On 14–15 March, Bristol’s Watershed will be home to a celebration of women’s writing, with a series of events covering everything from the overlooked women writers of the Renaissance to the brightest and the best of today’s up and coming literary stars.
The festival was founded by feminist writer Siân Norris “to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices”.
It all kicks off with a screening of Paris was a Woman, a 1996 documentary film about the amazing women of the 1920s Paris literary scene including my beloved Colette, followed by an audience discussion chaired by Norris.
There will also be chances to see, among others, award-winning novelist and short story writer Michele Roberts, winner of Faber Young Poet of the Year Helen Mort, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, poet and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, activists and writers Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, and leading academic Helen Hackett. But despite all those names, I must admit I am most attracted to the event “The Vagina – a Literary and Cultural History” presented by Emma Rees. I do love a taboo.
Despite her being hugely busy at the moment, Norris kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me about the festival.
Kate: How much work has it been pulling it all together? Do you have a team or have you been doing this all alone?
Siân: A lot of work! I started planning this year’s festival around a year ago. So I started by plotting what kind of talks I wanted to see, then thinking about who I knew who would be interested in speaking, who I would like to hear speak. Once I had a list in my mind I got in touch with my venue and we discussed how the event could look and what support they could offer, as well as establishing dates. As in 2013 I had a fantastic response from speakers – people were really enthusiastic about wanting to be part of the festival. And then a few women got in touch with me and asked how they could be involved which was great. It really showed me how there is a need for the fest and how much women want to be part of the fest.
It is pretty much me on my own doing the work. But I have great support from my venue, Watershed, and all the team there; from the team at Bristol Festival of Ideas who help me with promotion and support the whole venture really; and for the first time this year I am collaborating on an event with Bristol Palestine Film Festival. Without these relationships it would be much harder.
Kate: Who would you have loved to get to the festival but didn’t manage to book, whether due to timing or money or other reasons?
Siân: I’m so thrilled with all my speakers – I couldn’t have hoped for a better line up. I had a very clear vision of who I wanted to speak and I pretty much ended up with all those women. It’s fantastic. I love how there is such a range of speakers – from women who are very established in their careers, to women who are just in the process of having their first book published, to women who are speaking about the forgotten achievements of historical writers. It’s such a variety that I think everyone will find something to enjoy and feel excited about.
However, my dream speaker? It’s a cheat, but it would be Gertrude Stein. She is just fabulous. I would have loved to have seen her Cambridge lectures in 1926. However, I’ve got the next best thing seeing as she died in 1946 – we’ll be screening the Paris was a Woman film, which features her reading from her work, as well as a host of women from her circle who were writing and creating on the Parisian Left Bank in the 1920s.
Kate: And finally, are you already planning future events or are you going to take a (well deserved) break come 16th March?
Siân: Yes I hope so. There were a couple of events I wanted to programme in the run up to the festival but time didn’t allow in the end (how is it March already next week!). So I’ll be running these “fringe” events over the summer. There won’t be a festival next year but maybe in 2017… However, for now I want to take some time to focus on re-drafting my new book. So that will be my priority for the next year.
In all, it sounds like a wonderful festival. I do hope that those of you who live anywhere near Bristol will come along!