Cúirt has long been transforming Galway into a European city of culture
Programme director Emily Cullen on this year’s literary festival highlights
Cúirt programme director Emily Cullen at the launch of Cúirt 2019 at The Nuns Island Theatre last Friday. Photograph: Boyd Challenger
In fewer than four weeks’ time, renowned writers from over 15 countries will descend on Galway city for the 2019 Cúirt International Festival of Literature, carrying with them unique stories from distant lands and cultures. As the countdown begins it is slightly nerve-wracking, but also exhilarating, to type these words. In my second year as programme director, I have a keener understanding, from both the perspective of a long-time attendee and a behind-the-scenes organiser, of the tantalising Cúirt cocktail and its chief ingredients: one part welcoming atmosphere; a generous dash of local support and engaged audiences; a small but professional team slowly blended in; a twist of the effluvial beauty of Galway, all shaken together with the intoxicating excellence of the authors and the inevitability of discovering some new favourite writers along the way.
In our 34-year history, this will be one of our most broadly international festivals yet, featuring participants from Albania, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palestine, Ukraine, United States and Slovenia, as well as the very best of contemporary Irish authors. It is Cúirt’s honour to bring our audiences together with this diversity of writers to enable the flow and interchange of language, ideas and inspiration. What I hope is that each attendee and visiting author will take away memories of new, enriching literary experiences and encounters.
Last Friday, distinguished writer and journalist Lorna Siggins launched the programme by recounting her memories of Cúirt over the years and fondly remembering her late Irish Times colleague, Eileen Battersby:
“I loved how Galway transformed into a ‘village of verse’ when I first moved West for the Irish Times. Cúirt has long been transforming Galway into a European city of culture. On a far more modest budget and in a very inclusive, low-key but really impressive way[…] Eileen would love this programme, which continues to look beyond the Anglo-American world. As she once wrote, after attending Cúirt, ‘Long may we find ourselves sent home with our bags full of books, our minds full of images, eager for more of Europe’s multiplicity of voices, music and sound’.”
Lorna also noted that Cúirt audiences are not shy about interacting with visiting authors. She praised the woman who piped up from the auditorium, at last year’s festival, that she would like Alan Rusbridger to play Chopin’s Ballade No 1, a central subject of his book, Play It Again. The piece had already been performed at the event by the brilliant Finghin Collins. Rusbridger obliged, thanks to the request of the audacious audience member, and played the piece again with his own individual interpretation. This engagement and rapport between writers and Cúirt audiences is one of those zesty cocktail ingredients.
So, what highlights can audiences expect from Cúirt 2019? The transformative power of story is at the heart of the festival and our themes include “humanity and technology” and “literature of witness”. At a time when we seek to resist dismissive labels such as “post-truth” and “fake news”, literature of witness takes on an especially urgent note, grounded as it is in veracity, testament, common humanity and continuous challenge.
Cúirt is delighted to present two riveting, provocative voices on the international contemporary spoken word stage. Patricia Smith is the author of Incendiary Art, winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry. Smith is also a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer prize. She will perform along side the Palestinian spoken word poet and human rights activist, Rafeef Ziadah. Ziadah’s performance of poems such as We Teach Life, Sir and Shades of Anger went viral within days of their release. Her live readings offer a moving blend of poetry and music. Since releasing her first album, Hadeel, she has headlined prestigious performance venues across several countries with powerful readings on war, exile, gender and racism. This event will be chaired by renowned journalist and broadcaster Olivia O’Leary and recorded for The Poetry Programme on RTÉ Radio One.
A reading by Nigerian-born Man Booker Prize winner Ben Okri is another notable highlight this year. Okri divided his childhood between Nigeria, where he saw first-hand the consequences of civil conflict, and London. He has won many prizes over the years for his fiction and is also an acclaimed essayist, playwright, and poet. Okri will be in conversation with writer and broadcaster Vincent Woods as they discuss freedom, the role of the artist, the inspiration behind his novels and traditions of storytelling in Nigeria and Ireland.
The Cúirt keynote, Human Rights in the Age of Terrorism: Perspectives and Reflections, will be presented by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin. For the past two decades, democracies have made counter-terrorism efforts a foreign policy priority. However, a number of these measures have raised serious human rights concerns. Galway native Prof Ní Aoláin is United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism. Her book On the Frontlines: Gender, War and the Post Conflict Process was published by Oxford University Press (2011). Ní Aoláin recently edited the Oxford Handbook on Gender and Conflict (2017). This event will be chaired by Prof Siobhán Mullally, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway.
A unique event, Transhumanism: Extending Mortality, addresses our technology theme by exploring the question: just how far can humanity accommodate technology in our quest to extend life expectancy? Award-winning writer Mark O’Connell will read from his provocative book, To Be a Machine, which was awarded the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize and has been translated into 15 languages.
Two internationally-acclaimed young novelists, both formally and thematically daring, will feature in another special reading. New York-based Joshua Cohen was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists in 2017. Born in 1980, his recent novels include Moving Kings and Book of Numbers. English author Will Eaves has written five novels and two books of poetry. Murmur, a story inspired by the life and research of the computer-science pioneer Alan Turing, was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2018 and was a Book of the Year in the New Scientist, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian.
Gone: A girl, a violin, a life unstrung will showcase the literary and musical talents of Min Kym, author and virtuoso violinist. Cúirt, in partnership with Music for Galway, will present this unique event featuring the Korean-born, London-raised musician who will discuss growing up as a child prodigy and provide insight into the world of a budding soloist. She will also discuss the special relationship a violinist develops with their instrument, in this case, a priceless Stradivarius that was dramatically stolen from her in London. Min Kym will also perform some of the musical works mentioned in her bestselling memoir.
The theme of witness resonates in Voices from Albania: Beyond Dictatorship which features English PEN award-winner, Luljeta Lleshanaku and Galway-based Albanian poet, Ndrek Gjini. An upsurge in Albanian writing followed the collapse of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship in 1990 as poets and writers were given complete freedom to write, almost overnight. This new writing was original because the poets had experienced virtually no contact with the literature of the outside world. With an ability to transcend time and culture, Lleshanaku is a pioneer of Albanian poetry. Born in 1968, she was 17 when Hoxha died in 1985 and quickly established herself as a powerful poetic voice. Galway-based Albanian poet, Ndrek Gjini, is well-known in the local arts and literature scene and a founder of The Galway Review. Join two poets and old friends as they enlighten us about the fraught and gripping history of Albania and its literature.
In cooperation with our partner festivals in Croatia and Slovenia, Cúirt will launch our pan-European project, Read Me I Am Yours as part of our World Literature Day on Tuesday, April 9th. This day will enable the sharing of stories from a host of other cultures, with a special focus on minority languages. The day will culminate in our popular World Perspectives event which celebrates international literature in English translation. Participants will include Esther Kinsky, the renowned German author of multi-awardwinning novel River; one of France’s most exciting young novelists, Sylvain Prudhomme; Croatian author Igor Stiks, whose novel The Judgment of Richard Richter has been translated into 15 languages; and Slovenian writer Jasmin B Frelih, whose debut novel In/Half received the EU Prize for Literature and the Best Literary Debut award.
As always, Cúirt provides a vital platform for emerging young writers along side established household names and writers. Sarah Davis-Goff, Sue Rainsford, Emilie Pine, Ian Maleney, Nicole Flattery and Aoibheann McCann will share their vibrant visions from a new generation of younger Irish authors. Likewise, the strong poetry line-up features both well-known poets such as Tess Gallagher, Cork’s Thomas McCarthy, Mark Granier and Moyra Donaldson alongside distinguished notable newcomers such as Ailbhe Darcy, Jessica Traynor and RTE’s John Kelly, whose first collection, Notions, was described in The Irish Times as “probably the best debut of 2018”.
We have so many stories for you to choose from at Cúirt 2019; what choices will you make this year? We invite you to think about what it feels like to grow up a musical child prodigy, to experience the resilience of people living in occupied Palestine, to feel the anguish of an African American mother as she worries about her sons, to taste the joy of experiencing creative freedom for the first time after the collapse of a totalitarian dictatorship, to enter the debates around transhumanism and artificial intelligence and so much more. We warmly invite you to come along to this year’s Cúirt to see your favourite authors and, also, hopefully to discover some new favourites along the way.
Our poster image was designed by leading Galway artist, Jennifer Cunningham. The hopscotch leading to the Town Hall Theatre in her imaginative rendering is an invitation to us all to take a curious and playful leap into literary discovery! It is only a hop, skip, and a jump to Galway, April 8th-14th!