The Lit Fest Newsletter
As we head towards Christmas, the promise of a vaccine could help save the 2021 festival season. It is, obviously, too early to tell how things will pan out but i remain optimistic we will be gathering in tents across the country next summer. I am also pleased to be bring news of two new festivals in this newsletter - an indication that the sector is still reacting with boldness at this difficult time.
The future, for once, looks slightly brighter.
New Festival Alert! Jacaranda Twenty in 2020
#Twentyin2020 Online Book Festival is a new festival celebrating black British writers organised by the publisher and bookseller Jacaranda and Fane Productions taking place on December 5th. Events include sessions on ‘Empowering Black Women Through Romance Writing’, and a conversation with Stella Oni author of Deadly Sacrifice, on what it means to be a black female crime writer. A proportion of the profits from the event will be donated to Black Cultural Archives (BCA), the UK’s only heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.
New Festival Alert! The Festival for Working Class Writers
The author Natasha Carthew was kind enough to answer some questions about a new festival she is setting up in Bristol next year.
Can you tell us a little bit about why you wanted to set up a Working Class Writers Festival?
I set up The Festival for Working Class Writers, to provide an equal playing field where writers from varied backgrounds got paid equally and all voices got to be heard whilst increasing diversity and equal opportunities. The Working Class Writers Festival will be a celebration of books and writing, including Performance Poetry, Fiction, Scriptwriting, Comedy, Playwriting, Non-Fiction and Journalism from both debut and well-known writers in a setting more relevant and inviting to much of today’s society.
The Festival will not only provide a platform for working class writers, but will set precedence among festivals that will make attendance more affordable and accessible to all and will also provide opportunities for younger people to aspire to, including workshops run by successful writers from similar backgrounds to their own. There’s nothing more inspiring for a young writer than to picture themselves in that position, to say to themselves “I can and I will!” This is not just important for writers but for readers, especially young ones who need to see themselves reflected in the stories they read and where better than a festival for future generations of working class writers.
As a writer it has always been my ambition to write stories that empower instead of isolate and give readers a sense of belonging and this I want to extend to writers as Artistic Director of The Festival for Working Class Writers.
The Festival will take place in Bristol October 2021 and will be sponsored by Hachette UK and we will also be running a Writers Prize to run alongside the Festival. Writers including Stella Duffy, David Olusoga, Tracy King, Mahsuda Snaith, Kerry Hudson, Sam Friedman, Dr Wanda Wyporska, Juno Roche, Paul Mendez, Cash Carraway and Tony Walsh will contribute to the many Panels, Workshops and events planned.
Can you tell us a little bit about what we you are up to with your own writing?
I’m currently working on new literary fiction and also a book of poetry. My latest prose-poem ‘Song for the Forgotten’ has just published with National Trust Books and I am planning a UK wide tour in 2021.
At the heart of this tour is a discussion about the human condition whilst celebrating the lives and voices of the working class, exploring themes and issues including poverty, social deprivation, homelessness and isolation through the prism of the beautiful, harsh landscape of Levant Mine, Cornwall.
Festivals that have already booked the tour include Fowey Literary Festival, Bath Festival, Shambala, Penzance Literature Festival, ValleyFest and Ilkley Literature Festival.
If a festival wanted to book you how would they get in touch?
If any festivals would like to book the ‘Song for the Forgotten’ tour they can get in touch with me via twitter @natashacarthew or through my agents Lutyens & Rubinstein.
Cambridge and Stratford Festivals link-up for online event
Two of our best festivals are joining up for an event Covid and Culture: How will the Arts Survive? Featuring Juliet Stevenson, Sir Richard Eyre, Shirley J Thompson and chaired by writer Julia Wheeler it will be available to view from 7pm Wednesday 18th November until 29th November on the websites Stratford Literary Festival and Cambridge Literary Festival as part of their upcoming Winter Weekends of events.
‘Digital literacy has not really been a requirement to lead a cultural organisation, I think that has to change’.
‘Digital should not sit solely in marketing, it could and should cut across everything you do. Operational structures aren’t sexy but they are vital for success.’
‘The time has passed when digital activity can be funded as an afterthought and equally it needs to pay its way’.
Hay Festival’s Peter Florence Suspened
It emerged that the boss of Britain’s biggest literary festival was suspended at the start of October due to a complaint of bullying from a member of staff. The conclusion of this grievance procedure has been delayed as Florence has also been signed off sick. Tania Hudson has been appointed as the interim chief executive.
I had thought it was slightly weird that the reaction to the Caitlin McNamara story had come from the festival chairwoman Caroline Michel rather than him and i guess this was the reason why.
Crown Prosecution Service’s decide not to pursue Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
It was disappointing to hear that the Crown Prosecution Service will not be taking any further action on behalf of Caitlin McNamara. For them to take action outside of their jurisdiction the perpetrator would have needed to have conducted the attack during “the performance or purported performance of their official duties”. The CPS claimed not to have had enough evidence to proof that the sheikh thought the meeting was part of his official duties.
McNamara said to the Guardian, “Of course I was lured there on the basis that it was a professional meeting. I simply wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I had never had one-on-one or social contact with this man before. He’s older than my dad. If a member of the royal family or the head of the organisation you work for asks to meet, with little explanation, it would be strange to assume that that person intended that meeting to be in any way informal. I am not naive, I believe that anyone else in my position would have attended the meeting with the same understanding that I had. The royal family operate by their own rules in the UAE, and I was not working a nine-to-five job. I was on a posting abroad and I was often required to take meetings and calls at strange hours. He used his professional status to lure me there. Indeed, the festival was discussed in the initial stages of the meeting, before the assault. There’s so much that proves that I was there in a professional capacity”.
The broader question of whether literary festivals should put on events in place with poor human rights records was explored in a piece in the Financial Times by Nilanjana Roy which i quote here:
Commentators were quick to note that the organisers did not make a media statement in February, when McNamara reported the assault to the UK embassy and Hay staff, and the minister was a guest on stage at the opening of the festival. The author Kamila Shamsie tweeted: “The tragedy here is what happened to Ms McNamara, not the undermining of Hay’s partnership with the UAE govt.” Lawyers for Sheikh Nahyan have denied the assault allegations.
The story also goes to the heart of the dilemmas of expansion, which brings with it questions around funding and the need to work with local governments with markedly different political systems. The UAE is not classified as a democracy by Freedom House, a US state-funded non-profit organisation, and its justice system makes the reporting of assault incredibly difficult for women.
Already in the run-up to the Abu Dhabi festival there were concerns about the event. The writer and actor Stephen Fry, PEN America, part of the international association of writers and many others wrote to Hay in February, highlighting the UAE’s poor record on free expression and the plight of its political prisoners.
Other festivals have faced controversy or outright boycotts over corporate sponsorship or free speech issues. In 2018 and 2019, several writers pulled out of the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai over the country’s free speech record. In 2011, Reporters Without Borders urged authors invited to the Galle Literary Festival to consider the plight of dissident writers in Sri Lanka, while other campaigners called for a boycott. In India, the soft power of the massive annual Jaipur Literature Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of book lovers to the palaces of Rajasthan, has been tarnished by questions over some of its sponsors.
The most excellent Deershed Festival are looking for a Festival Production Co-ordinator.
That’s it for this newsletter. Please follow us on twitter, and add us to your press release list. We are always looking for people to interview so please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like your festival to be featured. And if you know anyone that would enjoy reading this missive please get them to sign up here.