to meet so many Norwegian authors and translators. I learned so much about the Norwegian literary landscape, and I’m looking forward to tackling my new reading list, which is now about a mile long!

This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.