British Council Literature Seminar in Germany has brought new literary voices from the UK to Germany for over 30 years

Find out more about the Seminar's history below. 

The beginnings

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.

The authors

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.

The themes

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’.

Transition

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.

British Council Literature Seminar 2014: 'Shakespeare – Our Contemporary?'

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 AldermanA S ByattHoward JacobsonTom McCarthyAlice OswaldMark 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.

British Council Literature Seminar 2015: 'Form in Tension'

The 30th seminar took place in January 2015, chaired by poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw. Authors Philip Hoare, Frances Leviston, Deborah Levy, Helen Oyeyemi and Will Self examined the theme Form in Tension. The topics discussed ranged from sperm whales, novels in care homes, hotel doors, "serious" fiction and Berliner Currywurst. You can now re-watch the individual sessions and discussions on our YouTube channel. If you are a fan of podcasts, we recommend you to listen to Radio New Zealand's feature that includes interviews with Will Self, Lavinia Greenlaw and Frances Leviston. 

British Council Literature Seminar 2016: 'BritCrime'

Watch the sessions on our YouTube channel.

The British Council Literature Seminar 2016 was organised in partnership with the Centre for British Studies of the Humboldt-Universität Berlin. It has brought together an impressive group of contemporary British writers over three days in January for a mixture of readings, discussions and workshops. The theme of the 2016 seminar was "Brit Crime – A New Golden Age of Crime Writing?" and the participating writers were: Val McDermidPhilip KerrSophie HannahJake Arnott, Bethan Roberts and Kate Summerscale. The seminar was chaired by John Mullan, Professor of English at UCL and chair of the Guardian Book Club. 

Brit Crime – A New Golden Age of Crime Writing?

Every country seems to love its fictional crimes and has its own special conventions of crime writing, both for the page and for the screen. Is there something distinctively British about British crime writing? (And perhaps something distinctively Scottish about Scottish crime writing?)

 A SPECIAL PLACE AT THE HEART OF BRITISH LITERATURE

Crime writing has always been a highly commercial pursuit, yet some of the most literary novelists have always dabbled in crime. Why does this genre seem to have a special place at the heart of British literature? The seminar will examine how contemporary writers draw on the traditions of British crime writing, reaching back as far as the whodunits of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, or even the dark, glittering mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins.

HOW IS BRITISH CRIME WRITING CHANGING?

And we will find out where British crime writing is now. How is it changing? In what ways is it influenced by powerful and popular TV dramatisations? Does this kind of fiction tell us about the society that produces it? As the nature of crime itself changes, is this reflected in fiction?

As this most established of genres evolves to tell new stories and take on new subject matter, do we find ourselves in a new golden age of crime writing?

British Council Literature Seminar 2017: 'Diverse Voices, New Directions'

Diverse Voices, New Directions

by Professor Bernardine Evaristo MBE, Chair of the British Council Literature Seminar 2017. 

British literature continues to be deeply enriched by diverse writers who invigorate its arts and culture; writers whose work forges new imaginative pathways in foregrounding stories and perspectives that otherwise remain untold.

The 32nd British Council Literature Seminar in Germany discussed the power of this writing to transform the nation's identity. We will discuss the importance of literary voices that express multiple articulations of our contemporary society, excavate the hidden histories of the past, and imagine the future and alternate universes. 

Impulses and influences

We will ask ourselves about the impulses and influences behind our creative process. What do we choose to write about and why? In what ways do our cultural backgrounds determine our creative output and how do the expectations of audiences, critics and the publishing industry affect our creative choices? 

And we will also examine our role as writers in a society where our perceived minority status might also be the wellspring of our unique creative riches.

Envision the next stage

Looking to the future, we aim to envision the next stage for this literature. What role is played by both the established presses and the new independents? What is the impact of social media and crowdfunding publishing campaigns? What are the challenges of sustainability and profitability? 

Participating authors were:

Recordings from all sessions of the British Council Literature Seminar 2017 are available on our YouTube channel.

British Council Literature Seminar 2018: 'Writing gender: sexuality, feminism, and masculinity'

British Council Literature Seminar, 25–27 January 2018, Berlin

The British Council invited interested members of the public to the 33rd British Council Literature Seminar. The Seminar was chaired by Professor Bernardine Evaristo MBE.

The seminar took place at the Werkstatt der Kulturen 25–27 January 2018. The focus was on issues surrounding gender and sexuality in contemporary UK writing.

We welcomed the following authors (among more) to lead the seminar: Juno Dawson, Kerry Hudson,Sabrina Mahfouz, Nick Makoha, Paul McVeigh, and Monique Roffey.

British Council Literature Seminar 2019: 'Cities in contemporary UK literature'

British Council Literature Seminar, 24–26 January 2019, Berlin

How do we write about the cities that we live in? How does the urban environment inspire and influence contemporary British literature? #BritLitBerlin has connected writers, academics and lovers of reading alike. New and established UK writers held workshops, discussions and readings.

Multiple award-winning poet and Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, Michael Symmons Roberts, chaired the event. He said: 

'More than half – and rising – of our world’s population lives in cities. They are engines of social and political change, crucibles of conflict and transformation. Our cities are as complex and diverse as we are, even more so if we take in the wider ‘urban’ constellation of towns and edgelands.

This Berlin seminar - as befits a city with so many novels and poems in its honour – will explore how British writers have shaped and reflected all kinds of cities – real and mythic, utopian and dystopian, concrete and virtual.'

British Council Literature Seminar 2020: 'Scottish Literature Now!'

British Council Literature Seminar, Hamburg, 13–15 February 2020

After having hosted the British Council Literature Seminar in Berlin in recent years, we headed north to Hamburg for the first time.

We are delighted to partner the 35th British Council Literature Seminar with the Literaturhaus Hamburg. Chaired by the renowned Scottish writer Louise Welsh, we looked at Scottish Literature Now! 

The seminar consisted of a public reading, presentations by four further literary voices from Scotland, panel discussions and author-led workshops. The participating authors were Mary Paulson-Ellis, Malachy Tallack, Kirsty Logan and Jay G Ying. 

“Scotland’s literature is woven through with political discourse, social realism, absurdity, romance and murder. This is not the tartan you’ll find in the tourist gift shop. This is the real thing. Reflections of a country on the cusp of change.” – Louise Welsh

British Council Literature Seminar 2021: 'We are Wales: disparate voices, landscapes and stories'

British Council Literature Seminar, 4–6 March 2021 (digital)

In 2021 the Welsh Government is celebrating an exciting Wales in Germany season with numerous partners in Germany. After its strong focus on Scottish literature and the Scottish Literature Now! theme in Hamburg last year, the British Council Literature Seminar featured contemporary writing from Wales at the Literaturhaus Stuttgart from 4 – 6 March 2021, in partnership with the Welsh Government, Literature Wales, and the cities of Cardiff and Stuttgart. 

The Welsh Government has launched a new campaign Wales in Germany 2021 to showcase the breadth of activity and exchange happening in Germany and in Wales across commerce, science and innovation, culture and the arts, education, alumni, tourism, civic links and sustainable development.

Wales is a nation open to new ideas, always inspiring, ready and willing to collaborate; a creative nation with talented people, a proud history and a rich bilingual culture to celebrate and share.  

It is a great honour for us that Niall Griffiths and Dr Francesca Rhydderch, two renowned authors from Wales, will chair the British Council Literature Seminar 2021, both of them having been awarded the Wales Book of the Year Award. 

Due to current circumstances, the seminar took place in a fully digital format (Zoom). The seminar consisted of two public readings, presentations by four further literary voices from Wales, two panel discussions and four author-led workshops.

We welcomed Welsh writers Professor Richard Gwyn, Zoë Brigley, Manon Steffan Ros and Professor Charlotte Williams OBE for readings, discussions and workshops. Additionally, new Welsh writers Joao Morais, Richard Owain Roberts, Hanan Issa, Eluned Gramich, Alex Wharton and Ifan Morgan Jones were featured through specially commissioned films and took part in the panel discussions.

The event showcased National Dance Company Wales' new digital film project Plethu/Weave that brings together dancers from NDCWales, partnered with poets and commissioned by Literature Wales, to create short solo performances during lockdown.

The seminar is available on YouTube: day 1 and day 2

Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Congrats to 1987 British Council Literature Seminar participant Kazuo Ishiguro on winning the Nobel Prize! Learn more about his work on our Writers Directory

Bernardine Evaristo wins Booker Prize

Congrats to Bernardine Evaristo to winning the 2019 Booker Prize for her novel "Girl, Woman, Other" jointly with Margaret Atwood ("The Testaments"). Bernadine chaired our 2017 Literature Seminar in Berlin "Diverse Voices, New Directions".