Our Festival dream began in 2014, with the first glimmer of an idea to create something which could be enjoyed by all ages and interests. But what drives anyone to make such a huge investment of time, energy and passion into a public event?
We’ve already covered the Derby Book Festival story with our co-founders Sian Hoyle and Jenny Denton. This time we’re priviliged to speak to award-winning poet, screenwriter and Oscar-nominated film producer Henry Normal about the Manchester Poetry Festival, and with Newark Book Festival’s Artistic Director Sara Bullimore.
Manchester Poetry Festival and Nottingham Poetry Festival
In my late twenties I was performing around the country at Art and Literature Festivals sometimes with my good friend and fellow poet Lemn Sissay.
Both Lemn and I are urban by upbringing so it seemed strange to be reading at almost entirely rural festivals in those days. I decided we needed a Manchester Poetry Festival.
Twenty five years ago I’d just done my first TV show, called ‘Packet of Three’. Although it was well paid I was disappointed with my contribution. As I was feeling unhappy I decided I’d use the money to put into something that would give someone, somewhere, some happiness.
I put on 10 days of events in the centre of Manchester starting with Tony Harrison supported by a local poet. I always ensured a local poet was on each event as for me it was essentially about building the community. My favourite night was hosting Seamus Heaney on his return from receiving a Nobel Prize.
I did about 4 years and then passed it on. The Manchester Poetry Festival has since become the prestigious Manchester International Literature Festival.
Five years ago I decided with Craig Chettle to set up the Nottingham Poetry Festival along similar lines. The 2019 brochure contained over 70 events. Again it’s about building the community and I’ve been excited at how vibrant the Nottingham poetry scene has become.
I believe a Poetry festival is basically a structured party for people who enjoy poetry and that everyone should be encouraged to join in and build the connections that help spread the effect throughout the years to come.
Newark Book Festival
In 2015 & 2016 a volunteer ran a Books In The Castle in Newark. I helped him with advice in the early days as I am freelance and have been working in the festival industry for many years, after setting up and running Lincoln Book Festival from 2003-2010.
In 2017 the volunteer stepped down and I took on Newark Book Festival as a not-for-profit. I re-branded/new name/set up websites, etc. and re-did the artistic programme and venues.
The motivation being that Newark had the perfect ingredients for a perfect festival, there was want and demand in place and opportunities to bring my experience back to my hometown to work with partners and help raise the profile of literature/literacy skills and reading for pleasure alongside.
Festivals are important. They bring communities and people together – all ages and backgrounds, allow for opportunities for paid work, volunteers, being a Friend, the feeling of being a part of something bigger, and they have an economic and social impact.
They develop specific skills and broaden peoples horizons – from confidence, to social skills, arts, crafts, writing, publication advice, promote reading for pleasure and much more.
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Photo copyright Henry Normal | Map exerpt copyright Newark Book Festival