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5 April 2023

Interview with Jean-Baptiste Passé (Festival du Livre de Paris) and Fabio Gambaro (Festival Italissimo)

Federica Malinverno, Actualitté

Was it difficult to take up the legacy of previous festivals and having to postpone the invitation to Italy due to the pandemic? 

JBP: Compared to previous editions, this is a positive legacy for me that I was happy to pick up. In fact, having Italy as the guest of honour is an extraordinary opportunity for the Festival, it is an invitation of exceptional interest and we have been working with Italian institutions since April 2022. 


FG: The event has been postponed, but there has always been the same desire from the very start, on the part of Italian publishers and authors, to pursue this initiative. From an Italian point of view, the fact that Italy is the guest of honour at the Festival du Livre de Paris is very significant in terms of visibility and exchange.


How was the coordination between the Festival du Livre de Paris and the Festival Italissimo, an event that has been in place for some time and was created to promote Italian literary production in France? 

JBP: Italissimo, which was created eight years ago, aims at developing and promoting relations between publishers on both sides of the Alps. Fabio Gambaro agreed to organise Italissimo  during the same dates as Festival, which due to certain constraints we can’t really change. This made it possible to give coherence to the entire calendar and to make it easier to follow. This is one of my obsessions: the calendar must be clear and accessible.


FG: Over the past eight years, with Italissimo we have not only gathered experience, but also consolidated relations with symbolic locations in Paris. This year, these key locations were devoted to the Italian calendar throughout the week. For example, on Monday 17 April, the Odéon Theatre will host the show Le voci di Dante with Toni Servillo, produced by Il Piccolo Teatro di Milano and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the Festival du Livre we have created a true relationship of collaboration and cooperation. 


Who manages the Italian calendar and events in the Festival du Livre de Paris? What are the main objectives of the Festival?  

FG: The Festival handled the preparation of the pavilion and the whole setting, in structural terms, but the programming, i.e. the choice of authors and themes, was managed directly by the AIE (Italian Publishers Association). We were able to invite 49 authors, but of course every inclusion leads to an exclusion, that’s the rule of the game. And every exclusion is painful for us, the publisher and the author. 

In general, the aim of the Italian events is to present the full range of  the Italian publishing scene, one that is somewhat different to the French, meaning that it’s much less concentrated, at least geographically. 

Then there’s the question of age groups, i.e. young people, writers who have not yet established themselves in France, and whom we want to promote, alongside well-known authors. It is always a difficult balancing effort. 


JBP: And we mustn’t forget another criterion that guides the selection of the personalities to be invited to the Festival: new publishing offers, that is to say, works by Italian authors soon to be available in their translated version in France.


Will there be a space dedicated to the sale of foreign rights during the Festival

JBP: The question of rights’ sales is complicated. On the day dedicated to sector operators,  Friday 21 April, there will be B2B meetings involving French and Italian publishers, but in the next editions, we want to organise a real session dedicated to exchanges and sales of rights. This is one of our goals for 2024. 


FG: Indeed, there is nothing better than a face-to-face meeting to present the qualities and characteristics of a book. In my opinion, meetings between publishing operators are an important element in giving a human face to the relationship with books.


Which publishing sectors are represented in the Festival

FG: Most of the writers we invited to the Festival come from the world of literature: this also reflects the demand of the public and is the rule of the game in this event. Other sectors are less represented simply due to lack of space, or due to the constraints of Euclidean geometry, as it were. A – spatial and temporal – boundary that is common to all events.


JBP: In fact, the Italian calendar includes 25 meetings with authors over 32 hours. After all, authors from other publishing sectors are often a little less known to the public. Additionally, in my opinion, the spoken nature of the event places limits on illustrated book segments: I realise that it’s not easy to get illustrators to talk, other than on the occasion of book signing events. In short, the Festival can’t cover everything: it’s certainly a highly symbolic event, but it cannot sum up the totality of French or Italian publishing.


Is there a space dedicated to independent publishers? 

JBP: There has been quite a bit of controversy on the issue of independent publishers. I recently participated in the Assises de l’édition indépendante française, in Aix-en-Provence. The issue remains relevant and I am continuing to work with representatives and regional book agencies to increase the literary range and representation of all French publishing at the Festival. The Ile-de-France region will be present at the Festival in a fairly substantial and consistent manner and, just to name one, the Association of Publishers of New Aquitaine will come without the support of its region. 


What are the values of the Festival du Livre de Paris? Will freedom of expression and independence, current literary and political issues be addressed during the Festival

JBP: Humility is undoubtedly one of its core values. In fact, if I had to defend a value, it would be that of discernment, hard work, and reading; in other words, accepting to explore things for which we don’t have very high expectations. 

In practical terms, freedom of expression will be a topic addressed throughout the Festival, not a topic on which we will specifically focus on. However, in general, the topic of freedom of expression is central, almost intrinsic to the Festival. From the moment we engage in promoting reading, we are, through this process, affirming freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. But more than freedom of conscience, we should pose ourselves the question: freedom to do what? How do we nurture this freedom? This is the question I ask myself.