THE FIRST year of the new decade sees a new director at the helm of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature – Sahsa de Buyl. “If you were to look at a theme for this years’s event,” she says, “it would be the great and the good of Irish writing.”
The Cúirt programme was launched this week, and reveals an impressive line-up for the festival's April 20 to 25 run, with Galway writers (Elaine Feeney, Alan McMonagle, Mary Costello ); Irish writers (Sara Baume, Eimear McBride, Anne Enright ); leading authors from abroad – Simon Armitage (Britain ), Kai Miller (Jamaica ), Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria ); as well as former footballer Richie Sadlier and spoken word artist Kate Tempest, among others.
“As readers in Ireland, we are aware that contemporary Irish writing is just the business,” Sasha tells me during our Thursday afternoon interview. “We are world leaders across genres in terms of our literature output, and this programme reflects that. We’ve been really lucky that it also has been a bumper year for new releases from brilliant Irish writers and that is also reflected in our programme.”
“Kai Miller’s poetry engages with what Jamaica looks like now, how de-colonisation has affected the nation, it's a very strong critique of colonisation'
Sasha was born in Belgium and moved to Ireland with her parents when she was five, before going to university in Scotland. After graduating, she worked across a range of literature projects, programmes, and festivals in Scotland, including programming Books Week Scotland and the iWrite Book Festival in Glasgow; co-founding the Edinburgh Comics Art Festival; and working with Creative Scotland, that nation’s equivalent of the Arts Council in Ireland; and managing Scottish Books International.
Women writers at Cúirt
Irish literature has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last decade through the variety of new voices which have emerged – particularly women – with a fresh perspective on Ireland. “Irish writing has a strength in its contemporary-ness,” says Sasha. “It isn’t looking back at the past, it’s looking at the Ireland of today, and the changing nature of what it means to be Irish and what ‘Ireland’ means. It speaks a lot to Irish readers, we find a lot to identify with, but it is also popular around the world."
Sasha outlines the Irish women who will be reading at Cúirt 2020: “We have Eimear McBride [An Taibhdhearc, April 21 - pictured above] coming back to the festival, bringing her new novel, Strange Hotel, which is a slim, but really impactful, novel. She writes in that stream-of-consciousness style, and takes it to a different generation here – an older voice, that travels anonymously from hotel room to hotel room. It’s very powerful.
“It’s brilliant we get to have a festival with Anne Enright in it [Town Hall, Friday 24]. Her new novel, Actress, is amazing and has a lot of questions about gender and sexual power, specifically in the past as it is a historical novel. Sarah Baume’s new book, handiwork is non-fiction, and is about artistic practice and how you develop that practice. It’s published by Tramp, as is Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost In The Throat, part verse-novel, part auto-fiction [Town Hall, April 25].
“We also have a lot of strong Galway writers at the festival. Mary Costello will talk about her new book River Catcher [Town Hall, April 24]; Elaine Feeney [pictured above] will do the first event for her new book [An Taibhdhearc, April 25], As You Were, which is her first novel, which I am currently in the middle of and absolutely loving.”
The Yorkshireman and the Jamaican
Two of the poetry highlights of this year’s Cúirt are Simon Armitage [pictured above], the UK Poet Laureate, who makes a welcome return (Town Hall, April 22 ); and Jamaican poet Kai Miller, whose latest collection, In Nearby Bushes, has won much acclaim (Town Hall, April 24 ).
“Simon Armitage is really reaching a peak in his career,” says Sasha. “His latest book is called Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic! It collects a lot of the work he has been commissioned to write as Poet Laureate, in response to certain events, artefacts, landscapes. This will be an hour-long solo show going through some of this collection and the best of his work.”
“I first came across Kai Miller’s poetry about eight years ago at the Stanza Poetry Festival in Fife and was blown away by the musicality and joy he brings to his writing. He has an incredible speaking voice – you could listen to him read the phone book, but his work is not just lyrical and beautiful, it’s very incisive. It engages with what contemporary Jamaica looks like now, how de-colonisation has affected the nation, in terms of the people, the landscape, the ecology, and he doesn’t pull any punches either. It’s both beautiful writing and a very strong critique of colonisation.”
A fascinating event, and a timely one, celebrating the links of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and their natives languages, will come with Mothertongues in the Nuns Island Theatre on April 23.
“I am a huge fan of the Irish language and of indigenous languages generally,” says Sasha. “I have been working with Literature Wales to bring their event, Mothertongues, to Cúirt, and it will bring together the National Poet for Wales, Ifor Ap Glyn [pictured above], the Scots-Gàidhlig writer Pádraig MacAoidh, and the Irish language writer Ciara Nic É.
'Eilís Dillon was influential in her time, but, like many women writers of the past, is not made as much of as should have been'
“They have been working together for a while, creating work in response to each other, and they will be reading and performing that work, followed by a discussion with the CEO of Literature Wales about their respective languages and their approach to language, and how they have affected each other's practices, as well as the links between them and the differences. It’ll be fascinating.”
Music, firesides, and Eilish Dillon
Returning to the festival this year is the popular Paddy Irish Whiskey Fireside Sessions, which are free and take place across the festival, Monday to Friday, in various pubs around town. The session is curated by singer-songwriter Tracy Bruen. “They will mix storytelling, songs, and conversation,” says Sasha. “They are short and I believe there is free whiskey involved. They are a lovely informal way for people who wouldn’t normally engage with the festival to do so and to get a sense of the festival atmosphere.”
Cúirt is also working with Galway 2020 on an event celebrating the centennary of the birth of the Galway writer Eilís Dillon (Town Hall, April 24 ). “She was influential in her time,” explains Sasha, “but, like many women writers of the past, is not made as much of as should have been, but we are pleased to highlight her and we are doing so with her daughter. There will be writers invovled in this, and singers, to highlight some of her best known work.”
For more information and tickets see www.cuirt.ie