Turn Up for the Books is a partnership project between New Writing North and English PEN, designed to give young people aged 16-25 an insight into careers within literature. Travel to Durham Book Festival was made possible by sponsorship from the Bishop Line Community Rail partnership. Here, participant Jemima D’Souza tells us about her experience taking part in 2022.
My name is Jemima, and I’m a Young Programmer with Turn Up For The Books. I wanted to learn more about the literary world and to gain confidence and experience, and that’s what happened. The six seminars with professionals from the literary industry were not only full of advice and information, but also made the literary world feel more attainable. Each speaker [including journalist Arifa Akbar, blogger Lena Norms and publishing professionals from Hachette and Faber] seemed carefully chosen for their diversity and the relevance of their journey, as well as for their friendliness and genuine wish to encourage us.
Our practical task was to help programme a live event for the Durham Book Festival, and this bumpy journey gave me an insight into the realities of a literary festival. I got lots of practice in research, as we struggled to find writers qualified to speak on our original event topic, and eventually needed to rethink. Finally, the staff stepped in and invited three powerful poets, Rommi Smith, Selina Nwulu, and Warda Yassin, who were part of More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetry. Our group had wanted to hear Black female writers discuss their craft and these three were the perfect choice.
As well as researching speakers, there were other programming roles, such as live-tweeting, or chairing the event. I was involved in event planning and marketing, and it was satisfying to work together and see the results as our event come to life. There were some trials when trying to collaborate virtually, but having an online programme felt worthwhile because it was much more accessible – many of us even watched and reviewed the Festival via the live-stream.
Some of us took up the travel bursary and free entry, which made the Festival extremely accessible. I really enjoyed seeing literary events in person, particularly, reviewing Alexander McCall Smith’s talk and watching our own event, More Fiya. For those of us who got to meet the staff, the poets, and other Young Programmers in person, it was lovely.
I’m very grateful to have been part of Turn Up For The Books, and I would encourage anyone interested to apply.
Jemima D’Souza graduated from Durham University in 2021 with a degree in English Literature. She is 25 years old and lives near Chester.