5 minutes with...
PHILIP LANGESKOV, lecturer in creative writing at the University of East Anglia and director of its Spring Literary Festival
FROM ED Balls talking about governments and glitterballs, to the woman behind the bestselling novel and television hit Apple Tree Yard, this is a literary festival which brings some of the most talked-about writers to talk to Norfolk audiences.
How do you put the festival line-up together? Is there a theme, or a connection with the university or the region, or is it to do with the zeitgeist, or who you’d like to talk to, or who has a book to sell?
It’s a combination of things. Certainly, if a writer has a new book out it is often easier to persuade them to take part, but I try to find writers that excite me, or interest me, for whatever reason, whether because they are wonderful writers, or splendid thinkers, or in some way connected to this part of the world, or this university. Louise Doughty is perfect in that regard: she studied here on the MA in Creative Writing, she has a new book out, Black Water, and her previous book, Apple Tree Yard, has been thrilling us all in the BBC adaptation staring Emily Watson. I mean everybody’s been talking about it, right?
What are you particularly looking forward to about this spring’s festival?
I’m looking forward to it all, of course! But if I had to pick one writer, it would be George Saunders. I think he’s a very special writer – really, one of the very best of our time. He has mostly written short stories up to this point, and done so quite brilliantly, but his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, will be published in
March. It’s an extraordinary book, about an American president wrestling with grief and the intractable problem of our own mortality. Like a lot of his work it manages to be funny, sad and terrifying all at the same time. He’s really something. But then Ali Smith is wonderful, too, and it will be fascinating to hear from Michael Pennington. I can’t wait for it to start.
How long has the festival been going?
The first festival happened at UEA in the autumn of 1991 – Arthur Miller, Doris Lessing, Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, William Styron, PD James, Ruth Rendell, Arnold Wesker, Brian Aldiss and Maggie Gee… quite a line up.
Who would your dream line-up include?
Now you’re talking! Dead or alive, right? Money no object? I’d start with Katherine Mansfield, who was just a remarkable short story writer, and follow that up with Susan Sontag, who is so interesting on every subject she turned her hand to, from writing, to reading, to photography, to morality and so on. I’ve been trying to persuade both Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith to come for the last two years, so I should definitely have them on the list. They’d both be fascinating. James Salter is a writer I adore, especially for Light Years, so good it seems miraculous. He was also a fighter pilot in the Korean War, so he’s got some stories to tell. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is the book that has most pierced me in recent times, so I’d love her to come. Then perhaps I’d cheat a bit and invite a film maker, David Lynch, who could spin us all into a frenzy of confusion.
The University of East Anglia
Professor Philip Langeskov, lecturer in creative writing at the UEA