In the autumn of 2007, Norway’s first House of Literature opened its doors in Oslo’s former teacher training college in Wergelandsveien 29, located in central Oslo directly behind the royal palace. It is now doing service for the greater good of literature and public debate. Since the opening more than 1 million have visited the house and we organise more than 1500 public events annually.
The purpose of the House of Literature is to communicate and promote interest in literature and reading, as well as freedom of speech issues. The objective is also to inspire a growing interest in Norwegian and international fiction and non-fiction, and to serve as a meeting place for all those interested in books and literature. The House of Literature is furthermore an important arena for public meetings and seminars organised by a range of different organisations and institutions, discussing a broad variety of topics ranging from international politics and climate change to cultural matters.
The initiative to found a House of Literature was taken by the Freedom of Expression Foundation. The house was remodelled under the supervision of Askim / Lantto architects before handing over operations to the independent foundation the House of Literature. The foundation is led by a board of trustees consisting of seven members, and has a general manager and six employees.
The ground floor of the house contains a well-stocked bookshop and a café, restaurant and bar. Six different venues are used for presentations, conversation and debate. We apply the broadest possible interpretation of the concept of literature, by providing space for both the breadth of non-fiction literature as well as exclusive fiction and popular literature. The House of Literature has also become an important arena for public debate in the capital of Norway. The Norwegian Broadcasting Company NRK airs their weekly debate on Channel 1 from The House of Literature,
One floor focuses on children and youth, with the children’s room Sjeherasad open to kindergartens three days a week. We also invite schools to visit us during daytime, while we offer a variety of events in the afternoons and evenings. The House of Literature devotes special attention to reaching out to youths and young adults with immigrant background, especially through workshops during school holidays. Since January 2009, the lawyer and politician Abid Raja, a well known spokesperson on minority issues, has organised so called dialogue meetings for young people of mixed background. Providing these groups with an arena, and thereby helping their voices to be heard, is an important task for the House of Literature.
The entire loft is dedicated to writers and authors. A total of 50 work spaces are available, along with offices for authors and a permanent meeting room for a network of journals and quarterlies. In collaboration with writers’ organisations, we offer a workplace and meeting place in the centre of Oslo for writers, authors, translators and critics who are in need of such facilities. The workspaces are available free of charge for users, while the allocation of personal offices are made in the form of a stipend for a limited period.
The House of Literature can also offer an author’s apartment where foreign authors and intellectuals can live and work in Oslo for a period between one week and three months. The apartment is offered rent free, and by invitation only.
One of the objects of the House of Literature is to foster debate and to serve as an arena for important voices from both the Norwegian and international public domain. In addition to presenting our own authors, we attach importance to presenting authors from the Nordic countries and from the rest of the world. The unique and generous support we receive from the Freedom of Expression Foundation puts us in a privileged position, which enables us to arrange both major events and events intended for smaller groups with a narrower range of interests. At a time when the role of literature is under pressure from market demands, the House of Literature’s aim is to function as a democratic and pluralistic sanctuary.
With the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The House of Literature have organized several conferences and literature weeks - ‘Poet and Activist’ – a cross cultural conference on challenges in the Middle East in June 2008, The Saladin Days in March 2008, and an African Week in November 2009.
In spring of 2010, the House of Literature produced its first major scale theatre performance, Desert Storms, with the help of Norway’s most renowned stage director Stein Winge and a cast of six outstanding actors. The play Desert Storms, portraying Saladin’s conflict with Richard the Lion Heart during the crusades, was written on commission by the British-Pakistani writer and historian and Tariq Ali and the Norwegian author Thorvald Steen. From before, we have had experience with a play based on the diaries of the Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge.
The House of Literature is an arena where different institutions, groups, associations and milieus organize their own events. The house has become an important venue for open meetings at affordable prices. In addition, we rent out to commercial companies and closed events.
By the help of around hundred different organizers, the House of Literature can present a far more varied programme than we as one institution with a staff of seven people would be able to produce ourselves. All activities open to the general audience are presented in quarterly catalogues, weekly newspapers and daily at www.litteraturhuset.no.
The founding of the first Norwegian House of Literature was inspired by a German movement. Since the 1980s, houses of literature have opened in several large cities in Germany. In so far as it is possible, the House of Literature will cooperate with these houses to develop programmes and exchange experiences. Our own house of literature distinguishes itself from the other European Houses of Literature by its size. With 3500 m2 of space available on five floors, the Norwegian House of Literature is the largest of its kind in Europe and we are therefore able to house a far larger range of activities that similar houses elsewhere.
Previous international guests include Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith, Julia Kristeva, Patti Smith, David Lynch, Nadime Gordimer, Jennifer Egan, Ian McEqan, Amin Maalouf, Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, Camille Paglia, Mario Vargas Llosa, Yasmina Khadra, Tariq Ali, Siri Hustvedt, P.O. Enquist, Elias Khoury, Etgar Keret, Åsne Seierstad, Hoda Barakat, Jonathan Franzen, Hanif Kureishi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alain Mabanckou, John Irving and Ernesto Cardenal.
Total numbers (from October 5th to January 2012)
Audience at events: 515.000
Visitors (audience, café, book store, drop in): 260.000
Audience at events: 106.950
Events organized directly by The House of Literature: 151
Average number of audience at events organized by the House of Literature: 133
Events for children and youth: 184
Audience, events for children: 12.513
Read about the House of Literature