One of the privileges of being a UEA student is having the ability to state that with every new term comes a new literary festival programme. For eight consecutive Wednesday nights this October and November, town and gown will once again be brought together in Lecture Theatre 1, united by an appreciation for literature that has been so much a part of this University’s history and Norwich’s. Yet it’s not just Norfolkians who make the trip – last year I found myself sitting next to two Cambridge professors who had spent the day cycling from their University over to ours for that evening’s talk.
Speaking of last year, many might think that after the 50th Anniversary welcomed world-renowned stars in Ian McEwan, Naomi Alderman and Kazuo Ishiguro (all of whom had studied Creative Writing at UEA), it’d be hard to equal such pedigree in the festival’s future incarnations. However with a line-up this term that includes national treasures and Pulitzer Prize winners alike, the feat seems to have been achieved. Professor Christopher Bigsby, festival organiser and compère of the evenings spoke to Concrete about this year’s roster:
“With Stephen Fry (honorary graduate of UEA) making a rare visit, Ian McEwan (UEA graduate) with a new novel and Malaysian writer Tash Aw (UEA graduate) appearing for the first time, this will be a startling festival. Add to that one of the world’s bestselling authors (Bernard Cornwell), a Pulitzer Prize winner (Jane Smiley), one of this country’s major novelists (Margaret Drabble), not to mention American writer David Vann, winner of more than a dozen prizes, Somerset Maugham Award winner Lawrence Norfolk and Eimear McBride whose first novel has earned her multiple prizes and the sheer range and quality of the Miller Centre Festival becomes apparent. The season will end with Richard Holmes, one of the country’s leading biographers and one-time Professor of Biographical Studies at UEA. Few, if any, other universities could compete with such a list.”
The attractions of an evening at the Literary Festival are threefold. For one, it’s always exciting to see and hear from someone you respect, but for that to happen in the same venue as your daily lectures can quickly instil one with a sense of real pride, not only at being a part of the evening, but at being affiliated with the University. Secondly, the special guest themselves always seems to enjoy the evening, which makes a real difference; when pop groups continually praise the crowd at a concert, it feels (and usually is) fake, but the artists do it because they know it’ll make the crowd feel happier. There is no such posturing at the Literary Festival, but judging by the laughter that abounds through LT1 during the talks, and the depth and sincerity with which the author usually responds to the questions, it’s hard not to feel like they’re as excited to be there as the audience is. Finally, after each talk, the invited author signs books and talks to whomever wishes to meet them, which in many instances last year became the highlight of a week. UEA’s branch of Waterstones has been able to purloin upwards of £100 worth of books from my account across evenings like these, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.