In the frosty forest of Nordmarka, Norway, the seeds have been quietly planted to save the future of the written word. Every year for the next 100 years, 100 famous authors have pledged to each write a novel that will remain unpublished until the 22nd Century, when they will be published as part of the ambitious ‘Library of the future’. For each work written, a spruce tree will be planted on vast lot, making a new forest. The manuscripts will be printed on paper made from the trees in the year 2114. “I thought it was a wonderful idea,” explained Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, in a video about the project, “It appealed to me immediately.” You see, Atwood has a lot at stake in those saplings. Along with a select few authors, she’s been chosen to write a book that will only be published a century from now. If all goes according to plan, it will unlock a veritable, 100-author-heavy anthology of literary genius by the time we’ve all kicked the bucket. If it sounds like a pipe dream, fret not: we had a chat with the Library Chair, Anne Beate Hovind, about just how one goes about planting a forest of literary giants.
Margaret Atwood with her top-secret manuscript via futurelibraryno
The project was first imagined by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. “We commissioned [her] to propose a work for us that was supposed to be relevant to our urban lives in Oslo,” says Hovind, who worked with project developers Bjørvika Utvikling (in a remarkable marriage of development, sustainability and creativity). “She called me after a week and said, ‘I would really like to visit a forest. And stay there for a while.’ She asked me if I could give her access to a cabin, which is kind of the cliché – but she was right (laughs). I drove her to the middle of the forest, she stayed there for a week and that’s when she said, ‘I know what to do. I have a wonderful idea for this centre in Oslo,’ and I said ‘what is it?’ and she said ‘It’s going to last for 100 years’ and I thought, Oh no. It’s not gunna happen. I was imagining my board, and thought, they’re not going to approve this. I kind of panicked. But they did.”
Paterson’s brain has a knack for dreaming up extraordinary projects. She’s built a live phone line to the sounds of a melting glacier (07757001122), and published a book of prose literally covered in cosmic dust (ex. meteorites, asteroids, etc.) She’s mapped out dead stars, created a light bulb to simulate moonlight, and hung a disco ball that reflects every solar eclipse. In that regard, the Future Library is another feather in her visionary cap: a living artwork that underlines the fragility, and scope, of our humanity. It’s kind of amazing looking back on it,” Hoven says, “because it was such an exercise in trust.” Trust in the property developers to recognise, and support, a green initiative. Trust between Paterson and Hoven to move the project forward, and prepare it for the generation to come. “That in itself is a work of art, I think,” she says.