On September 29th 2022 a packed house at the European Commission’s Information Center followed Budapest Brand presenting one of the most important cultural projects of the next one and a half years to take place in the capital of Hungary. The  Grand Novel Budapest (under the acronym GNB) in the framework of the Budapest Book Capital programme aligns with the Budapest 150 project as the city’s sesquicentennial celebrations get under way. 

„Budapest is shaped by the mood of the people watching it. Come one, come all, make your Budapest!” Quoting Péter Esterházy (in translation here) might serve as a motto for the Grand Novel Budapest project launch accompanying the 27th Budapest International Book Festival as this citation sums up the project proposal: involving professionals working in the cultural and artistic fields, we aim to develop a storyline heavily relying on local communities and thus address the people of Budapest. Professionals working at the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library institutions, both central and in the districts, cultural centres, local history institutions of the districts, as well as literary and independent performing arts organisations, filled the seminar room of the Center. 

The half-day workshop led by the project coordinators aimed to invite potential partners to mutually reflect on GNB and induce cooperation among them. Inspiring presentations and interactive workshops helped potentialise the project. Máté Gáspár, Artistic Director of Budapest Brand, presented Grand Novel Budapest as a flowing story that attempts to show the diversity and the layers of the capital’s history and cultural life. „The main concept is to help inhabitants of the capital city access literature as an experience, to address and present the communities of the capital’s 23 districts, shaping their stories in many voices and forms”, emphasised the project leader. To this end, they use three main approaches: literature, local history and cultural networking.

As for literature, Márton Hoványi, literary scholar, theologian, rhetorics coach, co-founder and head of MűGond hermeneutic circle, used the example of Joyce’s Ulysses to show that „sitting at the feet of a brilliant novel not only inspires bold ideas, but also makes values visible.” He introduced Joyce’s epic novel as the prototype of a grand novel. Ulysses is both a literary theory reference and a means of connection to European Odyssey, a major EU project funded by Creative Europe that spans two years and 18 European cities, including Budapest. 

As for local history, Noemi Saly urban historian, honoured with Podmaniczky and Budapest Prizes, gave a general overview of the most common guidelines for creating a list of sources when researching local history of Budapest: „dry facts in statistics, working materials of the capital city, reports, directories as well as not so dry facts in digital databases Arcanum and Hungaricana, in the collection of obituaries at the OSZK National Library, in diaries, memoirs, biographies, documentary literature, sociographies – and in fiction.” 

As for cultural networking, Paula Panagl and Bettina Lauss from Vienna’s cultural agency Basis.Kultur.Wien gave examples of programming led by a decentralised cultural organisation and carried out in cross district networks that might inspire participants to carry out GNB in a community and site specific way.

Subsequently, ideas and suggestions collected at the three plenaries were discussed in three different workshops running parallelly. These discussions, moderated by the staff of periodical Könyves Magazin and invited experts Dóra Péczely, Júlia Salamon and Renátó Fehér, respectively, brought forward a number of substantial comments, specific suggestions and recommendations. Based on these, Budapest Brand as organiser finalises the work plan for the GNB in the coming period and then move on to collect urban stories and implement public events.

Márton Agócs’ songs (Agócs Márton Acoustics), Marcus Goldson’s exhibition and DJ Vibee’s ambient music provided a relaxed atmosphere at the workshop.