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Opening up from inside

Prisoners from the local Bjørgvin and Bergen jails will be on stage during this year’s LitFestBergen.

“Writing has become a new interest for many of the inmates in these two prisons, and opens up a novel world for them,” explains author Annette Mattsson.

She has led the writers’ workshop at Bjørgvin for a decade. Over the past year, her students have been producing work in cooperation with LitFestBergen on its 2020 theme of “the ordinary”. Festival visitors will get a unique insight into life for long-term convicts when Mattsson and fellow teacher Eivind Riise Hauge take to the stage with two project participants – Bjørn Dahl and “Lars”.

Asked what “the ordinary” means in prison, where each day is like another but where nothing is “normal”, Mattsson reports that many prisoners want to write autobiographically on the subject.

“Contact both with their nearest and dearest and with the outside world is obviously much reduced during their time inside,” she notes. “Writing can be a way of coming to terms with this. Some also want to write critically – communicate what they regard as injustice. The experience of losing their freedom is also a common theme in the texts.” 

Platform for other voices

According to festival director Teresa Grøtan, the motive for collaborating with the prisons is a combination of pure curiosity and a desire to promote those not normally heard.

“Presenting literature written by people imprisoned for conventional crimes is unique, and fully in line with our desire to give a public platform to new voices,” she says.

Mattsson also emphasises the significance which the festival project has had for workshop participants over the past year.

“Having a goal to work towards is important,” she explains. “The literary festival has provided an opportunity to reach out to the world beyond prison, and that has been motivational.”

She has shown her student prisoners part of the LitFestBergen programme, giving many of them an insight into a world they knew relatively little about.

“Many of the inmates come from backgrounds which are pretty remote from this environment, and haven’t had any contact with literature in such a way. But a lot of prisoners change during their time inside, and acquire new interests and values. Writing gives them a chance to learn how to put their thoughts and feelings into words, and to stick to doing it.”

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