Bristol Group: The Changing Face of Literary Festivals
7 October @ 12:00 - 13:00 BST
Join the Bristol Group on Friday 7 October from 12pm for their next online session. This month we will be joined by Helen Taylor to discuss all things festivals.
Helen Taylor was the director of the first two Liverpool Festivals and initiated the Exeter Children’s Literature Festival. She has curated for festivals from Oxford to Fowey, and chairs many literary events. She is on the planning group of the Clifton LitFest. Her book Why Women Read Fiction (2019) contains a chapter on literary festivals and tourism.
Until 2020 and the first Covid lockdown, literary festivals were thriving. The large international festivals like Hay, Edinburgh and Cheltenham were going from strength to strength, as were events in small towns, often sponsored by independent bookshops. The gatherings of authors, publishers and audiences contributed significantly to local economies. For writers, festivals provided opportunities to sell their books, meet readers and potential readers, agents and publishers, and also to enjoy a communal gathering away from the solitary desk or kitchen table.
During the three lockdowns, many festivals went online, and the Zoom interview or talk became standard. Given the global reach of Zoom, writers for the first time were able to address readers across the world, even if unable to have coffee with them in a tent; to some extent this has democratised and internationalised the festival industry.
Covid put paid to several small festivals, and reduced the scope of larger ones. It also focussed minds on the narrow range of audiences’ class, age and ethnicity, and has led to some rethinking of the size, accessibility and marketing of such events. In 2021, a Working Class Writers Festival was held in Bristol, and – even though many already offer children’s programmes – directors are experimenting with ways to attract younger, working class and minority ethnic punters, especially in the light of the cost of living crisis.
A recent Guardian article raised the possibility that literary festivals are doomed, yet – like music festivals – they are adapting to new circumstances to ensure a vital live presence of literary culture that supports writers and the whole publishing industry.
All members welcome – please come with your questions!
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