Preview: Stoke Newington Literary Festival, 3 to 5 June
Read our Q&A with Stoke Newington Literary Festival founder, Liz Vater
SUPERSTAR novelist Irvine Welsh described it as 'unique … the proper London LitFest'. Comedian Robin Ince has called it 'a lovingly curated, local-yet-global happening'.
This year, the Stoke Newington Literary Festival is springing up in venues across the area from 3 to 5 June, with a programme of literary events that are all either free or under a tenner. Here, founder Liz Vater explains what makes the festival unique and why this year will be better than ever.
Q: When did you start the festival and why?
A: I’d been visiting other literary festivals around the country with my author husband, Pete Brown, who was promoting his books and in one of those light bulb moments: 'why on earth doesn’t Stoke Newington have a literary festival?’ pinged into my mind. Once I’d had the idea, I realised I had to do it, so at the end of 2009 I started to plan and we had our first one in June 2010.
Q: How big was the festival in that first year?
A: We had 28 events in the first year, which seems really small now. Even then, however, we were attracting great names: Tony Benn, Phill Jupitus, Edwyn Collins, Shappi Khorsandi, Jeremy Hardy and Iain Sinclair.
Q: How has the festival developed since?
A: We’re three times as big now. This year we have over 80 adult events as well as a really great kids’ literary festival with over 20 events to choose from. We still attract great names, as well as local talent, and have really well established feminism, food, politics and fiction strands that give great depth to the programme.
Q: What's Hackney like as an environment in which to hold a literary festival?
A: It’s fantastic. It’s such a diverse and interesting borough, people are culturally curious and like to explore new things. We put on events here that would be very difficult to programme somewhere else. This year we’ve got events on the nefarious dealings of the CIA, a walking tour of Kurdish bakeries, a candlelit Gothic event in an old church and a whole strand about punk, including an event about how the grime scene and young black artists are the new DIY culture creators.
Q: What do you think the festival brings to the borough?
A: We bring people in from all over the UK, in fact two years ago a family flew over from Chicago to see their favourite author! This year another family is planning a whole weekend in London because they’re coming from Somerset to see Andy Stanton at the kids’ festival. Closer to home, the notion of community is more important than ever and I think we help people connect with the place they live – its history, or the ideas that were born here – or just learn new things in great surroundings. We also offer learning and mentoring opportunities to young people and inspire them to pick up a book
Q: What kinds of people make up your audiences?
A: We’re much younger than most literary festivals and the gender balance is evenly split too, again quite unusual. But most importantly, what connects everyone, whether they’re 21 or 81, is being interested in a particular topic. This year we have 91-year-old Judith Kerr (author of 'Mog' and 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea') and we’re expecting her young fans, via the older people who grew up with her books, right through to older people who connect with her story of fleeing Nazi persecution.
Q: What's new about this year's festival?
A: We’re doing a lot more outreach work with schools this year, as well as building new partnerships with organisations like Abney Park Trust, Clissold Park User Group, Hackney Empire, Hackney libraries, Hackney Giving, the Luminary Bakery, and Arts Emergency. It’s great linking up with other people who share a love of Hackney and Stoke Newington and who are all busy creating great initiatives of their own. We’re also working with a local artist to create a literary heritage map of Stoke Newington.
Liz’s top five picks for this year's Stoke Newington Literary Festival
It’s difficult to pick just 5 but:
1. Andrew Logan’s Reflections. It’s not very often you get to see so many living legends on one stage: Andrew himself, Fenella Fielding, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Molly Parkin, milliner Piers Atkinson, Scarlett Cannon & punk photographer Shelia Rock to name but a few. Plus an Alternative Miss World parade.
2. Eric Walrond: A Celebration. Actually a series of five events to commemorate 50 years since the death of an overlooked but influential black writer who worked with Marcus Garvey as part of the Haarlem Renaissance.
3. Gastrosalon. An event about food memories featuring local Hackney food writer Yasmin Khan, cocktail queen Kay Plunkett Hogge and former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls!
4. Punk/Grime. An event featuring writer Kieran Yates and former Ruff Sqwad members MC Roachee and Prince Owusu, talking about the politics of punk, grime and Hackney.
5. Any one of Thomas Keneally, David Mitchell or Jonathan Coe… Booker Prize shortlisters or winners who are fiction writers at the very top of their game.
… And to cheat, my 6th pick would have to be Juke Box Fury, a festival institution hosted by Richard Boon, the world’s coolest librarian who can also be found working at Stoke Newington Library during the week!