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Vrije Schrijver (Writer in Residence)

On 1 June 2021, Babs Gons became Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s new Writer in Residence, taking over from Maxim Februari, whose time at the university coincided with its 140th anniversary.

“There is a growing need in our society, especially from younger generations, for different stories and new voices. VU Amsterdam is an incredibly diverse university, with people from many different backgrounds. I would love to work with students to help them find a platform for those much-needed new stories, for voices that are still not heard often enough. And I’d also like to investigate how our language is changing in response to this development. I’m really looking forward to exploring this subject, and I plan to do a lot of listening”, Gons said in response to her appointment.

Gons is VU Amsterdam’s fifteenth Writer in Residence, succeeding Maxim Februari and following in the footsteps of such writers as Arnon Grunberg, Bas Heijne, Ernest van der Kwast, Ronald Giphart, Renate Dorrestein and Abdelkader Benali. Her appointment is for one year.

Babs Gons writes narrative poems that ask important social questions, using highly accessible and surprising language and forms. She writes about protests, cultural silence, intimate relationships and discrimination, urging her readers to look at these topics in a new light. As a spoken word artist, she’s sure to inspire many of our students here at VU Amsterdam. We very much look forward to having her in our midst!”, said Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam.

About Babs Gons

Babs Gons is an Amsterdam-based writer, performer, host and teacher, and the driving force behind quite a few spoken word initiatives. She is also a columnist for Het Parool. She has read her work at festivals, literary programmes, in museums, debate centres and libraries, on radio and television, and she has travelled to perform in countries such as South Africa, Sudan, Curaçao, Suriname and Brazil.

Gons has moderated various events, including the Dutch Poetry Slam Nationals and Children’s Poetry Night, and she is the host of Babs’ Woordsalon, a show about music and literature, which she presents at De Melkweg and the Toneelschuur in Haarlem, and at festivals such as Lowlands and Oerol.

Gons was also the artistic director of the Nowhere Poetry Circle and for ten years organized a monthly event for young poets and writers in Paradiso. In addition, she has been a jury member for the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize, the Grand Poetry Prize, the Annie M.G. Schmidt Prize and Film by the Sea.

In 2018, Gons won the Black Achievement Award for Arts and Culture, and in 2020 she was nominated for the Gieskes-Strijbis Podium Prize. In 2019, she edited a poetry collection featuring the work of eighteen Dutch spoken word artists, entitled Hardop (Out Loud) and published by Atlas Contact. Her latest collection was released last April. Gons also writes short stories for various publications, such as the CPNB’s #ikleesthuis campaign and the Afrolit anthology, which was published in October of 2020. The Writer in Residence position at VU Amsterdam is sponsored by VUvereniging. During her time at VU Amsterdam, Gons will also be giving lectures at the Faculty of Humanities.

Essay competition: The importance of being wrong 

The most important academic question that you can ask at university is: ‘Why am I wrong?’ The essay competition for students is about right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Write an inquisitive, literary essay about the truth claim in your field of study.

In this Kuyper Year, in which we are celebrating our 140th anniversary, VU Amsterdam and VUvereniging (VU Association) are holding an essay competition on a theme suggested by Maxim Februari, our Vrije Schrijver (Writer in Residence). Students from all over the country are cordially invited to write and submit a literary essay on the importance of being wrong.

And the winners are... 

During the Abraham Kuyper Lecture on 10 June the winners of the essay competition were announced. The jury consisted of Maxim Februari, Diederik Oostdijk, professor of English literature, and Jacqueline Bel, professor of modern Dutch literature. The question 'Why am I wrong' inspired many people in view of the large number of entries. The jury was also impressed by the diversity in the elaboration of the theme.
The three winning essays

  • The first prize of € 1000 goes to Babette Kuijpers (Religion and Conflict, Utrecht University) for the essay Vermoorde onschuld ('Murdered Innocence,' Dutch). According to the jury she wrote an interesting, political and topical piece. Written with passion. 
  • The second prize of € 750 went to Maartje Huitink (Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University) for the essay Het Dilemma van een Dierenarts ('The Dilemma of a Vet,' Dutch). A charming and practical piece according to the jury, which is more about vulnerability than about making mistakes. It poses the question of how science works in the profession.
  • The third prize of €500 went to Marija Šakić (Food Technology, Wageningen University and Research) for the essay Failure is the mother of discovery. The jury: the essay is topical, fits well with the theme and is well written.

Watch the video in which Maxim Februari explains the assignment of the essay competition. (For subtitles: Click on 'Settings' and choose the language).