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A celebration of words: Listowel Writers’ Week returns for its 53rd year this June bank holiday

From Liz Nugent to Seamus Heaney: Simone Langemann, acting festival manager of Listowel Writers’ Week, shares highlights from this year’s extraordinary programme.

AS WELL AS being the season of marvellous music festivals, summer is also the time for culture fans to revel in the wonders of literature. 

Taking place between May 31 until June 4, Listowel Writers’ Week, Ireland’s oldest literary festival, returns for its 53rd year of informative and enlightening events which are designed to give attendees fresh perspectives on the life and careers of their favourite writers. 

Situated in the picturesque heritage market town of Listowel, Co Kerry, the inaugural festival was held in 1971. On the Listowel Writers’ Week website, it states that part of its aim was to create a space for a “celebration of literature, cultural experiences and inspiration”. In doing so, the festival has always provided a platform for both emerging talent and established writers to share their experiences in the hope of inspiring voices across their audiences. 

IMG_9798 Rick O'Shea and Jeanine Cummins Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week

Simone Langemann, acting festival manager of Listowel Writers’ Week reiterated this sentiment to The Journal: “For such a small place as Listowel it has produced incredible literary talent such as John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon, Brendan Kennelly, to name just a few. The founders of Writers’ Week put great importance to supporting young talent and aspiring writers and many careers started off during Writers’ Week. The atmosphere during the festival is just magic and has to be experienced and cannot be described in words.”

Integral to the magical atmosphere is the quality and quantity of guest speakers that make their way to The Kingdom for the June Bank Holiday. As ever, this year’s programme features a tremendous curation of vital voices across a number of arts disciplines from poets to historians as well as revered names in the worlds of music and acting.

Simone and John John Connolly and Simone Langemann Pixie Kingdom via Listowel Writers' Week Pixie Kingdom via Listowel Writers' Week

At the 53rd edition of Listowel Writers’ Week, attendees can hear legendary songwriter Paul Brady discuss his autobiography Crazy Dreams with Paul Muldoon and witness Academy Award nominee Stephen Rea receive the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening night of the festival. Elsewhere, this is an unmissable opportunity to become acquainted with the work of exciting names in literature and poetry, in particular. 

Listowel Writers’ Week is curated to be as informative and interactive as possible with a host of walking tours and workshops featured in the programme. Of note, Lunch Poems, in association with Poetry Ireland, will showcase the work of rising names such as Jessica McKinney, Simon Costello and Dean Browne, amongst others, throughout the weekend.

If you’re looking to awaken your own poetic sensibilities, then there are plenty of workshops taking place to facilitate this. Poetry as Commemoration: An Intergenerational Workshop, hosted by Luke Morgan, focuses on themes grounded in legacy, inspired by events that occurred during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Elsewhere, you can attend a songwriting workshop with critically acclaimed musician Mark McCambridge, who has been releasing music under his Arborist moniker for almost a decade. 

IMG_7722 Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week

Langemann highlights some of the events that she’s particularly looking forward to which are taking place at this year’s Listowel Writers’ Week. “We have such a fantastic programme again this year that it’s hard to choose just a few events! Here are some of my highlights so far, The John B Keane Lifetime Achievement Award, Richard Ford, Liz Nugent, Yan Ge and Lucy Caldwell, The Bad Bridget event as well as Richard Moran and Paul Muldoon’s events. Oh, and Paul Galvin talking about his book, Threads. I also love history inspired novels and I’m looking forward to Amanda Geard and Sheena Wilkinson’s Intriguing Histories event.”

IMG_5789 Catherine Moylan and Dominic West Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week Ger Holland via Listowel Writers' Week

Listowel Writers’ Week festival has been in existence now for over half a century, and as Langemann has pointed out, those years have been filled with countless rich and rewarding experiences courtesy of the remarkable guests that have been welcomed to the town. Fundamental to the festival is listening to the artists who have cultivated their voice in Ireland, perpetuating the country’s exceptional literary legacy. 

When asked what she feels is a leading contributing factor to inspiring so many distinct Irish voices in literature, Langemann says, “The love of speech; the long standing tradition of storytelling, the playing with language and words all mixed together created this very unique voice in Irish literature.” 

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