Hannes Richter

Austrian P.E.N. Conference in Taos Ski Valley

Hannes Richter

by Peter Pabisch

(left) PEN President Wolfgang Greisenegger, Fritz Zauner, Peter Pabisch, Ulrike Hofmann, Heinz Schwarzinger, Simona Moti und Christian Fuchs

During the summer, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico provides an ideal setting for cultural events. With its Alpine appearance it resembles a European conference center. As the most northerly possession of the Habsburgs in Latin America it was called Nuevo Mexico. Its capital Santa Fe was founded in the year 1610 and was connected with Mexico City by the Camino Real. Its beautiful mountain sceneries and the Indian and Hispanic cultures which have been retained over the centuries provide a perfect background for such distinguished attractions as the Santa Fe Opera. With its partly Austrian repertoire, from Mozart to Johann Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss, it reminds many Austrians of home.
With these attractions in mind, the Austrian P.E.N. accepted an invitation from the International Studies Institute of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to conduct a three-week literature symposium. The symposium covered a wide range of topics and included talks, readings, dramatic presentations, the presentation of translations and discussions, including interdisciplinary topics. Participants were invited to hike in the surrounding area and to the highest peaks of New Mexico of over four thousand meters (some 13 thousand feet). Excursions were offered to Taos with its art treasures and Santa Fe with its music and art scene. Other trips were available to Los Alamos and the Bradbury Atomic Museum, to the Rio Grande Graben and the National Hispanic Center in Albuquerque. 

The literary symposium’s program focused on four major genres: poetry, prose writing, dramatic samples and literary questions. A book summarizing the main contributions and presentations of the conference will be published in the near future. Austrian P.E.N. and its American counterpart at the University of New Mexico covered a wide range of viewpoints including the contributions of translators of German into English and French. In poetry, the symposium provided a forum for lively discussion, since the participants of the P.E.N. Conference represented various groups (among them the “Grazer Autorenversammlung”). It demonstrated that writers of all literary predilections are represented in the P.E.N. Club. Another highlight of the symposium was the presentation of two American film premiers: Susanne Ayoub’s “Bagdhad Fragment” and Günter Krenn’s restored version of a 1921 silent film about “Mozart.” It had been shown a few weeks before in Vienna in connection with the 2006 “Mozart Year.”  Christian Fuchs’ references to his libretto texts for contemporary opera music provided a good balance to the film discussions.  Prose was presented by Hellmut Butterweck (The Nuremberg Trials), and by Wolfgang Skwara (The Atlantic Island of Tristan da Cunha). References were made to Peter Handke who was discussed in a recent weekend edition of the New York Times. This shows that Austrian contemporary literature is very much a part of the United States literary scene.  The conference featured presentations by two distinguished authors currently writing in the U.S., Walter H. Sokel and Egon Schwarz, as well as their Berlin colleague Wolf Elston. Both Sokel and Schwarz left Austria following the Anschluss and emigrated to the United States at an early age.

In the field of history and theory of literature there were presentations on Adalbert Stifter by the British expert Alexander Stillmark, on Austrian writing in the Bukowina and on the translating of Georg Trakl, Arthur Schnitzler and a plethora of modern authors. A representative of the Austrian National Library discussed archival work on Austrian literature and artists presented topics related to text and illustration. The presentations also included an economic topic of transatlantic dimensions by Prof. Thomas Nowotny.  He accompanied his wife, the Austrian Ambassador to the United States, Eva Nowotny, who honored the symposium with her presence and active participation.

International P.E.N. is a worldwide association of writers, founded in 1921 in London to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers. Its aim is also to fight for freedom of expression and to represent the conscience of world literature. With 145 Centers, P.E.N. is represented in 104 Countries. The Austrian P.E.N. Club was founded in 1924 and currently has approximately 400 members.

Peter Pabisch, Professor Emeritus of German and European Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and co-founder (1975-76) and co-director of the German Summer School of New Mexico located in the village of Taos Ski Valley, is writer of lyric and poetry and has also published numerous academic titles on German authors. Among other awards, he is recipient of the Grand Decoration of Honor by the Republic of Austria and is also member of the Austrian P.E.N.