Listowel Writers’ Week appoints curator for first time in 52 years

Appointment of curator follows controversy about leadership and governance of Ireland’s longest-running literary festival

Listowel Writers’ Week has announced Stephen Connolly as curator to programme the Co Kerry literary festival in 2023. He will be the first curator in the festival’s 52 years. The decision to appoint a professional curator follows controversy about the leadership and governance of Ireland’s longest-running literary festival.

Mr Connolly is one of the team of two behind The Lifeboat literary organisation in Belfast, which runs events matching established and emerging writers. He is delighted by the opportunity to curate Listowel, he said on Friday.

“I have a great deal of respect for the festival’s history and the place it holds in the landscape of Irish writing. I am looking forward to spending time in Listowel and getting a deeper understanding of the community behind the festival renowned for its warmth and energy.

“My approach to events for readers and writers in Belfast over the last decade is in line with everything I’ve heard about Listowel: my aim is always to create the right atmosphere for the best writing to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, whether in a big theatre or a small back room.

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“Being tasked with maintaining the community spirit of the festival while helping to maintain its established position as a leader in high-quality programming is not something I take lightly and I look forward to the months ahead.”

The festival chairwoman Catherine Moylan said: “Stephen’s vision for 2023 is broad, innovative, fresh and exciting. It also encompasses both a respect for our proud literary heritage as well as an eclectic, outward looking international perspective”.

Until now, the line-up of the festival was planned by a large voluntary committee. Appointing a curator was one of a series of recommendations in an independent consultant’s report which invited all committee members’ opinions.

The report referred to a “toxic culture” within the organisation and made recommendations to address weaknesses in artistic direction and programming, governance shortcomings and to stabilise and secure the existing professional management and administration of the organisation.

Ms Moylan said the new curator would bring a fresh eye and approach to its line up. “There will be much interest in the 2023 programme for our long-standing visitors to Listowel and, we hope, much that will attract and tempt many new visitors also. We are sure Stephen will engage with all of our volunteers, visitors and supporters in ensuring the 2023 Listowel Writers’ Week festival is better than ever. We remain grateful to the Arts Council for their support and encouragement throughout.”

Mr Connolly has many connections in the literary world, and has worked closely with writers including Paul Muldoon, Kayo Chingonyi, Colette Bryce and Doireann Ní Ghríofa, and published early work by Stephen Sexton, Susannah Dickey and Michael Magee. He commissioned Queering the Green anthology and was involved with the Belfast Book Festival’s poetry programming from 2012 until 2020.