Preview: NCLA’s Festival Of Belonging
By Marian Shek on April 27, 2012 in Society
Years after Durham and Hexham got in on the lit-fest act, Newcastle finally gets one of its own – The Festival of Belonging, which is probably the first festival of its kind to be themed around the idea of “belonging”.
Taking place on campus at Newcastle University and at various venues across Newcastle, the festival will include readings and workshops by world renowned authors such as Tahmima Anam, festival writer-in-residence Helen Oyeyemi, and Hari Kunzru, who courted controversy earlier this year when he read from The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Literature Festival in support of his pal Salman Rushdie.
The timing of the Festival of Belonging, on Monday 30 April to Sunday 6 May, has been planned to lead up to the regional Cultural Olympiad festivities. “With the whole world coming to London to mark the biggest sporting event, we wanted to bring people from around the world to Newcastle,” explains Juliana Mensah, one of the festival coordinators.
Viccy Adams, another festival organiser adds: “This is also the year that Newcastle University launches its societal challenge on Social Renewal. The idea of ‘home’ arose from this. In the discussion around what it means to be at home and to have a home, to belong, literature tends to take the outsider view. So we became interested in what it means to come into a space from a different area to build a new life, to move between different communities. ‘Home’ in that context impacts on who you are and on your identity.”
With increasing ethnic diversity and rolling debates on nationalism and multiculturalism, a good natter about belonging, home and identity is as timely as ever. And we northerners know a thing or two about identity and the sense of belonging to a certain patch (you know what I’m talking about, you Geordies and Mackems…)
“For myself and people of a similar background to me, you often feel slightly lost or you feel like the outsider,” said Juliana, a second generation Anglo-African who grew up feeling like she didn’t fully belong in her birthplace, London, or in her parents’ homeland. “So when I moved up here I found it really interesting how rooted in a very specific history and identity people were.”
“The North East is defined by the history of industry and the mines, but that’s changing. It’s become somewhere people choose to belong to, it’s somewhere people come to make their home and carve out a space,” adds Viccy, herself a Scot-turned-Geordie.
All sounds good so far, but what do books have to do with it?
“Books open up different perspectives on the world,” Viccy said.
“Literature is also a very intimate way of engaging with your audience,” adds Juliana. “You’re inside somebody’s head. You can find yourself empathising with a person, a thought process or an experience that is completely removed from your own.”
“The North East is defined by the history of industry and the mines, but that’s changing. It’s become somewhere people choose to belong to, it’s somewhere people come to make their home and carve out a space,”
But worry not, if this is all sounding a little stuffy for your liking. Trashed Organ have been roped in to complement the NCLA’s programme with a more tongue-in-cheek look at the idea of “un-belonging”. They will curate a fringe festival of free-flowing performance poetry, alcohol and music of the highest calibre, with a strong focus on regional writers, playing out in more informal settings.
There will also be two film screenings at the Tyneside Cinema: award-winning film Precious on Friday night, with a discussion between Sapphire (the author of Push, from which the film was adapted) and the festival chair Jackie Kay; and on Sunday afternoon, I Am Nasrine, a budget coming-of-age drama set in Tehran and Newcastle, with director Tina Gharavi.
Other highlights are a series of radio plays by Voices of Iran, and readings by Kayo Chingonyi, Benerdine Evaristo and Daljit for the Out of Bounds Anthology, the culmination of a three-year project on migrant literature called Devolving Diasporas.
It’s apparent by now that there’ll be lots of lovely delights for the North East literati, but what about the curious, trepidatious few who are fearful of dipping their toes in the water?
“This festival is for anyone who likes stories. The writers are really diverse and write such a range of styles and subjects – you’d be hard pushed not to find something that interested you. Just check the NCLA archive website to see what you can expect,” says Viccy, reassuringly.
“Even within the many people out there who love books, so many don’t know they can come and love books with us. We just want to share that love more widely,” she says. With such fantastic writers and brilliantly bookish events lined up, I’ll definitely be joining the literary love-in.
The NCLA Festival Of Belonging Starts Monday the 30th of April at venues throughout the North East. Visit the website, or view the entire programme.
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