The 2016 Neustadt Festival

This year the Neustadt Festival took place October 26-28 in honor of Dubravka Ugrešić, a writer from the former Yugoslavia and the winner of the 2016 Neustadt Prize.

To prepare for the festival, the WLT Book Club read an excerpt from Ugrešić’s The Museum of Unconditional Surrender. The book has a distinct style. The whole thing is composed of vignettes and snippets. Part One consists of 22 numbered pieces, the longest only a few paragraphs. Part Two is split into more conventional chapters, of which we only read one, but they are broken up into similarly short segments. I love books with unique styles. I like seeing something different, a new method of expression.

TMoUS’s style also fits well with its topics and themes. Ugrešić focuses on memory, the small things our brains remember and the way our minds connect them together. She writes a lot about photographs and how they affect our memories. The writing style really shows the reader what she’s trying to say.

I did not make it to all of the festival’s events due to time limitations, but I did manage to attend three: the opening night reception, the performance of ‘Who Am I?’: A One Act Comedy, and the banquet. Both the opening night reception and the banquet were fun events that honored Ugrešić. People made speeches about her brilliance, and she and others read excerpts from her work. During the banquet, she officially received the Neustadt Prize.

‘Who Am I?’ was a surrealistic take on a story from Ugrešić’s book Lend Me Your Character. While literature is my first love, theater is still an art that I enjoy immensely. I am very happy to have been exposed to both forms of  Ugrešić’s work during the festival. The set was brilliant. It was built out of dozens of egg cartons and had so many opening and closing compartments. Having two actors play the main character, one to portray inner Alice and one to portray outer, was another great move. All of the cast did a wonderful job.

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