Prosanova literature festival: what’s left of the party?

The Prosanova festival for young literature is also digitally diverse. Social daydrinking is replaced by virtual author tours.

The six-member festival management team is faced with the feat of keeping its audience on the computer for four days Photo: Salma Jaber

When the largest festival for young German-language literature begins in Hildesheim on the afternoon of June 11, no one will be driving there. Like so many cultural events this year, Prosanova 2020 will take place on the web, and for that it comes up with an elaborate transmedia concept.

The six-member, all-female festival management faces the feat of keeping a home-office-weary audience glued to their computers for a full four days, while at the same time transforming the growing weariness of improvised online events and jerky livestream readings into a digital literary experience.

Because if Prosanova wants to continue to be a festival, an event culture that has long been cultivated in the literary field must also be shipped into the digital space. This is exemplified by the numerous literary festivals that have become crowd pullers. They draw their density of experience above all from the hybrid event formats, which create an unforeseen literary event, enable encounters with the authors, and weld the audience together.

The aura of the author is missing

In Hildesheim, this transfer performance could actually work, because experimentation at the literary event is inscribed in Prosanova’s cultural DNA. Since 2005, the festival has reinvented itself every three years within the sphere of influence of the Hildesheim Literature Institute and the literary magazine Bella triste. For 2020, too, long-term planning meant: a new young team, a new theme, unusual festival locations, surprising formats. Then came Corona, and Prosanova had to reinvent itself again within a very short time.

Prosanova – Festival for Young Literature, June 11-14, 2020; online at

But what becomes of the social experience when the meeting place that is the festival is folded up into a digital platform? How can the audience participate in the author’s much-loved aura if the physical presence in the browser window is largely cashed in? And above all, what remains of the humid sociability, the day-drinking, the party?

Particularly in view of upcoming major literary events in the shadow of Corona – the Frankfurt Book Fair comes to mind – it’s worth taking a look at the digital formats that the Prosanova Festival offers to create a holistic literary experience in virtual space as well. With a young and diverse lineup that has embraced literary experimentation, the Prosanova team focuses on transmedia and audience-activating formats.

Theater from the Drama Hotline

Not least to prevent signs of fatigue, individual program points detach themselves from the screen altogether. The audience is lifted out of their chairs by listening instructions and literary audio walks or activated to participate by gamifying literary explorations. Those who want to be even more intensively involved in the program can call the drama hotline and get a one-to-one theater experience on their ears.

Conversely, it is precisely the screen that is made artistically productive as a research instrument and work surface. In the Simultaneous Literarization Machine, one can look over Isabelle Lehn’s shoulder twice via a split screen: on the left, as she digs through the net, on the right, as she writes about her digital rummaging. The festival community can also follow Dana von Suffrin and Karosh Taha via Google Streetview through Munich or Zaxo to explore novel locations with the author as a tour guide.

In the so-called Confession Rooms, two authors each met a month before the start of Prosanova to share non-literary to literary confessions. During the festival, for example, one can witness the multimedia correspondences between Karen Kohler and Florian Kessler.

Digital audience whisper

The new reading platforms on the Internet allow completely new forms of audience exchange, which become part of the reading experience via chat functions next to the stage windows. The digital whispering of the audience thus becomes visible to the audience and authors, but also more anonymous and thus potentially more hurtful. Here, the festival management expands its discrimination-sensitive curatorial practice by, among other things, moving the festival talk into the semi-public space of a moderated telegram group. This digital safe space is set up not least to reduce the risk of discriminatory comments.

In terms of content, the festival will focus on current political debates: Under the program item "What Remains", authors such as ozlem ozgul Dundar have produced an audio collage that gives space to texts by deceased BIPoC persons and their experiences with racism. In discursive formats, equal opportunities and the visibility of a predominantly white culture industry are also discussed. On the other hand, Prosanova also brings a good dose of escapism, promising "poetry live from the Rabbit hole" via atmospheric sound installations and offering morning meditations for the literature-addled audience.

Those who order the festival kit along with their ticket will receive a box full of fan merchandise to celebrate belonging to the festival community. If you can’t leave your everyday life behind for a colorful Prosanova weekend in Hildesheim, you can at least aestheticize it thanks to Prosanova T-shirts, Prosanova notepads, Prosanova matches, and Prosanova adhesive tattoos.

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