It is with a profound sense of humility that I have agreed to succeed Alberto Manguel as the artistic director of the Atlantide, les Mots du Monde festival in Nantes, a position he held since 2013. Alberto Manguel has been appointed the new head of the National Library in his native Argentina. Regarded as one of our most important writers of our time, he gave fresh vigour to the annual gatherings, and it is up to us now to harness this momentum with the goal of breaking down barriers so that the music of the imagination will always be heard in all its diversity.

Back in the late 1980s, when I arrived in Europe to begin my legal studies, Nantes was the first French city I was to call home. It is thus with great joy that I am returning to Nantes, and for me personally this Festival is an opportunity to counter the ideologies of those who claim that civility and dialogue are not possible. Likewise, we should also be reminded that we share in the responsibility of building today’s world together, and that the encounter with the other and knowledge should be the main materials. Some contend there is a « clash of civilizations » ; to them we say that we have become prisoners to the popularization of outlandish prejudice aimed at undermining our humanity and ability to foster tolerance and facilitate total freedom of expression.

Migration, extremism, violence, dictatorship, postcolonial turbulence, racism – together, these thorny issues weaken ou societies, and the responses required must necessarily privilege ongoing dialogue. The Atlantide, les Mots du Monde festival can be a safe haven, a space to broach difficult, sensitive subjects, beyond the limited framework of the French nation itself that for too long kept us sheltered from the sounds of the world. It is in this spirit that I have invited to this year’s festival, alongside their French counterparts, international authors from Germany, Cameroon, Colombia, the Comoros Islands, Congo, Ivory Coast, Denmark, the United States, Finland, Ghana, Haiti, Iran, Israel, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Quebec, Senegal, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Much-needed dialogue between nationalities and cultures? Most certainly yes, because language should no longer be an obstacle, but rather a means to bring us closer, since after all, « Rome is no longer in Rome ». Writers are first and foremost migrating birds, and even if they never really forget about their distant lands, they won’t hesitate to sing from whichever branch they find themselves perched on, and with little concern for where the tree itself is actually rooted. The world is our home…

Have a great festival!

Alain Mabanckou
Artistic Director

Translated from the French by Dominic Thomas.