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Nicolien Mizee new writer in residence at Leiden University

Writer and columnist Nicolien Mizee will be Leiden University’s new writer in residence from autumn 2023.

Leiden University’s annual writer’s residency gives students and lecturers the chance to come into contact with a well-known writer. This is someone who creates literature and is used to viewing the world and expressing themselves in a different way than we are used to at the university. The writer’s residency is usually for the duration of three months per academic year.

The university’s new writer in residence, Nicolien Mizee (1965), broke through to a wider audience with the thriller Moord op de moestuin but had been considered an insider tip for literature lovers since her debut Voor God en de Sociale Dienst (2000) and Toen kwam moeder met een mes (2003, nominated for Libris Literature Prize). Alongside novels, collected columns, a bird book with her own illustrations and a colouring book for adults, Mizee has written the children’s book De Wereld van Wollebrandt (2016). In recent years she has won praise for her autobiographical series Faxen aan Ger, five volumes of which were published between 2018 and 2022. She won the Henriette Roland Holst Prize in 2020 for the volumes De kennismaking and De porseleinkast.

Prevent self-censorship

This year is the 40th edition of Leiden University’s annual writer’s residency. In a series of lectures, Nicolien Mizee will explore how to avoid self-censorship in these times of sensitivity readers and threats both online and off.

Cultural sensitivities are nothing new: books have always been banned and burned, and writers exiled or killed. At one time even music could be ‘entartet’. And people called for a painting of cigar-smoking men to be removed from a public space here in Leiden.

Avoid vagueness

The greatest danger of censorship, says Mizee, lies in self-censorship: no longer daring to think what you think. How do we escape that? By avoiding vagueness and using the precisest possible language. Writers who focus on this and don’t worry about the effect of their words will automatically write prose that surprises, shocks or makes people laugh.

We need to be honest with ourselves to transcend the uniformity of general opinion, says Mizee. This by no means implies that everything that is written has to be a ‘true story’: according to her adage ‘a true story is a beginning’, we can learn to consider private experiences from both close up and a distance.   

What better way to learn to look at literature than to master the art yourself? In the 2023-2024 Writer in Residence course, students will therefore mainly be writing themselves, both at home and during classes.

Albert Verwey Lecture

An integral part of the writer’s residency is a public lecture, the Albert Verwey Lecture, which Mizee will give in November 2023 – keep an eye on the university calendar for more information.

Writer’s residency

Leiden University has had a writer’s residency since 1985. This is a partnership between the university and the NRC newspaper.

Gerard Reve was the first writer in residence. He was followed by writers such as Judith Herzberg, Frans Kellendonk, Adriaan van Dis, Joost Zwagerman, Anna Enquist, Renate Dorrestein, Arnon Grunberg, P.F. Thomése, Joke van Leeuwen, Tom Lanoye, Karin Amatmoekrim, Bibi Dumon Tak, Antjie Krog and Christiaan Weijts.

Header photo: Marco Okhuizen

Nicolien Mizee (Photo: Tessa Posthuma de Boer)
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