The International island book fair in Ouessant


The Fair at a glance

From July 13 to 16, the International Island Book Fair will be held on the Breton island of Ouessant. As every year since 1999, it is the Ouessantine association CALI (Culture, Arts and Letters of the Islands) which organizes this free event open to all intended to promote island culture, and especially island literature: from Ireland to Reunion, including Corsica, New Caledonia and Madagascar, the islands and their cultural heritage are given pride of place. This year, it is Ireland and its writers descended from James Joyce as well as Easter Island, discovered 300 years ago by Dutch navigators, who are in the spotlight. The Fair will also address the theme of the intangible cultural heritage of the islands of Brittany, at the origin of a major project organized with the association Bretagne Culture Diversité.

On the programme: exchanges with Irish writers as well as writers staying on the island (including Irish writers Neil Hegarty and Tadhg Mac Dhonnagain, president of the fair), musical readings, conferences, round tables and workshops. Other major event : the Island Book Prize, which rewards either writers born or living on an island, or books dealing with an island, whether real or imaginary. This award, recognized across borders and on all oceans, has allowed real talent to emerge over the years. The winners of the island correspondence contest, the theme of which this year is "from Ithaca to Ouessant", will also be rewarded.

Finally, festive evenings linked to Breton and Irish cultures will be organized: dinners to taste the famous stew cooked in the clods of Ouessant, a fest-noz and a ceili-noz (the Irish equivalent) to discover or rediscover celtic dances as well as two concerts of Irish music to let yourself be lulled by the Uilleann Pipe or the Tin Whistle.

A fair not to be missed, from which you emerge filled with the penetrating melody of words, instruments and the ocean.


Interview with Isabelle Le Bal, president of CALI association

How was the CALI association born? How would you describe your "mission" in a few words?

My father being from Ouessant, Ouessant is my favourite island. Literature is my second skin, so in 1999 I created this cultural adventure associating literature and the islands. Culture, Arts and Letters of the Islands (CALI) is the name we have chosen for the promotion of island culture, from all oceans. Our goal is to defend the world of books and reading, the writers of the islands, whatever their language. We open doors to cinema, painting, music and drama that are rooted in island texts.

What characterizes the Island Book Fair, which you have organized every year for more than 20 years now? How has it evolved?

From the outset, the fair has always been guided by a double perspective: authors born or living on an island or works dealing with insularity. We are the only ones to promote this editorial category that we have created.

Twenty-four years ago, the world of books and that of the islands were very different. First of all, the islands had a rooted population with a common maritime culture linked to a way of living the sea and the isolation. From Ouessant to the Marquesas, an island brotherhood was born immediately. Today the islands are much more accessible, just a plane ride across the hemisphere, so their mystery is less mysterious, except perhaps Tristan da Cunha or "the mysterious island"...

The world of books and publishing, after the digital revolution and lockdowns, has undergone profound changes just like the cultural world in general. It is a question of fighting every day to defend it, to introduce new authors, new books, in a world... engulfed by the image. Our challenge throughout the year is to remove this bad fog that hides words, books and writers to share the joy of books.


How do you imagine this 24th edition of the Fair?

Like a large format party after two years of small gauge. We have chosen to pay tribute to Irish culture because we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication in France of the novel "Ulysses" by James Joyce, a masterpiece of world literature, which comes from an island, Ireland. The fair is open and free with dozens of meetings in all formats to meet writers. As soon as you arrive in the town of Lampaul, a drama company will present you with music from the great Irish texts and when you walk around each point of the island, a garden will welcome you for a surprise reading.

What are the writers looking for who take up residence for a few weeks as the semaphore tower of the Creac'h lighthouse? Is it isolation? Or the inspiration that only the mystical atmosphere of the island can provide?

The island means retirement, distance from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. We created a space at the Creac'h semaphore station in 2009 to come and work and write a book. Writing in a semaphore that is on an island is a double retirement. Writing requires concentration, sometimes erasures and several attempts are necessary before the text is published. This residency allows professional writers to come and write, while being accompanied by the association's volunteers. It is the only literary residence in Finistère, and one of the only ones that receives writers who come from an island or are going to write on the islands, all the islands: the real ones and the imaginary ones. The island is the place of residence, an inspiration and also the subject of the book, the circle is complete. So far, no one has copied us...


Could you tell us a few words about the major "intangible cultural heritage of the islands of Brittany" project that you are launching with the Bretagne Culture Diversité association?

We are very happy with this partnership, which aims to bring the inhabitants of the Breton islands to rediscover their traditions, their stories, everything that remains hidden when you travel around an island in one day. The challenge is then to showcase them in order to pass them on to future generations... and to prevent our islands from being transformed into "vintage and quirky Asterix villages." The know-how of our ancestors must pass this course of a forced-march modernism because they often had more respect for nature and culture than certain projects imposed today on the islanders. And since Ireland is in the spotlight, we must never forget that the Blasket Islands have been devitalized of their inhabitants at the risk of losing the beauty of a Gaelic culture of which only books still bear witness today...

Tell us about the literary magazine "l'Archipel des lettres" ("The Archipelago of letters"). What is it about?

We are going to publish our 24th issue this summer. We have sections on history, geography and also original texts by our writers who have come to Ouessant. It is the witness of our literary choices: Ulysses, the island-prison, the mysterious islands, the utopias, with chronicles of specialists, they are called "Nissologues" (sciences of the islands). We also publish literary reviews of new releases of Island literature. It is a record of our events and a guide to becoming an amateur nissologist yourself!


You opened the Maison des Livres et des îles (House of Books and Islands) in 2011. What can be found there?

It is an associative library of more than 5592 books only on the islands. Members can borrow books, and meetings with writers are organized there all year round.

What are the upcoming projects of the association? What can we wish you for the future?

We have a great desire to prepare our 25th edition in 2023, and to continue this in-depth work on the culture of the islands of the world throughout the year. Brittany is an open and innovative cultural land, therefore we want to invite many authors to make them discover it.

And yes, there is always an archipelago, an author who publishes a novelty to introduce to the world. And sometimes there are new islands that appear in the ocean like volcanoes, so our passion is not about to die out!

Article written by Camille L.

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