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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Literature Festivals – The Future?

Rochdale Borough Council have just announced the merger of the Twitter accounts for the Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival and Rochdale Library Service. As of today, @RochdaleLitFest will be @RochdaleLibrary. This follows on from the cancellation of the 2020 event.

Literature Festivals have become a staple feature of the creative community calendar. The Hay Festival should just have finished this weekend. Not so this year. Covid-19 drew a line through Hay’s original plans for 700 live events spread over 11 days in a field of tents. In its place the organisers have gone virtual with a boiled-down online programme that — unlike its physical equivalent — is free.

Throughout the land organisers have been forced to shelve carefully calibrated programmes of live readings, discussions, and events. Pre-covid-19 plans have been replaced with digital reincarnations where practicable.

The bottom-line result is a real existential threat to what, even at the best of times, are often precarious businesses. The pandemic has also marked a watershed moment for what has been one of the cultural growth industries of the past 30 years. Festivals such as the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival [RLIF] have become a distinguished part of the so-called ‘experience economy’ that has evolved as a counterpoint or complement to increasing digitalisation.

I for one fervently hope that the ‘new normal’ will see an expansion of such experience events.

AATA has been an active supporter of RLIF since its inception in 2013. My colleague and the founder of AATA, Norman Warwick was instrumental in the festival’s birth.

We have become official partners, running the Writers’ Showcase which celebrates the best of our local wordsmiths.

Sue Devaney at RLIF Writers' Showcase

Katie Haigh at RLIF Writer's Showcase

Interviewing Tom Higgins

I have had the pleasure of conducting live on stage interviews with such as musicians Steve Hanley [The Fall], Tom Higgins [Inspiral Carpets] and actor/photographer Bill Ward [Corrie, Emmerdale] and interviewing an eclectic bunch of talented individuals including Ed Byrne, Jane Danson [Corrie], Helen Lederer, Andy Kershaw, Ian McMillan, Gervais Phinn, Ann Cleves, Mark Steel, Jenny Éclair, Alastair Campbell, Simon Callow and Mandasue Heller.

Previewing Andy Kershaw's RLIF appearance on the radio

The festival is very much rooted in the history and people of the town, with its origins lying in a generous bequest left by local couple, Annie and Frank Maskew. Annie and Frank met at Rochdale Central Library in the 1950s and they connected over their shared love of reading and philosophy. The Maskew Bequest has ensured that the books and culture that brought them together are available for future generations of literature lovers and young philosophers.

Organised by Rochdale Borough Council, Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival is the flagship event to promote the Maskew Collection, a prestigious curation of books spanning a range of genres, fact, fiction and philosophies.

Let’s hope that RLIF will survive the challenges faced in an uncertain future and regain its place in the experience economy.

Tony Walsh

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