The British Council Literature Seminar was founded by Malcolm Bradbury in 1986. His aim was to establish a platform of debate for publishers, translators, journalists and other creative professionals in Germany. Originally named the Walberberg Seminar after the monastery in Nordrhein-Westfalen where it was held, the seminar established itself as a regular fixture in the German literary calendar. Since its beginnings the seminar has introduced in total about 200 contemporary writers from the UK to an audience of some 2000 participants.
Over the years, the list of writers has included Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson. Following on from Malcolm Bradbury, chairs of the seminar have included Christopher Hope, Valentine Cunningham, Caryl Phillips, Marina Warner, A S Byatt, Michèle Roberts, Paul Muldoon, Andrew Motion, Ali Smith and Glenn Patterson, Patricia Duncker, Blake Morrison and Professor John Mullan.
In its early years the seminar addressed generic themes of contemporary literature such as translation and the literature of today. Following this, the seminar concentrated on introducing new ideas to the teaching of Creative Writing in Germany.
Over the last few years the strategic themes of the British Council in Europe have been instrumental in defining the seminar’s way forward, e.g. ‘Whose English?’, ‘Rooted Realities and Maps of Migration’, ‘Changing Literary Climates’ and ‘Literature and Health’.
In January 2012 the seminar was devoted to the novelist, journalist and social critic Charles Dickens. The event, ‘What would Dickens write today?’ for the first time included public readings and discussions for a wider audience, alongside the seminar for an invited specialist audience.
2012 also marked a change in location, moving from its previous residential settings in Walberberg and the Akademie Schmöckwitz, to a central location at the heart of Berlin. These changes have helped to broaden the appeal of the seminar and make it accessible for a wider literary audience.
In January 2014 the British Council devoted its annual literature seminar in Germany to William Shakespeare, arguably the most significant and pertinent English writer, whose legacy continues to inspire and intrigue us. To mark the 450th anniversary of his birth, we brought together UK authors Naomi Alderman, A S Byatt, Howard Jacobson, Tom McCarthy, Alice Oswald, Mark Ravenhill and Polly Stenham to discuss their work and reflect on Shakespeare’s relevance today.
The seminar was chaired by Professor John Mullan, professor of English at University College London and host of the Guardian Book Club, and was held at Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1 in the heart of Berlin.
Watch the Sessions Online
Are you a Shakespeare fan? Do you enjoy reading new literature from the UK? Then catch up on the sessions of the seminar on our YouTube channel or by clicking on the individual links below:
Panel Discussion 'Shakespeare – Our Contemporary?'
Howard Jacobson reading from Zoo Time and in discussion with John Mullan.
Polly Stenham in conversation with John Mullan and reading from work in progress.
A S Byatt reading from Ragnorak and in conversation with Tobias Döring.
Naomi Alderman reading from The Liar’s Gospel and in conversation with Tobias Döring.
Tom McCarthy in discussion with John Mullan.
Mark Ravenhill reading from his work and in conversation with John Mullan.