Editorial: Literature, Live

Sam Ruddock reveals his love of literature events

Reading is the artery that oxygenates my life, as it is for millions across the world. That feeling of immersion, of total concentration, of seeing the world simultaneously through our own eyes and those of other people, of experiencing the world in our own skin and those of others we’ve not met, is exhilarating and can be life-changing. In the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Sir Ian McKellen captured just why reading is my life:

"Books are the engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, guardians of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print." Sir Ian McKellen

Yet despite this it was only when I came to attend literature events and festivals in my early 20s that I realised I wanted literature to be my profession as well as my passion. As words and stories, ideas and characters stepped off the page and sat in a room with their authors and me (and hundreds of others, of course) I saw that literature could be an artform that brings people together.

I am enthralled by the buzz of festivals, the way that something that has been a personal pleasure morphs into a shared experience. As we launch the International Literature Showcase, it is that collective spirit that we want to harness as the starting place for international conversations over the coming ten months.

I am enthralled by the buzz of festivals

We’ll begin by shining a spotlight on some of the fabulous festivals of the United Kingdom. That these events - featuring writers whose body of work makes them some of the most illustrious in the world – have all taken place over the last week shows just what a thriving festival culture we have in the UK, and how hungry readers are to come together to celebrate and discover great literature.

Around these events, we’ll explore big ideas about literature as a live artform and look at some of the amazing work being done in interesting, innovative, and impactful ways around the world. There will be challenges, too, to combat some of the difficulties we face when presenting literature, live. There are four big questions that we have thought long and hard about over the last few months, and will return to regularly over the coming conversations:

  1. Can a literature event ever recreate the deep imaginative immersion of reading? Does it need to? And what do we want the art of literature, live, to do and be?
  2. Do festivals play a social and civic role, as well as an artistic one? Can literature festivals support and encourage public discourse? And can they move beyond debate towards action?
  3. What is the creative relationship between spoken word and literature on the page? Must all writers be performers and all performers work on the page?
  4. Does the global explosion in literature festivals mean the job of a writer has become more sales representative than artist? What do writers need from literature festivals?

It's going to be a busy month of provocations, videos, podcasts, and conversations to engage with, discuss and explore.

Peter Florence, founder of Hay Festivals, shares his thoughts about their increasingly global approach to festivals and the need to challenge our perceptions about the world. Razi Ahmed shares his insights into Lahore Literature Festival and the civic role of the literature festival as a space where communities come together to ask questions of each other and find new ways to be now and in the future. Nicholas Laughlin of Bocas Literature Festival speaks about the challenges of reconciling the private and contemplative nature of reading with the showbiz and personality-driven commerciality of a festival.

Elsewhere Jarred McGinnis from The Special Relationship challenges event producers to think of themselves as artists and develop more engaging and immersive literature events. BBC Slam champion Sophia Walker and Forward Prize for Poetry winner Vahni Capildeo have come to the performance of their work from very different routes, but each shares their thoughts about literature on the page and in performance, and what writers need for their work to thrive.

Welcome to the good ship ILS

We’ll also be joined by Edinburgh International Book Festival, Bradford Book Festival, and Wigtown Book Festival for a conversation about what excites them about running festivals, and Peggy Hughes of Literature Dundee shares some of the events that inspire, excite, and interest her. And as we segway into our November theme around digital and online literatures, we team up with Melbourne Digital Writers’ Festival to pair writers around the world together to explore global creative exchange and how digital working makes the world smaller than ever.

We’d love you to get involved. We all have memories of literature events that have shaped us and the work we do. We’d love to hear yours. If you have a professional interest in literature, get involved in the global conversation over on Slack.

Welcome to the good ship ILS – we’re looking forward to sailing the seas of literature with you over the coming months.

About Sam Ruddock

As programme manager at Writers' Centre Norwich Sam has at various times managed the International Literature Showcase, Brave New Reads, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, National Conversation and education programmes. He is also Founder of We Are Readers, a qualified Coach, an editor and Board Member for independent publisher Gatehouse Press, and a Clore Leadership and RSA Fellow.