Writers of non-fictions books, many of whom also work as journalists, have an important role to play as investigators, educators, and opinion-makers. Ideally, they should initiate debates on crucial issues.
However, few of these debates seem ever to reach beyond the borders of their respective home countries. Despite globalisation and European unification, the political and cultural discourse often remains nationally confined. Could this be because writers from different countries rarely know each other personally, and they have few public platforms to engage each other intellectually?
Today, the exchange of thoughts and ideas is more important than ever, especially about issues on which writers from the United States, Europe, Asia, and other places may have wildly different views. We need to talk because the most pressing of today's problems (climate change, poverty, terrorism, environmental destruction, etc.) no longer affect the citizens of single countries alone but of the entire planet.
If these problems are to be solved, joint global efforts will need to be undertaken. Writers should do their part and play an active and responsible role in setting the agenda for such efforts.
The influence writers may have on political and cultural decision-making is of course limited. There is no denying that serious writing is increasingly being sidelined these days by shallow infotainment and breathless news-bits journalism, especially on television. For the individual book author, it appears virtually impossible to make his/her voice heard amid all the mindless chatter – which is another good reason for serious writers to put their heads together for a weekend.
Each symposium has a different topic, such as 'Climate Change and Energy' in 2006 and 'Resource Wars' in 2007. For a free exchange of views the Chatham House rule applies in all discussions. Only on the last evening, some outside guests may be invited to attend a final public session, followed by a garden party.
The AnkCon approach is international but also interdisciplinary. Ideally, the participants cover a wide spectrum of non-fiction literature. The chosen topics are broad enough for, say, political columnists and cultural writers to discuss them, stimulating each other through their different styles and perspectives on things. To enrich the discussions further, a few fiction authors may also be invited.
The symposia also address the practical issue of how authors might write more effectively about serious issues,
i.e. how public discourse could better engage with these issues to help ensure public action and policy outcomes. While the guest speakers catalyse the discussions there is no audience at AnkCon – every participant is responsible for the gathering being worthwhile.
Each year, the group consists of AnkCon regulars as well as first-time participants and outside speakers. The relaxing environment of the Gut Ankelohe estate, away from it all for a long weekend with good food and wine, makes the gatherings all the more enjoyable.
The AnkCon vision, in short, has been to create a kind of Ditchley Park for writers where brillant people from around the world get together to talk about serious issues whilst having a great time socially.
It should be fascinating to see what fruits this bucolic salon will bear over the years in the way of joint book projects, public debates, political initiatives, and personal relationships.