Dutch Writer in Residence: Niña Weijers
On Monday 16 November, we welcomed Dutch novelist and essayist Niña Weijers as the Autumn 2020 guest author in the final year Dutch literature session. In corona times this meant that each individual student sat down in front of our central laptop to ask their questions. The closeness – all be it via the screen – was striking: few students get the opportunity to exchange thoughts with a well-known author in what proved to be a highly intimate setting. Niña Weijers responded in an email: "The students posed excellent questions and their Dutch was extraordinary.”
De studenten hadden echt goede vragen, en hun Nederlands was uitstekend.
Taalunie Writer in Residence
The second encounter took place on Wednesday 25 November when the Centre of Dutch and Flemish Studies hosted an online conversation with the author for students and the general public. Prompted by Filip De Ceuster’s probing questions, Weijers proved to not only be an exciting author but also an engaging speaker on wide-ranging topics such as autobiographical writing, the way fiction can investigate contemporary issues, or the position of women in the literary field. Weijers says her writing is not politically motived but that she considers her fiction to be ‘porous’: the real world always creeps into the text and "literature can reveal new views and angles".
"Het is altijd een spel"
Another topic that came up both in the student session and in the public conversation was Weijers' writing as play. Weijers: “Literature is such a good place for ambiguity”. You can be politically incorrect, you can seduce or delude the reader, but "it is always a game". She shared she is disappointed when critics (and readers) do not play ball, if they fail to recognise the performance and either take things at face value or veer towards an autobiographical reading.
De Ceuster asked Weijers if she felt that Dutchness or even her Dutchness was a factor in her writing or in the way she was read outside the Dutch language area. Weijers needed to think about this. “I see myself operate in an international world”, and she pointed to her literary upbringing on international authors – she spent part of her degree studying in Dublin. But she added: “I don’t think about it, I don’t think I have ever thought about it and it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Thinking about Dutchness sounds wrong to me, as if I sympathise with right wing groups. But I guess I have never had to think about it because I have never been challenged.”
Weijers debut novel, De consequenties was translated into English by Hester Velmans and published as The Consequences by Doppelhouse Press. Her latest novel, Kamers, antikamers (2019) is available in Dutch from Atlas. The guest author programme is supported by the Dutch Language Union, Nederlandse Taalunie.
About The Consequences: "Niña Weijers’ remarkable, inventive novel depicts a contemporary conceptual artist at the height of her fame, whose blasé art project has unintended consequences. Weijers invokes Kurt Vonnegut in the course of the narrative, and this novel shares Vonnegut’s sense of how things can be simultaneously real and absurd. Movies and books notoriously fail to capture the social and spiritual atmosphere of the contemporary art world, but Weijers nails it. Her book is beautifully written, surprising and often profound."
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