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#OxfordKafka24 campaign to celebrate the life and work of Franz Kafka

University-wide cultural programme will mark the centenary of the great writer’s death

100 years since the death of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), the University of Oxford will celebrate the life and work of one of the most influential writers of all time. The #OxfordKafka24 campaign will include a new free exhibition at the Bodleian’s Weston Library, Kafka: Making of Icon (30 May-27 October 2024); and a University-wide series of academic and public events over 2024 exploring Kafka’s global appeal. To encourage students and members of the public to engage with his work, a new limited-edition imprint of The Metamorphosis will be given to every Oxford student; and copies will be distributed to schools and libraries around the county of Oxfordshire for #OxfordReadsKafka.

Oxford is the natural home for a centenary celebration of Franz Kafka: the Bodleian Libraries have the world’s largest Kafka archive; and the University is a leading centre for Kafka studies led by the Oxford Kafka Research Centre. Franz Kafka was unanimously chosen by the University as the next author in the Bodleian’s Great Writers series which launched with Chaucer: Here and Now in December 2023.

Richard Ovenden OBE, Bodley’s Librarian, says ‘100 years after his death, readers across the globe continue to learn from and be inspired by Kafka’s life and works – many of the originals of which are held in the Bodleian’s collections. This is a perfect opportunity to celebrate his legacy and enduring influence.’

Since the posthumous publication of his work and ‘rediscovery’ in the middle of the twentieth century, Kafka has become a truly global writer who embraced his own multicultural identity. His novels and short stories have been translated into multiple languages. His body of work offers profound insights into the human condition, alienation, relationships, and transformation.

Kennedy Aliu, Vice President Liberation and Equality at Oxford Student Union, says: ‘Growing up in Lagos Nigeria, I discovered Kafka’s reflections on the complex and mundane experiences of his life carried a universal resonance. His writings served a form of intimate activism, a silent prayer through literature that navigated the realms of absurdity, modernity, surrealism, and the deeply personal struggles of alienation, suffering and isolation, that are inherent in the human condition. To engage in Kafka’s work is to delve into those intricate philosophical questions, pondering on what it means to create literature from the shadows, as he did. Kafka once expressed a desire for his published and unpublished works to be consigned to flames, unread and forgotten. Yet, in choosing to read Kafka here at Oxford, we not only recognize the profundity of his contributions; we actively challenge and commit ourselves to engage and debate the diverse perspectives present in his ideas.’

The new limited-edition imprint of The Metamorphosis from Oxford University Press will be given to every current undergraduate and post-graduate student, aimed to encourage them to engage with Kafka and analyse his work from the perspective of different academic disciplines, whether from Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences, Medical Sciences, to Humanities and Social Sciences. Students will receive the books delivered to their colleges in the summer term. To ensure no books go to waste and reach as many people as possible for #OxfordReadsKafka, students have the option to ‘pay it forward’, and regift the text to an interested member of staff, alumni or the prospective student community.

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Education at Oxford University, says: ‘As well as enabling you to study a particular subject in depth, university should be an opportunity to expose yourself to new ideas and thinking from outside your own discipline. #OxfordReadsKafka offers all our students a brilliant opportunity to do just that, by sharing their own perspectives on Kafka’s iconic text, and reflecting on the interpretations of others. It’s a great addition to our growing efforts to add breadth and variety to an Oxford education.’

The #OxfordKafka24 programme will include a new exhibition, Kafka: Making of an Icon at the Bodleian’s Weston Library (30 May-27 October 2024), showing Kafka’s original notebooks, drawings, diaries, letters, postcards, glossaries, and photographs. A highlight of the exhibition will be the manuscripts of two of Kafka’s unfinished novels, Das Schloss (The Castle) and Der Verschollene (Amerika).

Other events in the Kafka series will include:

  • The publication in May of a new collection of Kafkaesque stories featuring work by Ali Smith, Naomi Alderman, Helen Oyeyemi, Yiyun Li and Elif Batuman, plus others.  A Cage Went in Search for a Bird will be published by Abacus Books in partnership with the Oxford Kafka Research Centre.
  • A series of events under the umbrella of #OxfordreadsKafka designed to broaden appreciation and understanding of Kafka’s influential novella The Metamorphosis from the perspectives of science, medicine, social science and the humanities.
  • A public reading of The Metamorphosis in the Sheldonian Theatre on 3 June, with renowned literary figures, Oxford civic leaders and student societies.
  • A Kafka street fair on Broad Street on 3 June, produced by the Oxford Cultural Programme.

Further details of the #OxfordReadsKafka programme can be found online.