John Hewitt Digital Festival of Literature and Ideas 2020

Like many summer schools and festivals, plans for the John Hewitt International Summer School were disrupted. Rather than meeting in Armagh, the organisers have shifted their programme of literature and ideas online.

As always, the festival theme is inspired by a phrase from the eponymous poet in the search beyond the current crisis for a brighter present and better future.

“The black cloud / is a happy portent / for dwellers in the drylands / waiting for the monsoon” (from For a Moment of Darkness Over the Nations)

This year’s collection of talks, recitals and discussions are free, running from Thursday 30 July to Saturday 1 August. If you register, you’ll receive a link to the online videoes. Some highlights from the programme schedule:

Thursday 30 at 4pm // Slugger O’Toole is delighted to be opening this year’s festival with a panel discussion asking After lockdown, can the arts return to health without a vaccine? Normally, we take Slugger TV out of the NvTv studio and on the road to film an episode in front of a live audience in Armagh, but this year Alan Meban is joined online by Roisín McDonough (chief executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland), Maureen Kenelly (director, An Chomhairle Ealaíon / The Arts Council of Ireland) Mary Nagele (chief executive, Arts and Business NI), John Campbell (economics and business editor, BBC Northern Ireland).

Friday 31 at 4pm // Writer and broadcaster Misha Glenny delivers a talk on The Four Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypse, addressing the most pressing issues facing the international order today, followed by a discussion with poet, musician and critic Cahal Dallat.

Friday 31 at 5.30pm // Irish novelist Eimear McBride (Girl is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians) in conversation with local author Jan Carson. McBride’s new novel Strange Hotel is described as “urgent and immersive … a novel of enduring emotional force”.

Saturday 1 August at 5.30pm // Out of My Time: John Hewitt on Brexit, COVID, Shifting Borders and Altered Identities – a panel discussion with poet and academic Gerry Dawe, novelist and lecturer, Heather Richardson, and chaired by Cahal Dallat. Hewitt’s words are much quoted, but what can or can’t they tell us about community, identity, and the importance of the arts in these fraught times?

While the talks are free, the organisers would appreciate donations to allow them to continue to provide entertaining and challenging content in these hard times for the arts. Or if you become a Friend of the Society: for a regular donation of £5 a month you’ll get a 10% discount on stock books from partner bookshop No Alibis.

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