Passa Porta Seminar 2018: The reader

Jack Mc Martin

From Monday 19 until Thursday 22 March 2018 Passa Porta has invited four writers to Brussels. Two Belgian and two foreign authors were given the chance to get to know one another, to exchange ideas over the course of four days and to share with the audience the outcome of their discussions.

At the centre of the event: The reader, a theme that we will deal with in different ways up to and during the 2019 Passa Porta Festival. Do authors have an ‘ideal reader’? If so, what does that reader look like? How do they themselves think about the relation between writer and reader? What audience do authors hope to reach, and what type of readers are they themselves?

The four authors at the Seminar were In Koli Jean Bofane, Florence Noiville, Christophe Van Gerrewey and Kees ’t Hart. They each wrote a short preparatory essay outlining their vision of the reader. The conversations in the house of literature were conducted by Matthijs de Ridder and summarized in a report by Jack Mc Martin.



  • Jack Mc Martin, Writers on readers. A lively summary of the discussions behind closed doors at Passa Porta


  • Click here to watch the full video of the closing evening on 22 March.


The French-speaking Belgian writer In Koli Jean Bofane (b. 1954) was born in the Congo and lives in Belgium. He is the author of a children’s book about dictatorship Pourquoi le lion n’est plus le roi des animaux (1996) and the novel Mathématiques congolaises, winner of several literary awards. In 2015 his novel Congo Inc. Le testament de Bismarck (2014; translated as Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament) won the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie. He visited Passa Porta on the occasion of this prize and for a debate around the perception of Belgian-French literature abroad.

Florence Noiville (b. 1961) is a French journalist and writer who in her books tries to combine neuroscience and literature. After a brief career in the financial sector she turned to literature in 1994. She became a journalist and literary critic for Le Monde. Her first novel, La donation, was published by Stock (2007) and translated as The Gift (2012). In 2013 she collected personal portraits of her favourite British authors in So British! 23 visages d’écrivains d’Outre-Manche (Gallimard). Literary Miniatures (Seagull Books, 2013) is another collection of author portraits, featuring a broader range of authors. Two years after her residency at Passa Porta in 2013, she published the novel L’illusion délirante d’être aimé (Stock), translated as A Cage in Search of a Bird (2016).

Kees ’t Hart (b. 1944) is a novelist, poet, ‘addicted reader-patient’ and critic for De Groene Amsterdammer. Since his debut in 1988 with the story collection Vitrines (Querido), he has published novels, essays and poetry collections such as De Revue (1999, Multatuli Prize and nominated for the Libris Literature Prize), Kinderen die leren lezen (poems, 1998, ‘Children who learn to read’), Teatro Olimpico (2014), De ziekte van de bewondering (2002, ‘The Admiration Disorder’), De kunst van het schrijven (2007, ‘The Art of Writing’) and Het gelukkige schrijven (2015, ‘Happy Writing’). His latest novel Wederzijds (‘Mutually’) made the longlist of the 2018 Libris Literature Prize. See also

Christophe Van Gerrewey (b. 1982) addresses a wealth of themes in his essays and novels. His surprising debut Op de hoogte (2012) was awarded the Debut Prize in 2013 and was followed in that same year by his second novel, Trein met vertraging (‘Train with Delay’). The daily rat race is the main theme of Werk Werk Werk (Polis, 2017, ‘Work Work Work’), in which he also evokes his own job as a lecturer in architecture theory in Switzerland. In his collection Over alles en voor iedereen. 50 essays (De Bezige Bij Antwerpen, ‘About everything and for everybody’) he writes ‘as subjectively as possible’ about literature, art and culture in a broad sense.


Matthijs de Ridder (b. 1979) calls himself a ‘dealer in texts’, a combination of writer, editor, lecturer in Dutch literature, and speaker. In his books, de Ridder likes to observe how the history of art and of the world intersect. In Rebelse Ritmes (De Bezige Bij, 2012, ‘Rebellious Rhythms”), for instance, he tells the history of the twentieth century through the prism of jazz. In De eeuw van Charlie Chaplin (De Bezige Bij, 2017, "Chaplin's Century"), the twentieth century is recounted through the career of Charlie Chaplin. See also


Jack Mc Martin (b. 1985) is a Dutch-to-English translator and a doctoral candidate at KU Leuven. His research focuses on how books by Flemish authors travel internationally through translation.


  • Here is a list with inspiring books on the reader, in English, French and Dutch.
Jack Mc Martin