On February 25-28, the Writers' House of Georgia presents the Georgian Online Literary Festival for English-Speaking Countries - Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Europe Meets Asia. The partners of the festival are The British Library and the American Literary Platform - Words Without Borders.The Artistic Director of the festival is an award-winning critic and cultural journalist in London Maya Jaggi.
Following the Russian revolution of 1917, the Republic of Georgia experienced brief independence imperial rule, fuelling a starburst of new writing and art. Its capital in the southern Caucasus mountains became a haven for exiles fleeing the collapsing Tsarist empire – including Doctor Zhivago author Boris Pasternak. Avant-garde Modernists thrived in Tbilisi’s café culture. But Europe’s first national experiment in democratic socialism was crushed after only 1,028 days when the Red Army invaded Georgia. The republic was annexed by the Soviet Union on 25 February 1921.
On the centenary of the February invasion, and the 30th anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1991, the festival’s Artistic Director, Maya Jaggi, and Writers’ House of Georgia present four days of online events in Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Europe Meets Asia, a virtual writers’ festival with an element of music and food, in partnership with the British Library in London and Words Without Borders in New York.
Georgia in the southern Caucasus, the mythological home of Medea and the Golden Fleece, is a crossroads Europe meets Asia, with a Black Sea coast, ancient vine yards and a rich literature with its own language and alphabet. Its terrain and culture made it one of the world’s top emerging travel destinations just before the pandemic.
A century ago, Tbilisi – known as Tiflis before 1936 – was a ‘Paris of the East.’ In the 1910s and 20s, its vibrant artists’ cafés – such as the Fantastic Tavern, Argonauts’ Boat, Kimerioni and Peacock’s Tail – became cosmopolitan crucibles of theavant-garde, nourished by Georgia's ancient culture of feasting and toasting with wine made in egg-shaped quevri. Symbolist poets and Dadaists mingled with Cubists and Futurists, inspired by the tavern paintings of self-taught artist Niko Pirosmani, Georgia’s Douanier Rousseau. Art of the period survives on former café walls – such as the festival’s lead image of Stepko’s Tavern by Lado Gudiashvili for the Kimerioni café, now in the basement of Rustaveli National Theatre.
After the Soviet invasion of 1921, astonishing innovation continued in Georgian theatre and cinema. But Stalin’s great purges of the 1930s were a brutal coda. Many writers and artists were exiled or executed. Others committed suicide.
As an open house of literature, Writers’ House in Tbilisi honours the memory of purged writers. In this virtual festival, some of Georgia’s most celebrated contemporary novelists, playwrights and screenwriters reflect on the legacy of the first republic, on Soviet history to which they have been eyewitnesses, and on the cultural resurgence and challenges of the past 30 years.
In the run-up to the festival, beginning on February 17, Words Without Borders, the online magazine for international literature in New York, will publish three translated extracts recent novels that have made waves or won awards in Georgia. The authors, Archil Kikodze, Tamta Melashvili and Lasha Bugadze, will speak about their work at the festival.
Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Europe Meets Asia, livestreamed for a global English-language audience, is a virtual sequel in the pandemic era to Europe Meets Asia: Georgia25, the UK’s first festival of Georgian writers. Curated by Maya Jaggi, this was held in London five years ago.
Please note all timings are GMT.
Thursday 25 February
In association with The British Library
A double bill of talks marking the centenary of the Soviet annexation of Georgia on 25 February 1921 and the end of the first republic.
18.00 – 19.10
the Blue Horn Poets to the Red Century:
Nino Haratischvili in conversation with Maya Jaggi
The event begins with a special welcome song in Georgian Katie Melua to launch the festival.
19.10 – 20.40
Liberty’s Feast and Hangover:
Aka Morchiladze and Dato Turashvili
Friday 26 February
18.30 – 20.00
Levity and the Limits of Satire in the New Georgia:
Beka Adamashvili and Lasha Bugadze in conversation with Claire Armitstead
Saturday 27 February
In association with The British Library
14.00 – 14.45
In the Tbilisi Cafe Kitchen:
Luka Nachkebia of MasterChef Georgia
15.15 – 16.35
Medea’s Daughters: Georgia’s pioneering women in the arts
Filmmaker and writer Nana Ekvtimishvili and novelist Tamta Melashvili
17.00 – 18.15
Mysteries of the Russian Empire:
Boris Akunin in conversation with Boyd Tonkin
Sunday 28 February
The Knight in the Panther Skin to Bestseller: translating Georgia.
Lyn Coffin and Tamar Japaridze in conversation with Maureen
A Walk through Tbilisi:
Archil Kikodze in conversation with Wendell Steavenson
Strongmen and Masculinities in Today’s Georgia:
Davit Gabunia in conversation with Mark Gevisser
Polyphony, Prose and all that Jazz:
Zurab Karumidze in conversation with Boyd Tonkin