All about UEA Spring Literary Festival 2017

Louise Doughty

Louise Doughty - Credit: Charlie Hopkinson

Philip Langeskov, lecturer in creative writing at the University of East Anglia and director of its Spring Literary Festival

The University of East Anglia

The University of East Anglia - Credit: David Kirkham

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?

Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak - Credit: Muammer Yanmaz

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?

George Saunders

George Saunders - Credit: Chloe Aftel

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?

Michael Pennington

Michael Pennington - Credit: Nadia Alex

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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?

Ali Smith will be appearing at the UEA Spring Literary Festival

Ali Smith will be appearing at the UEA Spring Literary Festival - Credit: Sarah Wood

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.

Literary line-up

Ed Balls

Ed Balls - Credit: Chris Harris

Elif Shafak in conversation with Jean McNeil on Wednesday, March 1.

Elif is the most widely read female author in Turkey. She lives in London and her work has been translated into more than 40 languages. Her latest novel is Three Daughters of Eve.

Professor Philip Langeskov, lecturer in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Picture b

Professor Philip Langeskov, lecturer in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Picture by Emily Lowthorpe/UEA - Credit: Emily Lowthorpe/UEA

Louise Doughty in conversation with Henry Sutton on Wednesday, March 8.

Louise is the author of bestselling pscyhological thriller Apple Tree Yard, which has just been shown as a BBC series starring Emily Watson. She has written seven other novels. The latest, Black Water, is a thriller with themes of guilt and responsibility. Louise, who studied at UEA, is also a former judge of the Man Booker Prize.

George Saunders in conversation with Dr Philip Langeskov on Thursday, March 16.

George’s book Tenth of December won the inaugural Folio Prize, the Story Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine.

Michael Pennington in conversation with Steve Waters on Wednesday, March 22.

Michael has been a leading actor for 50 years playing many Shakespearian heroes for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the English Shakespeare Company, which he co-founded. He has also taken leading television roles and takes his solo shows on Shakespeare and Chekhov around the world. King Lear in Brooklyn is his 10th book.

Ed Balls in conversation with Prof Alan Finlayson on Wednesday, May 17.

Ed is a former MP, cabinet minister and treasury chief economic adviser. Current roles include senior fellow at Harvard University and chairman of Norwich City Football Club. The politician and economist has also written a bestselling memoir, Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics – and has recently toured the country with Strictly Come Dancing Live!

Ali Smith in conversation with Dr Philip Langeskovon Wednesday May 3.

Ali Smith is an international bestselling author. Both Hotel World and The Accidental were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. How To Be Both won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Folio Prize.

All the events begin at 7pm in lecture theatre one at UEA. Tickets are £8, or £4 for students, available from