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Between East and West: A postcolonial journey of discovery with Alfred Birney and Ellen Deckwitz

Alfred Birney on his new non-fiction work "Zwerfpost" - Interview by Ellen Deckwitz, with a reading by Dewi de Nijs Bik

Podium B - Centrale Bibliotheek Den Haag, Spui 68, 5e etage
€12 | Bibliotheekpas, Ooievaarspas €10 | Jongeren t/m 30 jaar €6
Writers Series april 2024
Writers Series april 2024


In this episode of the Writers Series, Alfred Birney, author of, among others, ''De tolk van Java'' (The Interpreter of Java), will go into conversation with Ellen Deckwitz about his new book, ''Zwerfpost" (Wandering Mail). This book is a personal selection from 25 years of articles, blog posts, columns, essays, critiques, lectures, studies, sketches, diatribes, travelogues, and portraits of unknown writers with dissenting voices about the Netherlands versus Indonesia. At its core lies the perspective of the Indo, caught between East and West, emblematic of the misunderstood and unseen figure.

Ellen Deckwitz discovered upon her Indo grandmother's passing that she is the only one in her family who heard her grandmother's life story. In the years that followed, she engaged in conversations with numerous people whose roots also lie in former Dutch East Indies. Armed with these experiences and her personal insights, she will interview Alfred Birney in her original characteristic, witty, sensitive, yet sharp manner.

Alfred Birney (1951) is the author of a substantial body of work including novels, novellas, stories, and essays, in which his Dutch-Indonesian family history occupies a central place. His novel ''De tolk van Java'' (The Interpreter of Java) (2016) was awarded the Libris Literature Prize and the Henriette Roland Holst Prize. In 2019, his diary "Niemand bleef" (Nobody stays) was published in the Privé Domein series, for which he was awarded the Littéraire Witte Prize 2020.

Ellen Deckwitz is a poet, presenter, theater maker, and writes weekly columns in both NRC and De Morgen. In 2021, Ellen Deckwitz won De Johnny, the lifetime achievement award for stage poetry. In 2022, she won the Tollens Prize for her body of work. Together with Joost de Vries and Charlotte Remarque, she hosts the Literature podcast Boeken FM and hosts the daily podcast Poëzie Vandaag. Since January 2024, she has been the Stadsdichter of Amsterdam.

Dewi de Nijs Bik has previously been published in publications such as Poëziekrant and DW B. She was selected for the Paris residency of deBuren and for the mini-tour Vers van het Mes. Since 2012, she has conducted in-depth interviews for the Indo monthly magazine Moesson.


"A novel in which, as a reader, you almost feel complicit in the described cruelties due to the sublime style, yet also experience the strength to want to survive." - Libris Literature Prize 2017


"A merciless novel about the role of colonial Netherlands during the Indonesian struggle for independence in the former Dutch East Indies." - NRC


"Such a masterpiece. Read this bloody book!" - Adriaan van Dis on DWDD


"Impressive novel." - AD


"Seldom have I read a book in which history is written so mercilessly while the need to settle scores with one's parents is so high." - De Standaard


This Writers Series program is in Dutch.