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Beyond Words Literature Festival

From 11 to 24 May 2020, Beyond Words – The French Institut's literature festival – is back and takes place online!

Expect creative workshops, exclusive interviews, readings and Q&As with acclaimed authors. Key guests include Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga, children's author Timothée de Fombelle, and scholars on Roland Barthes or Frantz Fanon. Besides, more on comics to celebrate "BD 2020" will take place with the interventions of Sébastien Vassant, Alexandre Franc, Cédric Talling and Karol Beffa. Finally, screenings of adaptations of key French classics will also happen.

On Culturethèque, we recommend reading:

Scholastique Mukasonga will reveal the story behind the story in an exclusive interview on 12 May at 12pm

With her first novel originally published in March 2012 – Mukasonga immerses us in a school for young girls, called "Notre-Dame du Nil." The girls are sent to this high school perched on the ridge of the Nile in order to become the feminine elite of the country and to escape the dangers of the outside world. The book is a prelude to the Rwandan genocide and unfolds behind the closed doors of the school, in the interminable rainy season. Friendships, desires, hatred, political fights, incitation to racial violence, persecutions... The school soon becomes a fascinating existential microcosm of the true 1970s Rwanda.

In addition to listening to the interview with the author, participate in our monthly reading group and share your thoughts about the books in an online discussion with other literature’s lovers.

Part 1 – Paris, 1934. In front of Notre-Dame, a chase begins in the middle of the crowd. Vango must flee. Flee the police who accuse him, flee the mysterious forces that track him down. Vango doesn't know who he is. The past hides heavy secrets. From the Sicilian Islands to the fogs of Scotland, as the noise of war swells, Vango seeks his truth.⁠ ⁠Part 2 – New York, 1936. Hanging from the top of skyscrapers, Vango pursues the man who caused his misfortune and holds the secret of his birth.⁠

After the success of "Tobie Lolness", Timothée de Fombelle wrote another breathtaking adventure in two volumes. Often celebrated for his wonderful sense of suspens and imagination, he will be discussing his works with English translator Sarah Ardizzone.

This classic of French cinema has been remastered and released for the first time in the UK on Blu-ray, and simultaneously on iTunes and Amazon.

Cyrano, secretly loves Roxane. By means of intelligence and courage, he has acquired all the qualities that a man should possess. But, because he, unfortunately, has a huge nose, he never dares to confess his love to her.

With simple words that make the work accessible to young readers, the collection "Les grands textes à hauteur d'enfant" allows a first encounter with the great classical authors. The simplified history remains faithful to the spirit of the original text.

Ahead of the screening of the 1990 classic movie by Jean-Paul Rappeneau with actor Gérard Depardieu, read this simplified and beautifully illustrated version. A talk with the director is also available here.

Roland Barthes, widely regarded as one of the most subtle and perceptive critics of the 20th Century, was particularly fascinated by fashion. "Système de la mode" presents a set of remarkable essays, revealing the breadth and insight of Barthes' long engagement with the history of clothes. The essays range from closely argued essays laying down the foundations for a semiological analysis of clothing to a critical analysis of the significance of gemstones, from an exploration of how the contrasting styles of Courrges and Chanel replayed the clash between ancient and modern, to a discussion of the meaning of hippy style in Morocco. Constantly questioning, always changing, Barthes' ideas about clothes and fashion remain to provoke another generation of readers seeking to understand not only the culture of fashion but the fashion of culture.

Exclusive content revealed on 24 May at 12pm

Through these prose poems, Paul Claudel "gets to know" the East, and describes Chinese culture: gardens, theatre, ideograms, trees, animals, landscapes ... Each being or show contemplated is deciphered as a sign by the dazzled traveler who relieves his existence to that of the world. Through movement, walking or a river boat, the action is entirely contemplation.


Professor Jean Khalfa will shed some light on a lesser-known Frantz Fanon. Perhaps, a deep writer who has been inspired by Paul Claudel or Aimé Césaire, rather than a plain activist, as some might have wanted to showcase him as. Yet his powerful thinking about identity, race and activism remains remarkably prescient.

Leave your place, leave the 21st century. Here you are in the 1950s in the south of the United States, in Montgomery, Alabama. Now you are Claudette Colvin, a young black teenager. Here, blacks and whites live in segregation. Here, to be black is to have no rights. But, on March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin, who is only 15 years old, refuses to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus. 9 months before Rosa Parks, she becomes the first black woman to plead not guilty and to sue the city. And yet her name will be forgotten.

Biographies and true stories are an editorial niche within comic books French people really appreciate and one we would like you to discover. This is why our first "French comics apéro" focused on "La bande dessinée documentaire", and that our second event will be a "Drink and Draw with Sébastien Vassant" – known for his subtle and intimate stories of historical events. "Noire" by Emilie Plateau sensitively depicts the subject of black segregation and might serve to the current discussions in the media around "cultural appropriation" or "Black Lives Matter". Moreover, this year, the Institut Français is collaborating with artists of all 54 countries in Africa and dedicates a special Saison to the continent. As part of Beyond Words, and in order to echo the Saison, more works by Alain Mabanckou, Nii Ayikwei Parkes and Fiston Mwanza Mujila can be explored as they have been recently translated in English. Last but not least – a documentary by Timothy Greenfield-Sander offers an intimate mediation of the life and works of the writer and Nobel prize-winner Toni Morrison. Watch it on and part of the proceeds will go to an indie cinema of your choice. Choose Ciné Lumière from the drop down menu while purchasing, and support our cinema during this difficult time.

If you haven't got a Culturethèque account yet, register here and visit the Beyond Words website for more information.

More selections include a "Literary ballad through Europe", "Shoot the book" and a special page around BD 2020.

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