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The Simenon Festival '87

A Note from the Director

William Claire

The Simenon festival, perhaps the most diverse ever staged in Washington with its emphasis on different aspects of a single writer's career, has had an overriding objective. While the tone has been the celebration of the many contributions of Georges Simenon, we also have been celebrating the craft of writing. True, the festival had films and food, both in splendid settings, but the underlying theme throughout has been simply, as the International Monetary Fund symposium is titled, "The Significance of Simenon."

No single gathering of friends, scholars and readers (the special kind that Mark Van Doren once described as a "private reader," that "nameless stranger, wise, humorous, and sensitive,") could ever hope to summarize the genuine contributions of this particular man and his prodigious accomplishments, which almost defies the unremitting logic of time and human understanding.

We can merely try, using available light (the photographer Paul Strand says all light is available light) to capture some of the insights associated with the career of Simenon, born in 1903 in Liège, Belgium.

Believing in the Heraclitian dictum that we shall never know the boundaries of the soul, no matter how deep we go, "so deep a measure does it have," the mysteries of Simenon's amazing life and productivity are beyond any celebratory gathering. It is his work itself that must matter in the end. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we might come to a greater understanding of the many complexities and dreams of the often-tortured heart and soul of 20th century man and woman.

When I began to think about the nature of this festival, well over a year ago, I knew I would run into difficulties of all kinds. A simple axiom of the humanities: the paradoxes will always outweigh the certainties. It was not the first time I have attempted to mount a literary (i.e. quixotic) event in a political town: I was prepared for the bewilderment. No domestic politics were involved, strange even these days for matters relating to art. No matter. The resistance to literature in our society vis-à-vis almost anything else is so deep-seated that it is almost pointless to reiterate the obvious. The only hope is to uncover compatible souls.

What I could not have anticipated was the instant support and rapport of certain people who convinced me that the concept was worth developing; they are Lucille Becker, Grace Budd and my associate, Sigita Naujokaitis. In a genuine sense, this is their celebration, too. A few believers is all it takes, sometimes.

There were many others, and they are highlighted elsewhere with special thanks in this program. Many of these special friends came through at appropriate moments. To all I trust it was (and is) a worthwhile experience that will lead to new readers of Georges Simenon, part of an underground network of those who still believe the written word has some validity, even now.

William Claire
Director of Festival

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