A dream job, in a dream city: A letter to the Ireland I’ve come home for
Cúirt 2020: The festival’s director on applying her insider-outsider experience
Bumping elbows at the launch of the Cúirt programme in Galway are director Sasha de Buyl, left, and Tara O’Connor, Galway Arts Centre.
I made peace with my status as a “blow-in” long ago. In 1992, my family blew in to Clonakilty, not from Macroom or Killarney but from Belgium, of all places. I swallowed my classmates’ inability to pronounce my name and got on with things. Ireland became my home, and I became more Irish than anything else.
And then, just like that, I blew out again, to university in Scotland. I graduated during the financial crash to cries of “Don’t come home!” from family and friends alike. I stayed away. Though I missed home, being away from it had changed my view of the place. The Ireland I had left behind was pre-marriage equality, pre-repeal, and struggling through austerity.
So what brought me blowing back in?
A dream job, in a dream city: director of Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway. And I am delighted to be back. Ireland has a long way to go (don’t we all?) but it’s a country that has bucked international trends towards the political right, and has voted with compassion and open-mindedness on important issues at every turn in recent years. It’s a country that’s facing up to its complicated history. Even on the week I arrived we saw yet another historic moment, with the country voting against the establishment parties in search of major change.
This year’s programme is my first as director, and is in a lot of ways a letter to the Ireland I watched evolve from afar.
It’s a programme that has the celebration of Irish writing at its heart and it’s a joy to be able to bring together so many exceptional Irish voices. This year, on April 24th, Anne Enright returns to Cúirt to discuss her latest novel, Actress, and Kevin Barry will join Jan Carson on the 25th for what is sure to be an invigorating discussion of their approaches to craft, language and place. Eimear McBride, continuing to push her writing into bold new places, will discuss her latest book, Strange Hotel, on April 21st. On Saturday, April 25th, audiences can join Rob Doyle on a pilgrimage of cheap thrills. Called “riddling, irreverent and fearless” by the TLS, his novel Threshold pushes at the limits of sensation and establishes Doyle as one of the most original writers working today.
Tramp Press continue to knock it out of the park when it comes to both new voices and experimentation and we’re thrilled to welcome two such voices to the festival this year. Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat is a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction, speaking to and incorporating aspects of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. Sara Baume’s Handiwork charts the daily process of making and writing, and cements Baume’s place as an important Irish voice, be she working via fiction, prose or visual art. At Cúirt, they’ll come together to talk about the lines between their different artistic practices, and how these borders are traversed while maintaining a unique voice.
Elsewhere, we’ll see Elaine Feeney debuting her novel, As You Were. At times hilarious, at times unflinchingly dark, fans of her poetry will enjoy seeing Feeney take on a new form. We’ll also be joined by celebrated contemporaries Mary Costello, Alan McMonagle and Michael Gorman.
With Brexit now unequivocally under way, it was vital to bring you a programme that acknowledges and celebrates Ireland’s place within European communities, and Ireland’s language as one of many across the continent. On our special World Literature Day, we’ll see European writers placed alongside writers from Ireland to discuss what a greater European tradition of literature might look like.
Fiction writer and art critic Shota Iatashvilli will join Claire-Louise Bennett to discuss how a writer’s eye impacts how they interpret the world, and we’ll see Myroslav Laiuk, from Ukraine, Manjola Nasi, from Albania, and Nina Dragicevic from Slovenia examine how a position on the edges of Europe gives them a unique perspective on what it means to be European in Poetry from the European Periphery.
Borders and the journeys we take to cross them create a focal point in our programme. As an immigrant whose parents made Ireland their home, Ireland of the Welcomes is an event very close to my heart. It places migrant writers, including Kapka Kassabova, Owudunni Mustapha and Melatu Uche Okorie, at the centre of the conversation, sharing the conceptions of home and belonging through their work.
Kapka Kassabova has become well-known for her clear-eyed and moving writing on borders and her latest book, To the Lake, is no exception. She will be joined in a special evening event by Philip Marsden, author of the much-loved The Summer Isles, to discuss how water of all kinds holds a place in our history, mythology and personal narratives.
Something I felt most keenly while away was the absence of the Irish language in my life. This year, our Irish language writers are integrated throughout our programme, with Irish language writers appearing in every day of our public events. Keep an eye out for Mothertongues, a performance event featuring poets Ifor Ap Glyn, Padraig MacAoidh and Cíara Ní É working across their languages of Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish, and revelling in the exuberance and dynamism of their respective “mothertongues”.
For session lovers, our free-to-all Paddy Whiskey events, brilliantly curated by musician Tracy Bruen, make a return. Perfect for anyone who enjoys a story or a song with their pint, they will take place from Monday to Friday during Cúirt. Keep an eye out for the lineup, to be released at the start of April.
This year, Cúirt will shine a light on some of the finest poets working today. Over the week, we’ll be bringing the newly appointed British poet laureate Simon Armitage, the globally-renowned Carolyn Forché, and the dynamic and vital poetic voice of Kei Miller to our stages.
In a first for the festival, poet, rapper, novelist and playwright Kate Tempest will bring her solo spoken word performance to Cúirt. A powerful performer with work that captures the uncertainty and fear of contemporary Britain, this event is not to be missed.
We are living through interesting times, and in such moments, we often look to writers and words to help us make sense of it all. What better place, then, than a literature festival, to come together and exchange ideas, challenge historic thinking and be inspired to think about what our world could become. I’ve only just returned but I’m excited to be part of that conversation.
Cúirt 2020 runs from April 20th to 25th