Welcome Back Bookfests! Happenings across the Globe

Literary Festivals and Contemporary Book Culture by Millicent Weber

A Little Back Story

Like most performing arts, literary and book festivals are slowly returning in a new, hybrid format that includes both live in-situ and remote online audiences. As one of my favourite indulgences, hearing authors read and talk about their work is something I find captivating, inspiring and uplifting. I am not alone in this experience, as a good deal of qualitative and mixed method research projects are beginning to unearth and demonstrate similar outcomes, not least of which is Dr Millicent Weber’s multi-site ethnography of various events in Australia, USA, UK and beyond.

While Millicent Weber’s (2018) book emerged in the couple of years pre-pandemic, the insights remain valid and can certainly still inform event planners and researchers alike, going forward. They did, in fact, help to inspire and inform my own mixed methods ethnography of audience experiences at the Ninth Belfast Book Festival, 2019. Here are a few extracts from my dissertation – I found the project exciting and enjoyable and hope that comes across! Firstly, where did book and literary festivals spring from?

“…While book signings have been part of author promotion for decades, the consumption of literary festivals operates on a much more expanded level, with their diverse programmes and a more interactive dynamic between audiences and presenters.  This world of Literary and Book Festivals displays both cultural and commercial aspects, and is linked to an upsurge in reading groups, to the recent expansion of the Independent Book Shop industry, and with the tendency towards arts promotion through the festival model, globally…”

What are book festivals for? For authors…

“…Authors spend a good deal of time on tour when promoting a new release and as such are becoming more and more like musicians and others in the performing arts. Book sales and book signings have become ubiquitous features of all events that form literary festivals…”

And for book lovers, it’s…

“…the informative, inspirational and pleasurable qualities of event experiences, feeling combinations of being ‘fired up’ and ‘spellbound’… It was also clear that the Festival provides many patrons with opportunities to connect socially and to share celebrations with family and friends…”

Ultimately…

“…Literary festivals are open for business: for authors to engage with their audiences; for aspirational audiences who desire personal growth and wellbeing; for organisations with plans for social engagement; and for marketers who seek to help consumers fulfil their needs, hopes and dreams…”

Here is a little potted summary of the project findings:

  • motivations and experiences were described by audience members across three emergent categories:
  • Cognitive-cultural (knowledge, empowerment and literary activism);
  • Emotional (inspiration, feelings, passions, hero worship and author charisma);
  • Social (connecting and sharing resonant atmospheres in ritualised, liminal spaces of escape).

(click here or on the image below to view my presentation on the design, findings, insights and recommendations).

What’s happening around the world?

Finally, book and literary festivals are thriving again as Dream Vacation Magazine has listed the Top 25 literary festivals worth a visit – I’m choosing Berlin next, travel permitting… what’s your choice?

Happy Reading

BIRD.org.uk: Helping young people shine their brilliance and grow their resilience.

 

chrome ball sculpture covered in yarn bombed flowers and nets.

Yarn-bombed sculpture at Newcastle, County Down. Photo my own.

Creative Mental Health

As you all know I am passionate about the power of creativity, especially music, to boost mental health and grow self esteem. So I’m doubly delighted today because, via Twitter, BIRD has appeared on my horizon.

The organisation BIRD is the brainchild of Founding Director Neil Phillimore who has brought together a unique group of creative activists who nurture young people struggling with various life issues and stresses. BIRD’s mentors take them through a process of self expression using various media, especially music, song, drama and creative writing.

The power of arts and social support for mental health is well documented, as I have found in my own research and gleaned from many others’ studies. BIRD’s work is active proof that boosts what seems to me to be an emerging sense of self-affirmation, recovery and growth for otherwise vulnerable and at risk youth. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is empowerment though I feel there’s a lot more to it- as they say so much better themselves with their name BIRD, Brilliance, Integrity, Relationship and Delight.

With schools forced to cut arts budgets and society offering little in the way of free community provision for young people to find support and encouragement, this fantastic project deserves recognition for their service to the 16-25 age group, so many of whom are overwhelmed and underserved.

A Beacon of Inspiration

I believe also that BIRD is a beacon of light in terms of what can be done in creative mental health support. They need support for their current crowdfunding appeal so they can upgrade their resources and continue their work. This project could also be a workable model for further and more widespread initiatives and is certainly one I am keeping my eye on for future inspiration.

Good luck to all you folks at BIRD and keep up the great work 🙂

Re-discovering Philip Larkin through word, image and jazz.

the poet Philip Larkin holds a drink and smiles.

A rare smiling image of English poet Philip Larkin.

My old copy of The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin, hidden on the bookshelf for years, was pulled out for a nostalgic read the other day after an intriguing documentary about the poet on BBC4 earlier this week. In the Whitsun Weddings collection, in the poem For Sidney Bechet, the poet describes (earlier era) jazz music as falling upon him,

‘Like an enormous yes’ and refers to it as

‘the natural noise of good, / Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.’

While commonly known for a somewhat melancholic approach to life, this does not sound like a person who has no time for passion. It was news to me too that alongside his poetry, Larkin had also made significant literary and journalistic contributions to critiquing Jazz music such as the perhaps controversial (maybe just honest) All What Jazz.

The television documentary revealed even more interesting aspects of Larkin’s artistic dimensions, that included skill with a camera as well as with the poetic word. Some of his images are black and white with a haunting or melancholy quality, reflected in his poetry too, such as Home is so Sad.

Yet much of Larkin’s photographic work is also personal and full of emotion like the multiple shots of intimate friends, male and female, with whom he shared his life, albeit within certain strong constraints and clear boundaries, evident in the ending of Talking in Bed,

‘Nothing shows why / At this unique distance from isolation / It becomes still more difficult to find / Words at once true and kind, / Or not untrue and not unkind.

More surprisingly, a significant number of the photographic portraits are of himself, taken with the delayed shutter function of his high-tech Rollieflex camera. The original ‘King of the Selfie’, Philip Larkin was a complex, intense human being whose work continues to intrigue, inspire and invite debate. Some of his photos have been published in The Importance of Elsewhere 2015.

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/norfolkodyssey/1426630717

 

 

Farewell Maestro #DavidBowie

Album Cover, Hunky Dory, contains song Changes

David Bowie on Hunky Dory album cover

Saddened by the passing of my all time favourite artist David Bowie, I’ve been looking back over my old posts and collections, celebrating his work and asking myself ‘What did David Bowie and his work mean to me?’

A series of images, tunes and words spring to mind. Here are just a few of them.
Youthful yet ageless, renowned yet humble, epitome of fearlessness, imagination, glam rock, the seventies, the eighties, colour, metallic, snazz and pizzazz, style, freedom, inventiveness, creativity, oxygen, emotion, sophistication, underground, challenge, way out, pure artistry. A while back I expressed my love of Bowie’s portrayal of the central character in the film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. To complete my hymn to our departed hero I have included that post as an appendix to this one. With thoughts and meditations towards his grieving family, I add

>>Rest in Peace Maestro and Thank You for the Music<<

 

 

Here’s an earlier blog post:

Falling Into Life: David Bowie as Archetypal Energy

Famous for his shapeshifting and experimental, entrancing songs, David Bowie’s role in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth is rarely noted nowadays. For me this is one of his finest pieces of work, alongside the song Changes from the 1971 Hunky Dory album. As a rare example of a movie that closely mirrors the book, Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name published in 1963 tells the story of a Martian who comes to earth to find a way to save his planet, his species and his own family. Bowie captures perfectly the loneliness and at times despair of the alien as he tries to make himself understood by the people he becomes involved with on earth. There is always an archetypal quality to Bowie’s work and in this role, he seems to me to mirror the Jungian process of  individuation, that always requires some kind of descent into the unknown and often alien realms of the  unconscious.

Other symbols of a pending descent into the inner world include dreams of stairways down to a cave or basement, or sliding into a lake or ocean. The classic example is Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, whose descent down the rabbit hole and encounters with numerous archetypal characters represent the way in which humans can grow through encounters with the unconscious (see Clifton Snider’s article at http://www.csulb.edu/~csnider/Lewis.Carroll.html ).

Ancient myths also reflect this theme, like Orpheus in the underworld and Persephone’s cyclical return. But the ultimate goal of descent is to touch base in some way before returning to the world a more expanded and integrated person, like the hero returning with the elixir of life or as Jung expounded, the alchemist finding the lapis lazuli.

While not everyone’s cup of tea, The Man Who Fell To Earth gives me a sense of the ultimate creativity of the hero’s journey and takes the sting out of uncertainty and change, for though the hero may not achieve his or her initial plans, they often find connections and meaning in the new world, so that ultimately it is the journey, not the destination that matters.

What does David Bowie mean to you?

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