And this year was particularly special: after 24 years, the Czech Republic was once again the host country.
She arrived for the interview only a few hours after returning from Germany, apologising that she might not make much sense since she had not had much sleep in recent days. This was no wonder: Klára had just spent a week at the Leipzig Book Fair, where she helped showcase the best of modern Czech literature.
“It was an extremely hectic week. Actually, it had been hectic since the end of September, when I first joined the project,” says the student of Faculty of Arts, who works at the Moravian Library.
The Czech Republic was selected as the host country of this year’s fair three years ago and the Moravian Library was tasked by the Czech Ministry of Culture to take care of the hosting. Since it is one of the largest European book fairs, this was no small task.
“I graduated in marketing communication, which is how I came to work for Czech TV and as an editor at the South Moravian Region press office. However, I wanted a change and so I began applying to institutions that I was interested in. And I was lucky enough to get my current job at the library,” says Klára. Her joy and enthusiasm for her new job did not diminish even when she realised how stressful and busy it would be.
For one thing, the presentation of Czech literature at the fair in March was just one of the events related to the Czech Year of Culture in Leipzig. Moreover, the original estimates of the number of authors attending the fair were twenty, which later rose to forty. In the end, the fair was actually attended by 55 Czech authors, with around 130 events at the fair.
“When me and my colleague first started, the ball was already rolling pretty fast and it just kept accelerating. I have absolutely no regrets, though; for someone like me, it was basically the job of my dreams. I cannot imagine a more perfect fusion of literature and marketing,” says Klára.
Everything from Facebook to a tour for journalists Klára’s responsibilities include social media and the website, communication with journalists, and informing the media about the project activities. Her baptism by fire came this January when she organised a stay for thirty German-speaking journalists, who spent two days in Brno and two days in Prague. As if preparing an interesting literature-related programme for the group was not difficult enough, Klára also had the inconsistent weather to deal with.
“Everything was planned to the last minute, except for the extreme snowfall. So, we had to improvise,” she says, recounting the stressful experience with a smile. But all’s well that ends well and Klára had more than enough reason to be happy a bit later when the news of the Czech Republic hosting the fair made it all the way to the front page of the renowned Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
At the fair itself, one of her jobs was to take care of the focal point of the Czech presence – the boat-shaped stand designed by the graphic designer Martin Hrdina. Why a boat? The motto of the whole Czech Year of Culture was the Czech greeting “ahoy”, which was originally a nautical greeting.
The Czech authors at the fair represented all genres and generations. The most famous authors, such as Jaroslav Rudiš, had their own stand, and there were also separate stands for various genres, such as children’s literature and comics. “In general, Germans don’t really know Czech authors very well although they might remember Havel or Kundera. However, Rudiš was immensely successful at the fair, with all his readings completely packed out, as was Katka Tučková from Brno,” says Klára. As a student of Czech, it was a real joy for her to meet the authors she studies in person.
“At one point, I just couldn’t contain myself any longer and I told Petr Sís that I own almost all his books and value them very highly. Until then, we only ever talked about matters relating to the fair, but he was happy to find out that even for the organisers, literature was at the centre of everything.” Only time will tell whether the Czech hosting of the fair was a success and if it has raised awareness of Czech literature in Germany. But what is certain is that Klára will continue to spend almost all her time at the Moravian Library. After devoting all her energy to the fair, she now needs to get back to her thesis, so the library will now be both her study and her office.