At the end of October, Liverpool held its first annual Literary Festival with Helen Taylor directing the proceedings. Many of the events were held at the University’s own Victoria Gallery & Museum which made it accessible to students and others alike meaning the turnout was high as expected. There were talks from high profile speakers such as Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Ali Smith, Lemn Sissay, Philip Pullman and Colm Tóibín as well as a number of many other smaller discussions and debates. Here’s an overview of three of the events that I was lucky enough to attend!
Three Women Revolutionaries was a panel which was chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow Attorney General who was once described as the ‘most dangerous woman in Britain’ for her outspoken views. Joining Chakrabarti were Rachel Holmes, the author of Eleanor Marx: A Life and an upcoming biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, and Bee Rowlatt, a journalist and author of In Search of Mary: The Mother of all Journeys, inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft. The panel predominantly discussed Marx, Pankhurst and Wollstonecraft and their role in shaping women’s rights and modern feminism before a hosting a lengthy Q&A session. The panel was fascinating and highlighted the importance of each of these ‘revolutionaries in history’. Holmes and Rowlatt both spoke passionately about their chosen individuals and there was a lot to learn from this panel such as how Sylvia Pankhurst went to prison more than any other suffragette and how Eleanor Marx was one of the most important political figures of the 19th century. Rowlett even explained how she followed Wollstonecraft’s footsteps and went on the same journey as she did over 200 years before when researching for her book which was awe-inspiring to hear about. The biographies of Wollstonecraft and Marx are both available online and Holmes’ book about Pankhurst will be released in 2018; they seem to be very interesting reads!
Another interesting panel was Poets in the City which was particularly relevant to Liverpool students as the poets were all from the University’s English department. Sandeep Parmar began by reading from her collection, Eidolon, where she gives a voice to Helen of Troy in a modern revision of the myth. It was interesting to hear from Helen’s perspective as Parmar made her relatable to modern readers. John Redmond is a writer and publisher as well as working for the university and he read from his collection The Alexandra Sequence and shared several poems. A main theme of his poetry was memories and the personal nature of the poems were clear. Finally, Deryn Rees-Jones, who has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot poem competition among other awards, read from a couple of poems including Mon Amour which she described as a ‘big prose poem’ which was entirely true unlike many of the other poems that had been recited. All three of the poets were captivating to listen to and spoke clearly allowing the audience to be absorbed into their worlds. Their poetry anthologies are also all available online and should be good reads.
Finally, there was an exclusive exhibition of Adrian Henri’s paintings on display in the gallery. Adrian Henri was a prominent poet but also gained popularity as an artist and remained prolific in this role right until his death in 2000. The exhibition was put together by art historian Catherine Marcangeli who displayed Henri’s art and poetry side by side for viewing.
Some pieces like the ‘Storm’ artwork were abstract and in some cases perplexing, whilst others were complex and highlighted Henri’s talent and versatility. The art display was particularly interesting to look at as it featured many different themes and were locally relevant, with some of pieces having links to Liverpool itself.
The Victoria Gallery & Museum often has exhibits on display to look at and the venue always makes for an enjoyable visit. These events showcased the diversity of talent that this year’s Liverpool Literary Festival had to offer. It was a great success, and it certainly is one event, looking forward to next year, to definitely look out for!