Online festival celebrated the power of reading and writing during Covid-19

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Clara Punsita Ritthikarn

The festival attracted over 200 authors across the country.

More than 200 authors across the country participated in the first virtual international literature festival from 27 March to 11 April to celebrate the power of writing and reading during the Covid-19 public health crisis.

Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke, a multi-awarding winning author from the University of Glasgow, in partnership with creative writing incubator Paper Nations, created the freely accessible and online Stay-At-Home! Festival to prevent loneliness and champion connectivity and community amidst social distancing.  This novel solution is a positive response to the coronavirus’ significant physical and mental impacts on wellbeing, with many challenges facing individuals and their communities. 

The  Stay-At-Home! Festival featured 130 live events such as workshops, readings, panels and Q&A sessions by writers of all genres with subjects ranging from poetry to novel writing and non-fiction, wellbeing, career advice, mindfulness, mental health, and publishing. Throughout the festival, the participants enjoyed each event from their sofa with a hot drink and biscuit.  

Dr Jess-Cooke said: “I wanted to create a vibrant and responsive online literary event to create a means of connection and respite in these troubled times. The festival has sought to combat loneliness and provides a creative lifeline for emerging and established writers alike.”

After she shared this idea on Twitter on 13 March, a large number of writers came forward to join the project within one week. The famous authors such as Maggie O’Farrell, Samantha Downing, Esther Safran Foer, Dr Pragya Agarwal, and Sarah Vaughan also took part in this programme. 

“In just over a week, the festival has had a virtual worldwide audience of over 8,000 in attendance. The feedback has been incredible, with many calling this festival ‘soul-food’, ‘a lifeline’, and ‘game-changing’. Many people have commented that they are unable to attend literary events, pandemic or not, so this festival has made it possible for them to engage. I am currently looking into ways that I might continue it in the long-term,” Dr Jess-Cooke said. 

Meanwhile, Paper Nations organised the project “The Great Margin” to amplify the marginalised writers’ voice. 

Paper Nations Executive Development Producer Professor Bambo Soyinka said: “Our work through The Great Margin focuses on writers living at the margins of society.

“But since the Covid-19 outbreak, we are all feeling as if we are on the margins and many of us are isolated in our homes. We’re responding to Covid-19 with a series of flash initiatives over the next three months, reacting quickly to the evolving needs of a writing community in isolation.

The Stay-at-Home! Festival is the first of these initiatives and we are thrilled to work with Carolyn to bring this to fruition.”

All of the festival’s events took place through the online video communications Zoom throughout 27 March to 11 April 2020. Students and writers interested in this programme can visit the official website.


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