Dada Masilo

Festival of Literature Lineup Announced

12 September 16 words: James Walker
"The festival is themed around conversations exploring inclusivity, displacement, alienation and 'otherness'. It aims to make a direct impact on lives rather than just shift books"

A few years ago, myself and a few other organisations in Nottingham put on the inaugural Festival of Words. With no money but a lot of goodwill, we put on the first city-wide literature festival in 40 years. Now, a new board has emerged and the festival has been rebranded to align with our UNESCO City of Literature status. Better still, there’s some money in the kitty, meaning the festival has been able to draw in writers from across the globe. These are exciting times for Nottingham and hopefully this will translate into lots of bottoms on seats.

The festival is themed around conversations exploring inclusivity, displacement, alienation and ‘otherness’. It aims to be make a direct impact on lives, rather than just shift books. Of particular note is the idea of how literature can help extend the ‘culture of welcome’ to refugees.

One innovation to facilitate these kinds of conversations is the creation of a Virtual Writer in Residence. Omar El Hazek - an award-winning poet from Egypt who has been imprisoned for ‘protesting without permission’ – is currently banned from travelling and therefore was unable to travel to the Netherlands to accept the Oxfam Novin/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. He will take part in several digital events and one to one conversations with writers facing similar difficulties.

In the 700 years that books have been published in England, there has not been one that invites women to talk about what they want from sex. Wendy Jones will be putting an end to that as she shares some of the conversations she’s had with 24 women from all walks of life.

One man who had no problem talking about sex was D.H Lawrence. Unfortunately the establishment did have a problem with this and a lot of his work was censored during his lifetime. Amit Chaudhuri has previously explored DHL’s position as a ‘foreigner’ in the English canon and offers an alternative view to the Leavisite project in relation to Lawrence and the English ‘great tradition’. Amit has published six novels and won loads of awards, so expect a varied evening of readings and discussion from his work.

Jack Monroe will also be making an appearance and should appeal to a broad audience. She is perhaps best known for her budget food writing. But she’s also someone who defies labels and tries to live her life as best as possible without conforming; sentiments that chide nicely with our rebel writers.

The Festival was launched at the Council House on 8 September and has an impressive programme that will appeal to a broad range of people. The rebranding as a Festival of Literature may scare off a few people but this shouldn’t be the case as there’s some really interesting stuff happening. But success will depend on how this is communicated. Talking of which, there was an appalling address from the Mayor who couldn’t even pronounce UNESCO correctly. It was woefully uninspiring. I can only presume he is carted from one event to the other and so didn’t have time to read the speech that had been written for him. Fortunately this calamity was offset by those who spoke from the heart, such as Sandy Mahal.

This looks to be an exciting innovative festival that will prod and provoke conversations that concern a modern, diverse city. It does everything on the UNESCO tin: Building a better world with words. Let’s hope those words filter through.  

Festival of Literature website

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