The Stoke Newington Literary Festival is taking a little bit of inspiration from Mary Wollstonecraft this year. What else could we do with a statue encapsulating her work gracing Newington Green, a memorial plaque and even a stencilled likeness on a nearby gable wall.
Mary’s rallying call for women’s rights, but also her advocacy of self-knowledge and education has provided something of guiding light for us this year.
One of our first events is certainly very much in the mode of a rallying cry. On Friday evening, the founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign Laura Bates demands we ‘Fix the system, Not the women’. Her new book of the same title is a damning indictment of the systemic prejudice at the heart of five institutions – education, politics, media, policing & criminal justice. We know there is anger locally concerning exactly those institutions. Laura’s book brings powerful stories and research to back her assertions and demands.
The gala night in the Mildmay Club includs three writers – Salena Godden (Mrs Death Misses Death), Charlotte Mendelson (The Exhibitionist) and Nell Stevens (Briefly, a Delicious Life) who discuss their new novels and what inspired them while touching on weighty matters of hope, love, relationships and what makes us human.
The following morning, and again asking writers to exchange ideas and experiences, we present Sins of our Fathers. Lily Dunn (Sins of My Father) was just six years old when her father left the family home for the promise of enlightenment in the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajnees. Xanthi Barker (Will This House Last Forever?) lost her father when she was in her mid-twenties and she struggled to make sense of her grief for a man who had been absent for most of her life.
In Letters from Brenda, Emma Kennedy, discusses her account of her relationship with her mum with letters found after her mother’s death, filling in some of the gaps.
She talks to Suzi Feay about family secrets, finding humour in tragedy and the experience of dealing with complicated mums.
(Twitter fans may also note that Emma was one of the first to predict that even Tory MPs would have had enough of the current incumbent of Downing Street by now.)
Moving from family matters to careers, Daisy Buchanan, host of the You’re Booked podcast, talks about her new novel Careering to author and actor Catherine Steadman. The novel considers the often toxic relationships women have with their ‘dream’ jobs.
Later on Saturday, Jude Rogers’ Sound of Being Human combines memoir and historical, scientific and cultural enquiry to show how music can shape different versions of ourselves. At its heart is Jude’s story of how songs helped her wrestle with the grief of losing her father at age five.
We hope that with these events, we can show how women are establishing – to briefly quote Mary – “power over themselves” while building self-knowledge and indeed an understanding of the motives of some of the important men in their lives, a matter that our historic local author also grappled with. We hope you come along to listen and join our discussions and maybe even be inspired with some ideas about what we need to do next.
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