Incroci di Civiltà returns November 2021: an interview with Flavio Gregori

The fourteenth edition of the Incroci di Civiltà (“Crossroads of Civilizations”) literary festival, organised by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, is scheduled to take place in November 2021. The festival allows participants to meet some of the most interesting writers of our time. Stay updated on the Incroci di Civiltà webpage. 

The 2021 edition will feature a publishing prize in memory of Cesare De Michelis.

Another novelty is the return of professor Flavio Gregori as director of the festival, following his predecessor, professor Pia Masiero. We have asked professor Gregori to tell us about his vision for the future of one of the university’s most important cultural events. 

Professor Gregori, what sort of direction will you give to Incroci di Civiltà? What can you tell us about the 2021 edition?

The first step will be to relaunch a festival that the COVID-19 pandemic has muffled, just as it has muffled many other public events. The fourteenth edition of Incroci is scheduled for November 2021: this is a sign of recovery and we are prudent, but optimistic. In 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, we organised the online event “Incroci 12 and ½”, although we were well aware that human contact and dialogue are precisely what make the festival so meaningful. Resuming all of this is in itself a challenge which we hope to be able to face in autumn. 

Naturally we are also considering a “plan B”, but what we most desire is an in-person festival. In order to proceed with caution, the 2021 edition is likely to be more European than global. We hope to host all of the authors in Venice, but if the situation is still problematic, we might adopt a mixed formula, in which the dialogue will include some writers in Venice and others connected remotely. 

My long-term approach is to follow the path that Pia Masiero, the former director, has wonderfully mapped out: the festival will be a shared effort, which will involve institutions, organisations, publishing houses and other festivals. 

I would like to establish new partnerships with international literary festivals, in order to raise awareness of the uniqueness of Incroci, which lies in its international scope and openness to the world.

Moreover, I would like Incroci to be active year-round and even more closely linked to teaching and research at Ca’ Foscari. I would like student participation to increase and literary gatherings to multiply even beyond the most important days of the festival.  

Among the novelties in the 2021 edition there will be a publishing prize in memory of Cesare De Michelis, a particularly innovative and international publisher. The prize, awarded in collaboration with Fondazione di Venezia and Marsilio Editori, is a further testament to the fact that Incroci values not only writers, but all members of the publishing community.

The world of culture has been among the sectors which have suffered most because of the restrictions imposed during the pandemic. How do you imagine the recovery – what do you hope it will be like?

In addition to causing a sorrowful loss of human lives, the pandemic has caused economic damage to many sectors. Culture is one of them. Workers in the cultural sector, to whom I express my sympathy, have been seriously affected. 

As Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, has stated, we hope that the vaccination campaign and the contagion slow-down will enable the cultural industry to be set in motion again, and not only for economic reasons. Culture is a fundamental asset to our country and I hope that we can soon return to theatres, cinemas, festivals and conferences. I hope that we can turn off our screens, which have nevertheless been crucial to us this year, and that we can regain the human, physical dimension of cultural exchange

In this period of forced suspension have you, the staff of Incroci, kept in touch with the public and the writers? Have you perceived what the new needs and new trends may be? 

Contact with the authors was necessarily reduced, although never interrupted, as the 2020 online edition of the festival shows. However, the public was the real victim. I personally miss the relationship with the people of Incroci, with Incroci’s public. I am not referring only to institutional events but also to smaller ones, in which human contact used to be simple and direct, an opportunity to have a conversation and shake hands. I miss that, just as I miss the contact with our students, which in “normal” times happens not only in the classroom but also during breaks, which are opportunities to discuss things more in depth. GMeet and Zoom chats will never be a true substitute for a conversation among people who share the same physical space. 

The virtual dimension certainly has some advantages, first of all the convenience of not having to leave one’s home – however, I think the risk is that we succumb to laziness. Direct experience is crucial. Literary festivals in particular have a very important function: they offer a shared human experience and personal contact. Reading books is, per se, a “remote”, private activity. Meetings with writers enrich this solitary experience by adding a social, physical dimension to it. Shared enjoyment cannot be substituted and online mediation frustrates the main aim of these meetings. 

For many people, #Iorestoacasa (“I’m staying home”) has been an opportunity to devote time to reading. What is on your literary top list? 

Staying home did not give me more time to read. On the contrary, spending so much time in front of a screen reduces the amount of time I can spend reading peacefully. In addition to this, much of what I read is related to my job, such as the Gothic novels of the late eighteenth century in Britain. However, over the past few months I have re-read some classics, such as Dostoevskij, Tolstoj and Balzac, both for pleasure and work. Unfortunately I have neglected contemporary Italian authors, but I am planning to start reading them again in summer. I have also read more poetry than usual, not only by the great John Keats (the bicentenary of his death was February 23 this year), but also by Italian poets such as Amelia Rosselli and Maria Luisa Spaziani. I have recently re-read Adam Zagajewski, one of the most important Polish poets who has recently passed away and was a guest of Incroci in the 2011 edition. 

Who is your “ideal” guest for a future edition of Incroci di Civiltà? 

Among the first names that come to my mind there are Olga TokarczukMurakami Haruki, Kazuo Ishiguro, and the American poet Louise Glüc, one of the most interesting voices of our time. 

I would also like to organise a conversation with Amanda Gorman, the young African-American poet who participated in the inauguration ceremony of President Biden at the White House. Gorman is a very important voice: she represents political poetry and civic engagement which is hugely important in the USA, but that is harder to appreciate in Italy. Her poem “The hill we climb” is a message that is full of expectations but also of strong demands. I think it would be very interesting to listen to the point of view of a person who is so young and so authoritative, who could talk about poetry as social engagement. 

These are some of my ideas. The steering committee is composed of my colleagues Shaul BassiPia MasieroMarco CeresaNicoletta PesaroMarco Dalla Gassa and Alessandro Cinquegrani. They will contribute by suggesting authors and topics, together with the many university colleagues that have been contributing to Incroci over the years. After all, Incroci di Civiltà is the outcome of a shared, polyphonic effort. 

Federica Scotellaro / translated by Joangela Ceccon