Maria A. Ioannou – A festival organiser of Cyprus

This pair meets great: Maria Α. Ioannou and a festival. Starting out as an author Maria felt the need to bring literature to the people in Cyprus – in different ways than to write. That is why in 2013 she started a literary festival for hybrid artistic creations: SARDAM. Hear how she started it, how it developed and how her motherhood is influencing her.

Julia Schiefer: Tell me about your performance coming up during CON_TEXT in May, a model project which presents multi-media events that have been created by a chosen artistic duo.

Maria A. Ioannou: Sure, there plenty of plans. I will be cooperating with the dancer/choreographer Momo Sanno and I am really looking forward to it. Although we haven’t planned anything concrete yet, we are considering concentrating on objects, since objects as the main focus in short fiction is something that greatly interests me. You see, after our first Skype meeting, we realized that objects/objectification in relation to the body and movement, as well as in relation to words, is something which strongly challenges both of us, so we decided to give it a shot. A deconstruction of a prewritten text on stage could be the starting point of our collaboration and through experimentation and improvisation we will see how that changes and develops during our seven-day Residency at Lettretage.

The aim is to create a constant and multi-levelled conversation between the dancer’s body/movement and my text/reading. This will help us create something spontaneous, raw and unfiltered, but at the same time connected and unified. We do not wish to be very narrative or very clear, but attentive and momentaneous, at points interactive, thus creating a feeling of immediacy, for both us and the audience of CON_TEXT. But who knows, we may follow a totally different path when we meet in Berlin.

What‘s your connection to CROWD?

I know Lily and Nora quite a while now.

They are Partners in CROWD, as you may know.

Yeah, as well as organisers. Lily and Nora as well as me, we organise events in Cyprus, I myself through the organisation aRttitude (in collaboration with Evi Panayiotou), and Lily and Nora through the organisation IDEOGRAMMA. We participated in each other’s events and we both promote literature and creativity here in Cyprus.

You are the artistic director of SARDAM alternative literary readings festival which takes place annually since 2013? What are you doing exactly?

As the artistic director, I also feel that CROWD is a very significant platform which brings together writers and artists from all over the world, thus opening up interesting collaborations. When I met all partners of CROWD at the end of the OMNIBUS tour last year in May in Limassol, and after finally getting to meet Tom and Katharina from Lettrétage, I was carried away by the possibilty of such a strong network. Also, I feel that the philosophy of CROWD is very close to the way both SARDAM festival and I see literature and art in general. It is a great mechanism to bring all these both traditional and edgy creators together, encouraging literary experimentation and innovation. Moreover, the project is a mark in politics considering what is happening now in Europe.

Please tell me more about SARDAM and your work as an author. Is being an organizer fruitful for your work as an author or vice versa?

I started SARDAM festival as a writer because I felt that we needed to create something that would bring writers and artists together and make them construct readings/performances that would push the boundaries of literary performance and writing further, not only in Cyprus but internationally as well. It‘s not easy to balance being a writer and at the same time being the coordinator of an international festival. Yet, I try to see both missions as independent projects, also balancing them with the rest of my life as a teacher, researcher, mother, companion.

In fact, in the beginning, I myself also read/performed at the festival. But as time passed and the festival expanded, I realized that it was impossible to participate and effectively coordinate a festival at the same time. I had to stick to my identity as the festival‘s coordinator, and eventually it was a good decision because it helped me and the festival grow. Each SARDAM affects my writing for sure. The vibe of each year’s local and international guests is refreshing and liberating. After each festival, I always feel that something clicked or switched inside me.

What are you doing as an author then?

Well, I mostly write short stories, occasionally presenting readings of my work and collaborations with other artists. I published two short story collections so far: The gigantic fall of an eyelash (Gavrielides Publishing 2011) and Cauldron (Nefeli Publishing 2015), both in Greece.

I am interested in magical realism, surrealism and postmodernism in (short) fiction and I am currently doing my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester in the UK. This makes me concentrate more on the research behind the short story and it also helps me experiment with form and content, especially in relation to my fascination with objects as literary protagonists. Lately, I started experimenting with fairy tales as well and novella writing but my biggest love is still the short (and often very short) story.

Your bio says that you wrote a fairytale that was awarded. So it’s nothing new?

Yes, I did write and publish a fairytale in 2006, a long time ago, it was originally written in English and it was a collaboration with the visual artist Elina Ioannou. I also wrote one more later on, which gained a prize in a competition by Unesco and it was a collaboration with the visual artist Lena Myos. But after that I left fairytales behind and focused solely on adult short fiction. I mostly consider myself a prose writer, although some friends say I’m a hybrid myself, poised between forms and genres.

After giving birth to my daughter, things significantly changed for me and her birth has influenced the way I see my writing. I didn‘t think that I would approach fairy tales again but there are some ideas which have been boiling inside me the last few years and now seek space to be explored further.

Do you write for your daughter or for a younger audience?

No, not at all for a younger audience – that would be a hassle! My short story themes are sometimes harsh and disturbing, although they are often expressed through black humour. When my daughter grows up, she will hopefully be able to understand them and, maybe, appreciate them. My short stories are not meant for children. They are not fairytales, although some of them could be considered dark tales.

How is it different to write in two different languages?

I initially started to write in English because I completed Literature studies in the UK. Then I more often wrote texts in Greek because I started living in Cyprus again. Now, because of my research, I need to write in English again. So my identity as a writer is split in two. This gives me a double view on literary language. It somehow affects my stories and my methodology as a creative writer.

Would you explain more about how CROWD and your approach is similar to each other?

I am interested in those alternative ways of literary presentation. I don’t aspire to write page after page and produce a book which will simply rest on a bookshelf or fry under the sun sprinkled with sun lotion. What I am interested in is to become part of a bigger movement which gradually transforms literature into something different, into several other possibilities, while at the same time respecting words. Why would we write stories and texts just for books when we have the power to talk and interact with other authors, artists and audiences? It’s just amazing to mix things together and undeniably, this is also a characteristic of our time. I feel empowered by creating things that diffuse, and less lonely/isolated as a writer. And I think this power eventually has its impact on the page/book itself. Hybridity and experimentation doesn’t destroy literature, what destroys literature is believing that we know what literature is and how it should be disseminated. Literature is alive, it breathes.

Can you hear the music? I’m Skyping at a friend’s cafe, I hope you can hear me well.

Yah, I can hear it, what is it? I could hear the Beatles before that.

Now it is contemporary Flamenco music.

From time to time there is the sound of an electric screwdriver in the background.

True. There is a building constuction nearby. I guess everything is blending today, music, machines, coffee, words, Skype. This could be a good omen for our future hybrid projects. You know, it is this mixed-media identity which interests me a lot and I think in CROWD we share a mutual interest. Such projects, like CROWD, CON_TEXT, SARDAM festival, encourage risk and uncertainty. This becomes really important, since in our daily life we are mostly focused on avoiding risk. Literature, as well as its performance, has a lot of conventions, fixed genres, what people expect one to do on stage or in a book. We could break that, for a change. We could see things differently and then return with a fresher view on things, literature, performance, life.

Thanks for the interview, Maria. So looking forward to your performance and the presence of the text.

Thank you too, Julia. Health, hybridity and creativity to all!

SARDAM is an alternative literary festival which combines different forms of literature with different forms of performance and brings together a broad range of writers and artists in order to create mixed-media literary readings for the audience.

Maria: “We started with younger writers-performers but as the concept developed we realised that it is necessary to add all generations. Then, we began to cross genres from poetry to prose and to genre-less works that are usually not at all considered literature. There are architects that experiment with writing literary texts, there are dancers and audio-visual artists, scientists and many more. In general we try to always present something new in each edition. To my great pleasure, I can see the effect of the festival on Cypriot writers, artists and spectators. Because of the festival Cypriot writers started to experiment more. The festival somehow began to change the way people perceive literature. For this exact reason, we get more and more applications by Cypriot and international writers/artists every year. We feel very lucky and happy about that. Join us! We will Sardam-ize ourselves again next autumn!”

Maria A. Ioannou was born in 1982, in Limassol, Cyprus. She studied English Literature in the UK (MA 20th Century Lit, King’s College London / BA English Lit, 1st Class Honours, University of Reading, UK) and she is currently a PhD Creative Writing student at the University of Winchester.

Her first collection of short stories – “The Gigantic Fall of an Eyelash” (Gabrielides Publishing, Athens 2011) – has been awarded the Emerging Writer Literary Prize by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus and has been selected to represent Cyprus in Budapest Literature Festival 2014. She has also been invited to Kikinda Short Story Festival in Serbia in July 2014.

M.A.I writes in both Greek and English. Some of her short stories have been translated into Spanish, Romanian, Serbian and Hungarian. Her second short story collection – «Cauldron» (Kazani) – has been published by Nefeli Publishing (Athens, 2015). The book has been invited to the 3rd Young Writers Festival of the 14th Thessaloniki Book Fair, has been nominated for the Young Writer Award 2016 of Klepsydra and Enastron in Athens and was shortlisted for the 2016 Short Story State Prize. Within the next two years, the book will be translated into Serbian and Hungarian.

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