Have you heard of the ‘Future Library Project’? This is a Norwegian initiative that started in 2014, the brainchild of Scottish artist Katie Paterson. The aim is to collect an original work by a popular writer every year from 2014 to 2114. All those works will remain unread and unpublished until 2112. At the start of the project 1,000 trees were planted in the Nordmarka forest. When the time comes for the 100 manuscripts to be printed, the paper used will come from those trees. In the meantime, the manuscripts will be stored in a specially designed room (which looks rather like the inside of a tree) at the new Deichman Library in Oslo. That room has been built using wood from the trees felled for the new plantings.
You can even buy a certificate which will entitle you to all 100 works when they are published – these certificates are being sold by three art galleries (in London, Edinburgh and New York) which are connected with the project – a few years ago a certificate cost £800 (I’m not sure of the current price?). The certificates are also made from the felled trees and they depict a cross-section of the tree with 100 tree-rings symbolising the time period for the project.
The identity of a contributing author is announced in October each year. The following spring, there is a public handover ceremony of the finished manuscript, in the forest where the trees are growing. So far, the authors included are:
- Margaret Atwood – Scribbler Moon
- David Mitchell – From Me Flows What You Call Time
- Sjón – As My Brow Brushes on the Tunics of Angels
- Elif Shafak – The Last Taboo
- Han Kang – Dear Son, My Beloved
- Karl Ove Knausgård – title to be announced
- Ocean Vuong – title to be announced
Authors are chosen for their ability to capture the imaginations of this, and future, generations. They can write fiction or non-fiction, poetry or essays, and choose whatever length they like for their work.
The ‘Future Library Project’ has met with mixed responses. One critic complained that it was “art whose intention is to exclude a few generations”, The Guardian has called it “the world’s most secretive library”, while others have been intrigued and excited by the idea.
You can watch a little video clip about the project here. I found it very moving and fascinating to listen to the authors talk about the challenges faced when writing for such a project.
I enjoyed seeing the project’s incredible library room and watching Margaret Atwood hand over her manuscript in the forest. This is a project that shows wonderful trust – trust in books and libraries, trust in the growth of trees, and trust in handing over the management of the whole idea to future generations. I love it!