John B. wrote that observation a long time ago, in a different century. In JB's early works from almost 50 years ago, there certainly was indignation. His voice uttered the hitherto almost unutterable, his voice showed an Ireland that no-one really wanted to be talked about. At least not publicly. John B., revered now, did receive some shall we say, negative waves, during his lifetime, but sure that's all forgotten now.
There is now a wonderful festival in honour of the legacy of Listowel writers, including John B. It really does what is says on the tin - it's a week for writers in Listowel. I quote from the official website "Writers' Week festival was established in 1970 to celebrate those writers and to provide an opportunity for Irish Writers in general to develop their talents and meet new audiences".
The key words here are 'meet new audiences'. I will return to that, but in the meantime.
Premier Writing Festival?
It seems from the above official twitter profiles (15th June 2010) that there are two Premier Literary events in Ireland. What makes Listowel different? The Kerry Group Award for Irish Fiction? John Banville won it this year - a wonderful, erudite, pleasing writer, full of classical references. Where is the 'indignation'? Look at the past winners (I challenge you to find out who ALL the past winners were - don't try the official website) and you will find a list of safe, but wonderful, writers. I do not deny the worthiness of the winners - how could I? Have they not won prizes for their works from many sources?
Does LWW draw fame and credibility to itself by choosing known, proven winners, or at least safe winners? What differentiates it from any other literary festival in the world?
Is it the 'craic' and John B's ghost? Where is the heart of JB, or indeed of any Listowel writer, in 'Infinities' ?
Would the man who wrote 'Many young men of twenty' be 'safe' ? Listowel owes it to itself to look at it's raison d'etre, to quote an old kerryism. The festival deserves to flourish, not wither on the vine.
Meet New Audiences
This is perhaps another challenge which LWW could, should and must take up. The incident with Paul O'Mahony and a committee member (see this and this ) shows up the interface between the old and the new. Surely the best way to 'meet new audiences' is to fully embrace the net and all it's tools. It's not only LWW which falls down here, but that only creates a gap, an opportunity for LWW to leapfrog other festivals.
Some examples for you.
The official LWW twitter profile (see above) shows 10 tweets! 10!
-Don't bother with the LWW facebook page.
-Blog, - what LWW blog? None. (though there is excellent Fringe blog).
-The web-site should give more - a lot more. As mentioned above, there is no list of past winners. What about links to writers, editors, publishers? Some video links? Excerpts/full reprints of poems/stories? The web-site is not just a brochure - it is the LWW primary window to the world, to which all else connects.
-On-line discussions, Q/A sessions?
-Facilitate press - both official and citizen
-Accomodate 'fringe' events/matters
None of this costs a lot of money, but the impact world-wide for LWW could be immense.
The audience could be enormous, both for the LWW and the writers.
Unless LWW wants to be known as a parochial, provincial literary festival with a bit of craic, it must change.