Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Artistic Director for Sydney Writers' Festival

The Sydney Writers' Festival is delighted to announce the appointment of Jemma Birrell as Artistic Director.

After working in Australian publishing, Jemma Birrell moved to Paris to join Shakespeare and Company, one of the world's most famous bookshops. As the store's first Events Director, she developed a world-renowned literary program, presenting today's leading authors, thinkers and musicians. She was Co-director of three editions of FestivalandCo, Shakespeare and Company’s biennial literary festival, set in a park across from Notre Dame. The festival attracted participants such as Alain de Botton, Will Self, Martin Amis, Beth Orton, Jeanette Winterson and Charlotte Rampling.

Jemma is delighted to be returning to her native Australia as Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival. A full media release is available here.

Q and A With Jemma Birrell

The best thing about working at Shakespeare and Company was... Meeting an incredible selection of wild, wonderful and inspiring people from all around the world. Shakespeare and Company is a literary community and everyone comes by when they’re in Paris—one day it might be a young ‘tumbleweed’ (writer-in-residence) looking to sleep amongst the books, the next it will be a writer whose work I’ve always admired. Then there are the actors in disguise, and even Woody Allen! Also, working closely and having lots of laughs with the owner of the bookshop, Sylvia Whitman—a good friend and like family after our years of working together.
The author event I was most moved by is... Listening in awe to the stories of the eloquent French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel, who is close to one hundred years old and knew Picasso, Breton, Duchamp and Sylvia Beach, the publisher of Ulysses. In perfect English, he quoted a Shakespeare sonnet at the end of his talk—‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead’—dedicating it to his wife who was sitting by his side. His call to arms about the necessity of speaking out and taking a political stand was so inspiring, and he is one of the most moving men I have ever had the honour to hear.
I recently read and loved... Jennifer Egan’s brilliant Black Box recently tweeted and printed in The New Yorker (lithe, pared down writing), Chris Adrian’s magical novel The Great Night and Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station.
I'm currently reading...There’s a pile—the brillant collection of essays The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt, Etgar Keret’s Suddenly a Knock at the Door, Junot Diaz's This is How You Lose Her, Zadie Smith’s stunning NW and Ian Jack's old edition of Granta on France.
The thing I am most looking forward to when I start at SWF is...Thinking about all of the possibilities, and how to present literature and ideas in an interesting way. Researching all of the exciting new books, finding and tempting an array of brilliant and fascinating writers and thinkers from Australia and around the world. Coming back to my hometown!

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