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My Highlights of the 25th Oxford Literary Festival

By Annabella Costantino

Over the last few years, the pandemic has affected the publishing industry in countless ways. The events sector has undoubtedly been among the most impacted areas. Event organisers, speakers and guests alike have been overjoyed to now return in-person. Oxford Literary Festival is no exception – this year, it made a triumphant return to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary of a widely renowned celebration of literature, arts and culture. This year was the first time since 2019 that the festival could be revived, with hundreds of speakers from all over the world coming together to share an eclectic range of publications on a selection of topics. I had the privilege to work as a Volunteers Coordinator, meeting some wonderful people and attending events along the way. Here are some of my highlights from this year’s Oxford Literary Festival!

With so many historic venues, the Oxford Literary Festival is located in magnificent surroundings that encompass various university colleges and sites around Oxford, with research that goes back generations. One of these is the Sheldonian Theatre, a truly spectacular venue. As someone who has worked in children’s publishing, I was thrilled to attend some children’s events here. Ben Truesdale, Sheldonian Theatre Events Manager loves being part of the festival:

“The festival is my highlight of the year – it’s intense but highly rewarding. The conversations I have with like-minded individuals are the best parts! I feel like I’ve been dunked, then steeped in a highly nutritious medium, which bears creative fruit for the rest of the year.”

I was able to meet volunteers from all backgrounds, some of which were current students on the same MA Publishing Media course that I studied at Oxford Brookes University. It was a great pleasure to not only assist in coordinating volunteers for the festival’s broad selection of venues, but also to witness rich discussions around the most highly anticipated speakers, such as Zadie Smith, Joanna Lumley and Simon Jenkins. From cathedrals to jubilees, this festival really does have something for everyone.

As a 90s baby, Jacqueline Wilson was a personal highlight – I could not attend the festival without seeing her! She has written over 100 books, which is such an incredible lifetime accomplishment. A couple of my favourites include The Lottie Project and the Girls in Love series. But here, she showcased her latest books: The Primrose Railway Children, The Runaway Girls and Baby Love, a book for young adult readers.

Katherine Rundell shared stories of inspiration and adventure surrounding her new book, The Good Thieves. In Jacqueline Wilson’s words, it’s “an amazing adventure story, told with sparkling style and sleight of hand.” Children in the audience were hanging on her every word, as she told tales of her visiting the Amazon in preparation for her previous book, The Explorer. She had much advice for aspiring creative writers, with the encouragement to “put things you are obsessed about in your books, so you don’t get bored of writing,” and to not “let anyone tell you that your writing is too crazy.” Words of wisdom indeed, and truly intriguing to hear about her own fairy tale story, The Wolf Wilder, inspired by a Russian fairy tale, The Firebird and the Gray Wolf, by Ivan Tsarevich.

Author of original fairy tale collection, Honeycomb, Joanne M. Harris was a speaker in the Weston Library, exploring the themes in fairy tale literature, including The Child Ballads. Her advice to aspiring writers was to “write into empty space and see what happens,” which is how Honeycomb started. Another popular speaker on the children’s programme included Ben Okri, with his environmental fairy tale, Every Leaf a Hallelujah.

With so much talent at the festival this year, it is no surprise that everyone involved came away feeling creatively inspired! A truly eye-opening experience, which has had the festival’s very own Derek Holmes, Box Office Manager, working here for “more than ten years. […] It’s fascinating to see all the different authors appearing at the festival and there’s always something new to learn. It’s also great hearing all of the positive comments from festival-goers, who really do appreciate what we do.” For those that may be interested in volunteering in the future, previous Festival Steward and Volunteers Coordinator, Ana Djuradjevic, would definitely recommend it:

“Volunteering for the Oxford Literary Festival is unpredictable, demanding and interesting. […] It’s an almost unique opportunity to listen to passionate, knowledgeable and creative professionals whilst working with some great people. Be open-minded and wear sensible shoes, you won’t regret it!”

In the words of Festival Director, Sally Dunsmore, “the festival […] looks forward to continuing to bring new and undiscovered authors and even more of the world’s greatest writers and public figures to Oxford each year.” Huge thank you to the team at Oxford Literary Festival for the opportunity! To find out more, please visit the website and follow the festival on Twitter. Will you be there next year? The Oxford Literary Festival will be back from 25 March to 2 April 2023!



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