The British Council Literature Seminar 2021 was held from last Thursday to Saturday, featuring a fantastic array of figures in the Welsh literary scene. The theme for this year was ‘We Are Wales: disparate voices, landscapes and stories’, celebrating Wales in Germany. Though unfortunately it couldn't be held in-person at the wonderful Literaturhaus in Stuttgart, it was the first in it the seminar's 37-year history to have an entirely Welsh focus. Niall Griffiths and Dr Francesca Rhydderch chaired the seminar - both brilliant authors who have received the Wales Book of the Year Award - and our friends at British Council Wales worked hard for everything to run smoothly (which it did!).
We were thrilled to see some of our own writers feature in the seminar, with short-film readings from novels such as Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts and Joao Morais’ Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster. Roberts’ book won the Not the Booker prize in 2020, and the reading was an exciting peek into the novel, set in Ynys Mon. Morais’ extract was an equally brilliant interlude to the interesting conversations that took place over the Friday of the seminar. Richard Gwyn also read from his latest novel, The Blue Tent which afterward featured an incredibly interesting discussion about symbolism within the book, with Niall Griffiths.
Among the conversations that took place were panels with new writers. The first, on the Friday, featured poets Hanan Issa and Alex Wharton - as well as Richard Owain Roberts, who talked about the gentrification of Anglesey, the setting of his book, as well as his interest in writing style and aesthetics within a text. Roberts also told us that the Serbian translation of Hello Friend We Missed You has just been finished, set for publication soon.
Friday also featured a Writing Identities panel, with Charlotte Williams OBE, Manon Steffan Ros and Zoë Brigley. The panel was an interesting insight into improvements in representation for minority writers. Charlotte Williams discussed the Black Welsh Canon in literature and the changes that Wales is currently making to allow literature about and from black writers. Zoë Brigley discussed the importance of intersectionality in literature and Manon Steffan Ros discussed both the privileges of being a Welsh-speaker and her joy of writing in her mother tongue.
On Friday evening we were treated to a Wales extravaganza curated by Gary Raymond, a collation of some fantastic music, film and art, which we were thrilled to see included a clip of Grug Muse reading from her essay ‘Language as Water’, from the Just So You Know anthology.
The final day featured a panel with new writers, including Eluned Gramich, Ifan Morgan Jones and Joao Morais. Morais discussed Cardiff’s influence on his writing, raising the very current issue of whether you should write stories from your own perspective or those of others. The seminar finished with a panel titled ‘What now?’. Richard Gwyn, Niall Griffiths, Manon Steffan Ros, Ifan Morgan Jones and Zoë Brigley talked about the political landscape of Wales, with the growing movement for independence as well as the importance of identity in the Welsh language. The writers also discussed the exportation of Welsh culture to other countries, with Zoë Brigley mentioning the interest Americans often take when she discussed Wales with them. Zoë said that one of the strongest things Wales has as part of our culture is literature - a beautiful way to tie this final conversation into the wider themes of the seminar.
‘We Are Wales: disparate voices, landscapes and stories’ was a fantastic three day event that captured what it means to be Welsh and to write stories for the many different people that live here. Whilst providing an overview of the political and social climate, and the well-established literary scene, the events also explored some of the brilliant new writing coming out of Wales, and we were thrilled to see so many of our own authors given a platform.
If you missed it, you can now watch all of the recorded events over on the British Council Germany Youtube Channel.