Our guest author Frauke Harms attended the 2023 British Council Literature Seminar and shared her experience with the Literary Field Kaleidoscope.
As with so many events since the pandemic, the Literature Seminar 2023 organised by the British council took place for the first time in person again this year. Centred around issues of class in contemporary UK writing, the three days at Oyoun Berlin were filled with author readings, writing workshops, and engaged discussions on and off stage.
The event was kicked off with a reading by Bernadine Evaristo, chaired by publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove. Reading from her novels Mr Loverman, Girl, Woman, Other, and her recent memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, Bernadine and Sharmaine discussed life after winning the Booker Prize and igniting change in a classist society from the inside out.
On Friday, Daljit Nagra opened the day with a reading of his poetry. Together with Bernadine, Daljit spoke about the idiosyncrasies of British Indian identity, making one’s way through elitist institutions with a working-class background, and how to capture these experiences in poetic language.
Wayne Holloway Smith’s reading continued the poetic spirit. In his discussion with editor and author Matthias Kniep, Wayne gave intimate insights into his creative process and the feeling of being an outsider in institutionalised literary spaces as a person from a working-class background.
More a theatrical, spoken word performance than a traditional reading, Joelle Taylor movingly performed passages from her poetry collection c+nto, and othered poems. Interconnecting concerns of class, sexual orientation, and gender identity, she and Bernadine Evaristo talked about the impact of representation and taking a walk when you feel like you need some inspiration.
In the evening, Kit de Waal read from her memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood and her debut novel My Name is Leon. Together with British Council Director of Literature Sinead Russel, Kit discussed religion, non-linear paths of success, and the importance of working-class solidarity.
In-between the captivating readings, two blocks of workshops completed the weekend at Oyoun – in more intimate group settings, each of the invited writers shared their insights on creative writing processes, encouraged the participants to try their hands at composing poetry, and provided the space to discuss individual experiences of class, community, and identity.
The immersive seminar experience was rounded off with a panel talk featuring all the writers. Speaking about their experiences with being working class in the literary establishment, matters of representation came once more to the fore and the writers agreed that they saw it as one of their missions to make elitist spaces more accessible to people with a wide range of social, economical, and educational backgrounds. While German-based participants in the audience agreed that the class system in Germany is hardly comparable to that in the UK, the common spirit of rendering working-class voices heard for their unique perspectives, was shared.
These three days spent with the British Council at Oyoun were a riveting experience – sometimes moving, sometimes funny, always inspirational – which allowed the participants to get to know these exceptional writers, think about the ubiquity of class concerns and why they should matter to all of us.
Link to the project website of the 2023 British Council Literature Seminar: “Class and Contemporary UK Writing”: https://www.britishcouncil.de/en/programmes/arts/literature-seminar
Link to the five recordings [four readings and a panel] published on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXMoP2_PNm83ywu1unxp2QOwPUGaOM2ZZ
Frauke Harms is a research assistant in British Literary and Cultural Studies at Bielefeld University. She is currently working on her PhD project “The other Other: Class, Homelessness, and the Gothic in the Victorian Period”. Her research interests include vagrancy studies, contemporary feminist criticism and anything Gothic.