Johan Harstad’s IFOA Questionnaire

Johan Harstad’s IFOA Questionnaire

October 25, 2011

Check out Johan Harstad’s profile for the International Festival of Authors from

The IFOA Questionnaire: Johan Harstad

Mark Medley

This year’s International Festival of Authors, which takes place between October 19 and 30 in Toronto, features nearly 200 participants from 20 countries around the world. Each day, the National Post will profile one or more authors appearing at the festival. In addition, we’ll spotlight many of the out-of-country guests through our annual IFOA questionnaire.

Meet Johan Harstad, author of Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion?, who appears October 22 and 23.

Q: Is this your first time at IFOA? If so, what have you heard about the festival? If not, what’s your most memorable festival experience?

A: It is both my first time at the IFOA and my first time visiting Canada. I recently mentioned to William T. Vollmann that I was going and he said it was a nice festival, so I’m looking very much forward to be a part of it.

Q: Is there an author attending IFOA this year that you’re genuinely excited to meet?

A: Unfortunately I haven’t had time to closely examine the full schedule yet, so it’s hard to give a name. But I’m sure I’ll find something genuinely interesting once I do.

Q: Earlier this year, the New York Observer published an essay called “No One Cares About Your Reading.” Do you like readings?

A: I do. But then I also like ironing, which, well, isn’t for everybody. I read the essay, and it’s definitely got some good points. As a writer, I’m myself more interested in listening to a conversation between the author and someone else for 45 minutes and then ending with a ten minute read, instead of the other way around.But I do enjoy at least getting a reading sample, so that I can hear the author’s own rhytm in the text.

Q: Who’s the best author you’ve ever heard read? What made it so?

A: Well, among Norwegian writers I would have to say the novelist Tomas Espedal and the poet Jan Erik Vold. Espedal has a soothing way of reading, with a very subtle rhytm that just keeps on going. Vold, on the other hand, is more like literary jazz, sometimes free flowing, sometimes syncopated and complicated. But always great. Also, David Byrne should be mentioned. Perhaps most known as the front man of Talking Heads and as a visual artist, he is also a writer, and listening to him reading his latest book, The Bicycle Diaries, is not just wonderful and strangely captivating, but the audio book he made of the work is also a rethinking of the medium.

Q: What do you take on vacation — a stack of books or an e-reader?

A: I prefer to bring paperbacks.I like how the appearance of the physical book changes as you read through it and how it in the end, especially if it was a great book, is almost falling apart, worn out and exhausted.I’m still waiting for the e-reader to develop a soul of some kind, until then I’m sticking to printed material.

Q: Tomas Transtromer just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Who should get it next year?

A: I’m not sure, but I do sigh with relief every time one of my favorites does not win, because statistically winning means they have less than twenty years left to live. Apart from Pinter in 2005, I have to go back to 1985 when Claude Simon won it to find laureates that have really been important to me. But, well, it’s been 83 years since Norway got it last, so let’s sign the playwright Jon Fosse up for it next year. Though, on the other hand, I would like him to see him make it past the next twenty years.

Q: What country is producing the best writing these days? What country, or part of the world, should readers pay more attention to?

A: Naturally, it’s an impossible question to answer, as it boils down to the few languages I can read, what is available in translation and what I have time to read. I can only say that Scandinavian literature seem to be more alive and kicking now than ever, which makes it a great time to be a writer in that region. There’s a strong will to explore, in many different directions, there are bold projects and great art being created all over, in both poetry, novels, short stories and essays, and we’ve seen a substantial rise in the number of titles translated to different languages, especially English. I also think American literature have gained a new momentum over the last ten or fifteen years, a lot of the younger writers have to be given a lot of credit for that. Or maybe it’s just that my focused have shifted. France is also producing great literature, as always. And Japan, not to forget Japan. Etc.

Q: In ten years, publishing will be …

A: “Fitter, happier, more productive. Like a pig, in a cage. On antibiotics.” No, really, I think we’ll all be OK, we’ll still be publishing literature, either as e-books or real books. It’s just a question of finding out a way to do it that’ll work for everyone, both artistically and economically. We’ll get there.

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