“I was fortunate to be part of the excitement, fun and openness of this new festival and to see Los Gatos-Listowel continue the Listowel Writers’ Week tradition of proudly celebrating both writers and readers.” – Jane Clarke
Listowel Writers’ Week has always recognised the importance of building relationships with international partners and has collaborated, in recent years, on a number of literary projects in places as far afield as South Korea and Australia.
With that in mind, we were delighted to team up with Los Gatos, one of Santa Clara County’s oldest communities, about an hour south of San Francisco, for the inaugural Los Gatos-Listowel Writers’ Festival 2016.
The festival, which took place between 6th – 9th October 2016, featured over forty events and included more than fifteen Irish writers and poets who travelled from Ireland to join their U.S. counterparts. Readings and workshops took place at the state-of-the-art Los Gatos Library, Village House of Books and a number of other venues.
Former Listowel Writers’ Week Chairperson Seán Lyons, who attended the four day festival along with Festival Manager Máire Logue, explains how the idea for the collaboration first came about.
“The town of Los Gatos has been twinned with Listowel since 1991, so the idea of getting something similar to Listowel Writers’ Week operational in Los Gatos was bubbling away for a number of years until it suddenly took legs this year.
“A delegation from Los Gatos visited us here in Listowel during our annual festival in May to see first-hand how we work. We gave them as much help as we could in terms of structure and content, and indeed the philosophy and the vision of Listowel Writers’ Week. The organisers of Los Gatos, along with a number of publishers including Tramp Press, then put the programme together with input from Listowel Writers’ Week.”
The highlights for Seán included Irish author Mike McCormack, author of Solar Bones, which is shortlisted for both the upcoming Goldsmiths Prize and the The Eason Novel of the Year Award. “Mike travelled out with us. He was a huge hit and Solar Bones is receiving fantastic reviews everywhere. There was also a crime writing forum entitled ‘A New Wave of Women in Irish Crime’ with Louise Phillips, Niamh O’Connor and Claire McGowen, which was very well attended and got fantastic feedback.
Another very popular event featured former Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, who gave a presentation on the ‘Legends of Listowel’. Jimmy, who was born and raised in the Listowel area recalled the rich literary history of the town and its famous writers past and present.
Seán then spoke about Listowel Writers’ Week and how it currently operates, stressing the importance of community involvement, which Listowel excels at. Another very important aspect of the current festival is its international connections.
“The literary festival scene has become very crowded in recent years” Seán observes. “Any festival that wants to survive and to prosper in the current climate has to look at offering variety, and thrive at meeting new challenges. I think here in Listowel we have incredible strength, not only in terms of our experience – we’ve been around since 1971 – but also in our international connections. Listowel is the festival which has the senior hurling medals and in order to build on that we have to reach upwards and outwards all the time.”
Another Irish writer who travelled to Los Gatos was poet Jane Clarke who, hot on the heels of her return to Ireland, learned the wonderful news that she is one of four shortlisted poets for the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year at the Bord Gáis Energy Book Awards 2016, which will take place on 16th November in Dublin.
“It was both an honour and a pleasure to participate in the inaugural Los Gatos-Listowel Writers’ Festival”, Jane says. “Like Listowel, Los Gatos is an ideal location for a literary festival; friendly, relaxed and small enough to make any visitor feel at home immediately. During the three days you could hardly walk a few yards through the town without meeting another Irish writer or seeing a crowd gather for a reading, a walking tour or a workshop.
“One of the highlights for me was the moving, respectful tribute to my friend and fellow poet, the late Shirley McClure, after whom the festival poetry competition has been named. I enjoyed attending the many other literary events, exploring the state-of-the-art library or just sitting with a coffee in the sun. It was fascinating to meet Irish authors I had heard of such as Louise Philips, Niamh O’Connor and Mike McCormack, but also US-based authors that were new to me such as Ethel Rohan and Pireeni Sundaralingam.”
Having never had the opportunity to read her poetry in the U.S. before, Jane found it an invaluable opportunity to take her work to a wider audience. The readings allowed for question and answer sessions where she found lots of fruitful exchange about writing, inspiration and influences. She found the response extremely positive and has been in touch with readers and fellow writers since. Jane also facilitated the adult Poetry Workshop which gave her the opportunity to work closely with established and aspiring writers from a variety of different cultures.
“There is huge untapped interest in Irish literature among the Irish diaspora, which we got a sense of at the festival,” Jane continues. “The increased visibility for contemporary Irish literature will have ripple effects throughout the Irish-American community and wider. I would expect that writers and readers will be coming to Listowel Writers’ Week as a result of their experience in Los Gatos. The friendly, warm, vibrant atmosphere is very engaging and there was a strong sense of the links between Los Gatos and Listowel.”
We also had the opportunity to showcase our exquisite Limited Edition Portfolio entitled ‘Hope’ at the festival. The Portfolio includes personal and original responses to that theme from Irish writers Anne Enright, Eavan Boland, Jennifer Johnston, Brendan Kennelly and Colm Tóibín, as well as a specially commissioned limited edition print from acclaimed Irish artist Donald Teskey. For more information or to purchase a copy, please call Máire on 00353 (0) 68 21074.
Will there be a follow-up collaboration with Los Gatos?
“We certainly hope so,” Séan says. “There’s huge potential for both Los Gatos and Listowel. We spoke with a number of people who were really intrigued by Listowel and several people said they would definitely be visiting us. I also think it would be a wonderful idea if we could have one of the authors in Listowel next year.”
Watch this space!