‘Books are an empathy machine. They bring people together’

CĂșirt festival director Sasha de Buyl on what the 2022 festival has in store for Galway

AS THE Covid pandemic begins to wane, as restrictions ease, and people can gather for arts and cultural events once more, how appropriate it is that Cúirt 2022 should be themed around meetings and interactions.

The Cúirt International Festival of Literature returns from April 4 to 10, with close to 40 events - almost all of them in-person - with 17 hybrid events, and only two fully online. For festival director, Sasha de Buyl, this is exciting, not just professionally, but also personally.

“I’ve been in the job got just over two years now and I’ve yet to have an in-person festival,”Sasha tells me during our Monday afternoon interview, “so the idea that we get to do events with the people of Galway, and to see the joy and excitement it brings to people, is really exciting and I just can’t wait.”

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Sasha de Buyl. Photo:- Boyd Challenger

That sensibility comes through in this year’s theme - ‘at the intersection’. “There are a couple of different levels to it,” says Sasha. “The first is the idea of coming back together, meeting at the crossroads. The second is that, as Irish society has changed so much in the past 20 years, a focus on shared experience and connection is important. Although we might have begun from vastly different starting points, there is often a crossover of experience where we can meet in the middle.

“That is also something books do. They are an empathy machine. They bring people together and that’s in the festival - bringing readers to a book they might not have expected before, or to a writer they may not know, but they will find great connection with.”

Novelists at Cúirt

A highlight of the festival will be Irish author, Sara Baume, launching her new novel, Seven Steeples, and speaking with the artist Dorothy Cross. Another must see event will be with The New York Times best-selling writer, Rumaan Alam, whose dystopian novel, Leave The World Behind, was long listed for the Booker last year.

“When I read it I was completely taken aback,” says Sasha. “The crispness and precision of the writing was just amazing. It captures racial tension so well, it’s an exercise in building dread.

"It’s about a couple that goes away for a weekend to a fancy Airbnb with their kids. They come from Brooklyn, and they head out to Long Island, and then there is a blackout, then the internet goes, the phone goes, there is no signal. Then there is a knock at the door, and outside is an elderly black couple, who are like, ‘Hi, we own this house’. It does this amazing thing where you are in the heads of the characters, and they don’t know what’s going on, and occasionally the narrator will give you crumbs, hints of what is happening on the outside. It is so good!”

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Rebecca Watson. Photo:- Sophie Davidson

The festival’s partnership with the Desmond Elliott Prize continues, with events with shortlisted authors Rebecca Watson (“She wrote a beautiful, experimental novel, Little Scratch, about the impact of one day in the working life of a woman,” says Sasha ); Ellie Williams, who wrote The Liar’s Dictionary, about the nature of language; and the winner, AK Blakemore, who wrote The Manningtree Witches, a historical novel about 18th century witch trials.”

There will also be a graphic novel event, with The New Yorker cartoonist, Will McPhail, who last year published his first full-length graphic nove, In. “It is laugh out loud hilarious and it will make you cry,” says Sasha. “He is also hilarious in person. I think that’s going to be a cracking event.”

Poets at the festival

Leading British poets Roger Robinson and Raymond Antrobus will both read at Cúirt 2022. Robinson was the first Black British poet to win the TS Eliot Prize, for A Portable Paradise, an exploration of grief, race, and the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Raymond Antrobus was the first poet to win the Rathbones Folio Prize for The Perseverance, praised by the judges as "an immensely moving book of poetry which uses his deaf experience, bereavement, and Jamaican-British heritage to consider the ways we all communicate with each other."

Also reading at Cúirt is Irish poet Gail McConnell. Her acclaimed collection, The Sun Is Open, explores the murder of her father, William McConnell, the deputy governor of the Maze prison, by the IRA in 1984. “It will be a standard work of Irish poetry for decades to come,” reckons Sasha.

One of the purely online events for this year’s Cúirt will feature leading contemporary American poet, Claudia Rankine, best known for Citizen: An American Lyric and Just Us: An American Lyric. “They are experiential, multi-form, essay poems which draw in images, Tweets, non-academic referencing, and are a dissection of race in America,” says Sasha.

Panel events and discussions

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Cúirt 2022 will also host a number of panel events with discussions on dismantling capitalism, r’n’b singer Solange, colonialism, the Irish language, and fatphobia. A highlight though, will be the appearance of Shon Faye [pictured above], author of the acclaimed The Transgender Issue.

“That book is a really thoughtful and precise insight into how capitalism and the patriarchy impacts on trans people, and also how it impacts on the rest of the world,” says Sasha, “and how a world that was better for trans people would be better for all of us.”

Attending the festival

Cúirt 2022 will be trialling a pilot pay what you can model for all in-person events, with prices tiered at €5, €10, €15, €20. “We still rely heavily on box office income, and we hope people will consider paying as high as they can,” said Sasha, “but we also urge people to pay at a level they can afford. We hope this new system will open up Cúirt to audiences who might not normally be able to afford it.”

The main festival venues will be the Town Hall Theatre, The Mick Lally Theatre, and An Taibhdhearc. All venues will be wheelchair accessible. The festival club will be in the outdoor space of Carroll’s, Dominick Street.

The Cúirt festival programme will be launched this evening, Thursday February 24, at 6pm in Carroll’s Bar Caravan Club, Dominick Street. For more information see www.cuirt.ie

 

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