Lord Mayor’s Address
by Eibhlin Byrne,
Lord Mayor of Dublin
Dublin is a living city of literature. In every one of us Dubs lies a story to be told but some of us actually get around to telling that story! These storytellers are the people who make us proud, in whose success we all rejoice and who make us secretly redouble our promise to write our own story.
Our city and its hinterland has its own rhythm, its own way of recounting a narrative but we have a long tradition of welcoming the outsider. We love to hear how others tell their story. We don’t much care about the medium. Poetry, short story, play, we love them all. Important to us is the life they encompass, the story they have to tell. We come from a bardic tradition. The poet or storyteller, was all powerful for our Celtic predecessors. The medium might have changed. Technology has moved on. Our world might be different but we still love a good story. We want to laugh with you, cry with you, criticise or praise you, but most importantly we want to be part of your written word.
That is what Dublin Writers Festival is for us. It is about celebrating our shared written heritage. It is about embracing our cultural diversity. We’ll agree and argue, we’ll compliment and dissect the works brought before us but most of all we’ll value our writers and their contribution to our communities. Our Writers Festival allows Dublin to celebrate a living heritage of the written word.
Can I personally thank Jack Gilligan and our Arts Office. You’re amazing and you certainly are facilitators of our latter-day bards! Thank you to the Arts Council for your support. Most importantly, thank you to everyone who values literature – you truly help to make Dublin a living, breathing centre for writers from everywhere.
Programme Director’s Welcome
by Liam Browne,
In a special piece for this year’s festival brochure Colm Tóibín remarks that an intimate and nourishing relationship has developed over the last two decades in Ireland between writers and readers and that books festivals have played an important role in nurturing that relationship. Whereas ordinarily a book presents, for both writers and readers, a one-to-one relationship, within the context of a festival it becomes a communal experience. And it’s that sense of being part of a writing and reading community that makes live literature and book festivals such a joy.
This year’s Dublin Writers Festival begins in high style with a special reading at the National Concert Hall by Seamus Heaney. It marks two birthdays, his 70th and his publishers, Faber and Faber’s, 80th. Amidst all the festivities and acclaim to mark Heaney’s 70th birthday at the still centre of all this are the poems and no one reads them better than Heaney.
There are a number of writers whose appearance at the festival is their only Irish visit this year. Sarah Waters will be discussing her new novel, The Little Stranger, published the same week as the festival; Simon Schama will be offering his thoughts on America past and present and on the possible direction of an Obama presidency; the Canadian novelist, Anne Michaels, whose previous novel Fugitive Pieces, was a world-wide success (and recently made into a film), will be speaking about The Winter Vault, her new novel which will undoubtedly be one of the publishing events of 2009; Melvyn Bragg will be giving a talk on Fiction and Autobiography; Zoe Heller and Geoff Dyer will be discussing the urban zeitgeist, Julie Myerson and William Fiennes consider the unforeseen dramas of family life… the list goes on.
Apart from Seamus Heaney, there is a strong Irish contingent at the festival. It includes Colm Tóibín discussing his new novel, Brooklyn, Julia O’Faolain, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Claire Kilroy coming together to examine the themes that drive their fiction, there’s more poetry from Paula Meehan and Leanne O’Sullivan, and three debut novelists, Ed O’Loughlin, Aifric Campbell and Peter Murphy give us some insight into the stresses and strains of writing your first book.
On the Saturday evening two Booker-shortlisted novelists, M. J. Hyland and Steve Toltz explore the theme of thwarted ambition and this is followed by a festival staging of The Frost is All Over, a multi-media performance that brings together the poems of Dermot Bolger with the musicianship of Tony McMahon and David Power.
The festival concludes with a day of events at the Abbey Theatre on the Sunday. It kicks off at lunchtime with Shane Connaughton and Joe Queenan, followed by a first Dublin reading in three years by Brendan Kennelly to mark the publication of his new collection Reservoir Voices, for crime lovers there’s the one-off pairing of Kate Summerscale (recent winner of Book of the Year at the British Book Awards for The Suspicions of Mr Whicher) and crime maestro Val McDermid and we finish with the aforementioned Sarah Waters.
Whilst readings play an important part in the festival, the emphasis is on discussion - between writers and chairpersons and between writers and audiences. The pleasures of reading a book are many and varied but so also are the pleasures of hearing others talk passionately about books and about the highs and lows of writing them.