Many thanks to Thomas Spear for bringing this fascinating article to our attention. In “Comment Etonnants Voyageurs est devenu le plus gros festival littéraire français du monde,” Grégoire Leménager writes about the exponential growth of the Étonnants Voyageurs literary festival [see previous post Étonnants Voyageurs 2015]. He says that in its 25 years of existence, the festival—organized by Michel Le Bris—has received 3,000 writers and has traveled around the world, from Bamako to Port-au-Prince. He writes about the project’s trajectory. Leménager reminds us that the Étonnants Voyageurs Festival will take place in Saint-Malo, May 23-25, 2015. He also recommends the book Étonnants Voyageurs. 25 années d’une aventure littéraire (Michel Le Bris, Éditions Hoëbeke, 2015).
Sometimes it is stronger than him. As he proudly recalls the success of his festival, Michel Le Bris lets out a big sigh, with a hint of bitterness, through his peasant beard. His creature pumped him up with so much energy, so many times, that he could have dedicated to his books. “This adventure has devoured my life,” he says.
Nevertheless, the author of “Grand Dehors” [The Great Outdoors] has something to console him. With Étonnants Voyageurs, which borrows its name from Baudelaire, he built a project that weighs more than many of his novels. In a quarter century, the Saint-Malo event has received 3,000 authors, spread around the world, who joined the very select Word Alliance, which brings together eight of the most important festivals in the world (including Edinburgh, Jaipur, Toronto …) and has quietly imposed itself, through the sheer mass of its attendance record, as the second most important literary gathering in France, after the Salon du Livre de Paris [Paris Book Fair].
Once again this year, the program for May 23 to 25, aligns impressive facts and figures: it has announced 300 meetings in 26 locations, the conferring of seven literary awards, 100 film screenings, and discussions with 200 authors from Kamel Daoud to Russell Banks, Isabelle Autissier and Michel Serres, and including Jonathan Coe, Teresa Cremisi, Patrick Deville, Alaa El Aswany, Arnaldur Indridason, Yanick Lahens, Mona Ozouf, Atiq Rahimi, Patrick Rambaud, Alain Rey, Jean-Christophe Rufin, Boualem Sansal, Bertrand Tavernier, Lyonel Trouillot. There you have it. Around 60,000 visitors are expected at this giant literary banquet. [Note: auberge espagnole is more of a potluck, but I prefer to translate it as “banquet.”]
None of this was planned from the beginning. Le Bris, who, in another life, spent eight months in prison for having directed “La Cause du people,” met the UDF mayor of Saint-Malo in 1989 at an exhibition on Stevenson. The following spring, the “first international festival of adventure and travel books” welcomed dozens of guests to Surcouf. [. . .]
 was also the moment to seriously challenge the “Francophone ghetto” to which African and Caribbean writers were relegated. “They wondered why they were classified under this label in our libraries, says Le Bris.” It has changed since. Étonnants Voyageurs made a small contribution to this change.
[. . .] Haiti, its rubble and its poets
In 2010, those two [Franco-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou and Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferrière] were among the stars of an Étonnants Voyageurs edition in Haiti. The terrible earthquake of January 12 dashed everything to pieces the day before the inauguration: Georges Anglade, one of the guests, was killed with along with his wife; Le Bris’ team camped on a tennis court in the midst of the chaos; Laferrière wrote down everything in his little black book. Mabanckou was stuck in Los Angeles. [. . .] The festival was staged two years later among the rubble, the tents, and the admirable Haitian poets. All those who were there still talk about 0the event] with stars in their eyes. [. . .]
[Photo above by Frédéric REGLAIN, Etonnants Voyageurs in Bamako, 2002.]
For full program, see www.Étonnants -voyageurs.com