NEXT MONTH sees the 26th Cúirt International Literature Festival when writers and booklovers from far and wide will converge on Galway from April 12 to 17 , to enjoy this justly fêted celebration of the written word.
Cúirt also has a new programme director in Longford-born Dani Gill and, over a Monday afternoon chat in Kelly’s, she outlined her vision for the festival and singled out some of the highlights for this year.
“A lot of new things are happening with Cúirt this year,” Gill begins. “One of the things we’re doing is programming events in the county and that’s something I was very keen on, extending the festival’s reach.
“I’m concerned with energy, atmosphere and space. We’ve added Druid as a daytime venue and the Latin Quarter have come in as our main sponsor. I’m also interested in us having more street presence and increasing the profile of the festival and hopefully building audiences.”
Gill points out that this year’s festival carries a special focus on notable new writers and publications.
“There are a lot of new writers coming to the festival; 55 per cent of this year’s authors have never been to Cúirt before. Some of them have debut collections or novels and I think that’s very exciting.
“Several are emerging onto the world stage and I’m very happy to have them in Galway. One of those is Kevin Barry who is launching his debut novel City of Bohane. I’ve been reading it and it is excellent, it’s like Terry Pratchett in ways and he invents this dialect in it. I think Kevin is going to be one of the major Irish writers of his generation.”
Barry is just one of a strong line-up of Irish writers in this year’s programme with the likes of Dermot Healy, Paul Murray, Anne Enright, and Claire Kilroy also featuring.
“We’ve a lot of Irish writers in the programme and that’s something else I wanted,” Gill notes. “This is a time when we’re trying to find a new identity and I think that our reputation for literature internationally is something we should be proud of and should be celebrating. So we have both seasoned and up-and-coming Irish writers in our line-up.”
The celebration of Irish writers does not mean international ones are being overlooked. Among the notable visitors from beyond these shores are poets Simon Armitage and Penelope Shuttle and Bloodaxe editor and author Neil Astley.
One of the perennial pleasures of a festival like Cúirt is the way it enables audiences to discover exciting writers who are new or unfamiliar to them. Which authors in the ‘Class of 2011’ does Gill think might have this kind of impact?
“I think the Nigerian writer EC Osondu will be great,” she asserts. “He wrote the short story collection Voice of America which won the Caine Prize. He’s been in The Guardian, and The Times have talked about the book a lot. He’s brilliant and it’s a great collection.
“Festivals do give audiences the opportunity to access writers and there’s no better time to discover someone new. Osondu is reading on a Prize Winning Fiction bill with Gerbrand Bakker who won the Impac Award for The Twin which was his first novel to be translated from Dutch, and that’s also a great book.
“Elif Batuman will be discussing her book, which is also a debut, Possessed - Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. She’s great too! I think what’s great about a lot of these new writers is their energy and charisma. I picked them not just on their literary merit but because they have genuine personality and I think that’s something that will come across in the events.”
As well as the familiar showcase reading events, Cúirt 2011 also boasts a number of imaginative initiatives such ‘Kitchen Readings’ where poet Yvonne Cullen will visit people’s houses, a reading in the small Corrandulla Library and ‘Read Me I’m Yours’ which leaves books by visiting authors in selected cafés, pubs, and hotel foyers.
“I think that art and literature transcend boundaries, it crosses into new spaces and explores new realms and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Gill explains. “We programmed the kitchen readings, they’ll happen in Westside and Ballybane, it’s something we’re doing in conjunction with the libraries in those areas. It’ll be readings in people’s kitchens.
“We have an event in Corrandulla Library, that’s an amazing story. It’s a small venue and was set up entirely by volunteers and Patricia Scanlan will go there and read and sign books. I think it’s good to go into different areas and smaller spaces. If you’re trying to encourage people to come into your space it’s also good to go into theirs.
“Another thing we’re doing is ‘Read Me I’m Yours’ where we’re leaving books around in various locations where people can pick them up and read them. I feel things like that should be accessible in the sense that you come across them in your ordinary life, without having to go to a theatre or a bookshop or library.
“Cúirt is 26 years old this year and these initiatives are about bringing the festival into new places and new audiences. It’s all about connection, I’m interested in proper engagements between writers and audiences and that can happen just as easily in a kitchen or a café or a pub or on the street.”
With a line-up that also features lots of discussions, theatre, visual art, film, music and launches alongside the traditional readings, there is certainly much to savour in Cúirt 2011.
“I try to strike a balance between respecting the traditions of the festival and trying to inject some new energy,” Gill concludes, and the festival programme certainly suggests she has succeeded in that aim.