LISTOWEL Writers’ Week is currently undergoing a reappraisal that at one point looked as if it might see the hugely popular festival in north Kerry cancelled. However, that eventuality seems to have been headed off, but deep divisions remain between those who organise the festival and those who have traditionally helped to run it.
Ongoing problems crystallised at the end of November when the highly respected and acclaimed author Colm Tóibín stepped down as president. This shock move came on foot of an announcement by the organising board that volunteers who helped run the festival until now, would be replaced with a professional ‘literary curator’.
This step came after a report commissioned by the board into the running of the festival recommended systemic restructuring of the event.
Tóibín is a heavyweight in Irish cultural circles. From Enniscorthy, his novel Brooklyn was made into a highly acclaimed film; other novels include The Heather Blazing and The Master. The writer, who has been nominated for the Booker Prize five times, is Chancellor of the University of Liverpool as well as Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in New York. He is currently Laureate for Irish Fiction 2022-2024.
So the loss of his presence to the Listowel festival will be a significant blow,
Feeling are now running high in the wake of Tóibín’s resignation, with strenuous efforts now being made to resolve the crisis.
The board's chairperson Catherine Moylan said its recommendations were unanimously accepted by the board, and that the board’s responsibility was to see more diversity and inclusivity across the remit of the festival. This is an important aspect of government funding and is pertinent to all festivals and cultural events in Ireland.
Former arts minister and board member Jimmy Deenihan said “the impasse” needs to be resolved. The festival, which has 52-year history, is too important to be jeopardised. “Matters are now at a sensitive stage,” Mr Deenihan said.
A statement on the website says: “Our 2023 festival will take place from 31st May until 4th June 2023 and marks the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Listowel Writers’ Week, a unique festival that continues to support writers, readers, and audiences in a convivial setting in Listowel.
“We’ve just advertised for our first literary curator to programme the backbone events of Writers’ Week 2023. We are excited to announce this new development as part of our strategy to strengthen the quality of our artistic programming, to broaden and deepen the reach of our festival, and to make sure that our programming reflects the rich diversity and challenging complexity of the world we live in.”