ON TUESDAY evening at the House Hotel the programme for the 2015 Cúirt International Literature Festival was officially launched and, as ever, there is a rich feast of readings, talks, workshops, launches, and more to look forward to.
This is the festival’s 30th edition and it is marked by a celebratory line-up featuring the great and the good, the new and upcoming, from both near and far, and running from April 21 to 27.
Among the familiar names taking part are Colm Tóibín, Irvine Welsh, Paul Muldoon, John Montague, and Paul Durcan. From further afield there are Jane Hirshfield from the USA, Canada’s DW Wilson, Nikola Madzirov from Macedonia, and self-styled ‘wandering poet’ Naomi Shihab Nye with her mixed Palestinian/American upbringing.
In her programme notes, Cúirt director Dani Gill declares that this year the festival “explores subjects that have occupied writers for many years; love, loss, loneliness, intention, curiosity”. Over a post-launch chat she enlarges on how the themes for the festival emerge and are woven together.
“There are a couple of different ways. It’s always dictated by the work firstly,” Dani tells me. “I’d be reading books and seeing things in them and drawing things together from that. It’s always the books in the beginning, I always find something I really like, then build from that. That’s what I am, I’m a reader. Each year there will also always be some natural themes out there.
“The world of books is so diverse, it’s about picking things out of that. The books I enjoy and like, I guess that whole loneliness theme is there! Writing is a solitary act, reading is a solitary act, so there is an integral connection between writing and reading for that reason. At Cúirt where the writers and readers come together, there’s that energy you’re working with and I enjoy that.
“Bringing writers into the light of something like Cúirt is a great pleasure. I don’t believe in applying a broad theme to the festival, I think it’s important to give a sense of interesting things to bring people in, and a broad theme could be very limiting so I try to include as many different things as possible, fiction as well as poetry - and poetry is integral to Cúirt as it began as a poetry festival.”
While there is no single over-arching theme, there are a number of events this year acknowledging Cúirt’s 30 year milestone, such as the gathering in honour of Dermot Healy a regular visitor to the festival. This is a free event emceed by Kevin Barry in the Dáil Bar on the Friday of the festival, at 5pm. All the poets at the festival will be reading poems at the event and Healy’s final collection of poems, Travels of Sorrow, published by Gallery is also being launched at what is sure to be a special occasion.
Introducing the next generation of writers
Cúirt is a festival of many strands with its workshops, outreach programme, daytime and evening readings, music, exhibitions, and events for children as well as adults. Dani emphasises that for her, there is no programming hierarchy favouring the marquee name over the less familiar act.
“I’ve never believed in ‘highlight events’, that’s not how I programme,” she declares. “A festival spans several days and I believe in filling those days as much as possible with events. I very much look at the programme in its entirety. I’m very passionate about the Outreach programme which I introduced in 2011 and it has gone really well in the years since.
“I really feel the festival should be active in the county as well as the city. We have a lot of youth events like the Cúirt Labs, which are co-curated by Maeve Mulrennan, and I think the programme for those is very ambitious. In terms of participation it is vital Cúirt is engaging with audiences in all different age ranges.
“I also really enjoy programming the afternoon events because there is more scope there to present people the public might not be familiar with. Everyone knows Montague, Muldoon, Irvine Welsh, but there are other voices and it’s one of my objectives to introduce the next generation of important writers. It’s so exciting to find them and showcase them and introduce them.
“People say to me all the time about Cúirt that it’s the festival where you go to see one writer but you discover others you didn’t know about before, who then become your new favourites, that journey of discovery is a special experience.”
So who are some of the less familiar or newer voices Dani feels will make an impact on Cúirt audiences this year? “I’m really excited about Ten; the New Wave, the poetry anthology published by Bloodaxe, which is a Saturday event at the Róisín Dubh,” she replies. “That is an amazing anthology, the best I’ve read in a number of years. They are all new voices and many of them will have their debut collections appearing in the next year. There are poems in the book I really loved and that have become some of my all time favourites. For anybody who likes poetry I think they should attend that.
“Lawrence Hill’s Blood, is another stand-out event. Lawrence grew up in Canada though both his parents were very involved in the American civil rights movement. The book explores blood in all its forms, its social and political context, and his own personal context as he had a life-saving blood transfusion. It’s all about growing up, childhood, belonging, and there is so much encapsulated in it, I really enjoyed reading it.”
Other eye-catching events
Another reading Dani recommends is the one pairing rising stars Sarah Baume, author of Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither and Catherine Lacey, writer of Nobody is Ever Missing.
“That will be an amazing event I think,” she notes. “Those two books encapsulate a lot of what I said about those themes of loneliness, intention, and curiosity. I also love Jon McGregor’s work and I’ve wanted to get him to Cúirt for years. His work is really impressive and he is one of the best fiction writers out there so I am very excited about his reading on the Friday at An Taibhdhearc.”
Other eye-catching events include the Kai Literary Supper at the feted local eaterie and another marriage between food and books, entitled Bacon and Maple Cupcakes, featuring David Sax.
“I’m very excited about that,” Dani enthuses. “David is a great journalist with a terrific body of work as well as his books. The book is very much about food trends and how they come about and who creates them – and there will be actual bacon and maple cupcakes served as well!”
Finally, as the parent of a voracious young bookworm I have to say I’m personally looking forward to ‘The Book Doctor’ where youthful ‘patients’ can go along to discuss their personal tastes in reading and be pointed toward other books they might enjoy.
“The book doctor will be a lovely event,” Dani agrees. “We’re pitching two tents at the Spanish Arch on Saturday afternoon and the book doctors will be there to prescribe new books for young book lovers.”
Roll on April! Full details of the programme and how to book are at www.cuirt.ie