We want to thank those of you who attended the first ever NCLA Festival of Belonging. It was a fantastic weekend which has received outstanding feedback, including a great review on The Guardian’s Northerner blog. Before the main Festival kicked off on Friday, 4 May, Trashed Organ provided four exciting evenings of music, writers, and art at The Bridge in Newcastle and The Central in Gateshead. These events, which provided audience members with interesting opportunities, including sending postcards to strangers and writing post-it note ‘tweets’, encouraged alternative thought and entertained with their diverse array of participants. Writer in residence, Helen Oyeyemi, who hosted a writing workshop and took part in a discussion during the Festival, had this to share about her experience at the Festival of Belonging:
‘Modern technology plays a part in shaping the contemporary attitude towards belonging – we travel, we stay connected to our friends and families by email and Skype and cross-continent text messages; scholars consult e-texts from universities thousands of miles away – communities broaden and we sometimes forget the size of the world. This festival has offered a forum for the discussion and consideration of ideas surrounding home, community, identity – in terms of nationality and otherwise. It’s fitting that Bloodaxe’s Out of Bounds, a poetry collection re-mapping Britain through the voices of black and Asian writers, was launched at this festival. And other flagrant stylistic and formal boundary crossers spoke and read here in Newcastle – Bernardine Evaristo, Daljit Nagra, Hari Kunzru, Jackie Kay, and Sapphire.
Here are other highlights of the festival for me: first there’s the feeling of kinship that connects those who attend any festival that has a real interest in books and the people who read and write them at its heart. Some may go to readings and deny experiencing any such feeling, but you may be sure that if reading was banned tomorrow, these are the people who’d raise hell (or be driven underground, to begin a warren-like network of civil disobedience, complete with codewords and insignia). At this particular festival I brought pages of text from my favourite writers to the workshop table and we had a word picnic, fourteen thoughtful, curious literary folks and me, looking at different ways of narrating our place in the worlds of others, and the place that other people hold in our own worlds. It’s just struck me that none of the writers whose work we discussed are currently living. Pushkin and Dickinson have been dead for a couple of centuries. But of course they were with us, so much with us that it wasn’t easy to isolate what era all of the stories had been written in.
The sharing of stories continued in other ways, whether it happened as part of informal conversations (recognising my younger self when Helen Limon mentioned learning Englishness through Enid Blyton stories), but I’ve also been part of an audience that Sapphire thrilled with her integrity, her loyalty to the characters she’s created and the social and psychological realities they live through. Hearing her in conversation with Jackie Kay, and hearing how calm both writers were about the complicated manoeuvres they pull off in their writing, only highlighted their sheer intellectual gutsiness. In Sapphire’s case, we’re talking about bringing some of the characteristics of the slave narrative into synthesis with contemporary feminism, holding contemporary America in a radical gaze at the same time as occasionally riffing off Dostoyevsky. There is that side of belonging that demands that we challenge the context we live in.’
Overall, the Festival of Belonging was thought-provoking, stimulating, and entertaining, bringing together a diverse group of writers, speakers, artists, musicians, and a wonderful audience for a week of literary and cultural events. We hope to see you all again soon at future NCLA events, and appreciate your support and interest for the Festival of Belonging.