Dani Gill: a day in the life of Cúirt International Festival of Literature
In the third of a series on how publishing works, Sarah Bannan talks to Cúirt’s director about programming, making connections, being open to ideas and being relentless
Dani Gill: Some people may think that programming Cúirt is just about having ideas and writing to bestselling authors on a whim and getting an answer by noon! But in truth, we are exposed to so much literature that covering all the bases requires discipline and skill, providing something refreshing to an audience means going outside the realms of what’s well known and offering something new
Dani Gill is the director of Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway. She introduced an outreach programme to the festival and is interested in working with communities, schools and libraries. She is also an independent curator and theatre producer, writer, creative writing tutor for young people and advisor to the Galway European Capital of Culture bid 2020.
How did you become a programmer?
This is difficult to answer! I’ve always been interested in connecting things, I think that’s how I found myself working in curation, and I love to share exciting material with others, so I guess presenting work to an audience was a very natural thing for me.
Cúirt has a huge programme and covers every type of writing – prose fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s writing – and it is international in its scope. How do you know you want to invite an author to come to read?
I think programming is a very complex so it can be hard to explain the method. I would say first of all that my brain is an enormous sponge and some of it is knowledge I want to have and some of it is information crammed in there from absorbing media, reading, researching. When you are responsible for such a broad programme insight and tuition are key but graft and research are essential. Some people may think that programming Cúirt is just about having ideas and writing to bestselling authors on a whim and getting an answer by noon! But in truth, we are exposed to so much literature that covering all the bases requires discipline and skill, providing something refreshing to an audience means going outside the realms of what’s well known and offering something new, and delivering a quality experience at a live event means careful selection, a curated format, and an understanding of the personalities at play as well as their work. I always know facts about my guests that may not be known to the audience; this comes into play in how I match people. Connections will often come out in the event then and the chemistry on stage will be great. Those are the hidden things I suppose that can make something special.
On a typical day, when and where does your reading happen?
Everywhere! There are books in my car, usually three or four in my bag, some on my desk, some next to the bed. I read five or six at the same time, different times of day depending on the type of book…
How much planning goes into pairing authors and choosing moderators? Can you think of some pairings you’re particularly proud of?
For me this takes a long time. I often take three to four months matching people from when I’ve booked them. I don’t believe in throwing people together; it’s lazy and the lack of imagination shows. Pairings I’m proud of include: Elif Batuman& Geoff Dyer (Cúirt 2012), and Simon Van Booy & David Mitchell (Cúirt 2012).
Okay, what’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Gather myself before I get submerged in emails!
What usually happens on your lunch break?
Food and, frequently, the good cake! I’ve learned to eat through the busy times, otherwise you’d fade away. My early years were a different story but I’ve been railroaded into better self-care and am grateful for it.
And what’s the last thing you do before you leave?
Strike things off my list and make tomorrow’s list.
What makes being a literary programmer a great job?
Getting to celebrate great writers, connecting with people, having an opportunity to work with words.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Seeing an audience enjoy an event.
And what’s the most frustrating?
People who put ego before vision.
Given that you’re dealing with authors and publishers from all over the world, and the events that run during the festival don’t exactly happen during office hours, is it very hard to forget about work? Do you feel pressure to be on 24/7?
Yes, I think all arts practitioners experience this. We are very committed to the work, and often the work is strongly connected with a personal passion so it is difficult to have a separate work life. I believe in the importance of downtime but I often need to be bullied into it!
What’s the thing you’ve done that you’re proudest of?
I think I’ve been one of the youngest directors of an international festival and during my time I’ve delivered five programmes of events, managed three EU partnerships, grown the youth programme 400 per cent, developed meaningful partnerships with communities and libraries. All of these things seem to reflect a positive run.
And what’s the experience you learned the most from? (Or, maybe, what have you learned never to do again?!)
I think my key lessons have been: Always be open to learning new things, respect your audience, and be relentless, with your vision, with your ambition, with your willingness to deliver.
Can you give us a little bit of a sneak preview of the 2016 festival?
I am working with a memory theme. This will come up throughout next year’s programme, and on Sunday, April 24th, the last day of the festival and the official day of remembrance of the 1916 Rising, we will be focusing on women, with a mini conference-style afternoon focusing on the status of women in Ireland over the past 100 years, including women in literature and women in the arts.
Sarah Bannan is the author of Weightless (Bloomsbury Circus)