Celebrating authors, poets, radicals and dissenters: Stokey’s Lit fest is back


stokeylitfest - Credit: Archant

Chelsea Clinton and local poet Jan Nobles appear at this year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Celebrating Hackney’s impassioned radical and literary history, the Stoke Newington Literary Festival is returning for its ninth year of festivities next month. The event is hosted in iconic venues across the ‘village’ from 1-3 June and features poets, authors, activists and other ardent voices of London for a weekend of creativity and debate.

“The festival has always celebrated London’s diverse, sometimes contradictory but always vibrant voices,” says festival director Liz Vater says. “Stoke Newington’s history is littered with people who’ve helped change the world with new, radical ideas, and this year’s programme continues our theme of provocative, thought-provoking ideas brought to life.”

Stoke Newington has long been the backdrop of artistic endeavour, and the programme is inspired by the dissenters who were born, lived or worked there, including the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Defoe, John Berger, Marc Bolan and Sid Vicious.

The opening night features novelist Ali Smith in an event looking at London’s increasingly fractured communities, beginning with performances of the work of local refugee writing group Akwaaba and readings by writers exploring issues of gentrification, Brexit and immigration. Earlier that day, the festival opens with Chelsea Clinton where she will speak about her new book, She Persisted Around The World: 13 women who changed history.

Headline acts include Adam Kay, bestselling author of This is Going to Hurt: The Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, a joint event with literary fiction authors Meg Wolitzer and Olivia Laing and comic writer John O’Farrell exploring the pains of being a bewildered Labour activist.

Poet Jan Nobles will be reading an epic poem called Reynard which tells the story of an urban fox and explores themes concerning migration, gentrification and social displacement.

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He’s no stranger to the festival and opened up for Irvine Welsh in 2013 and performed in 2016.

Nobles first got into writing and poetry at art school, where he began presenting visual text-based work. “I’ve always liked the idea that you ‘make’ a poem, rather than write it… you build it, craft it, sculpt it. I then started touring and recording with bands and began experimenting with lyrics and performance. I can get as fired up over lines by Ian Dury or Gil Scott-Heron as I can by Dylan Thomas or T. S. Eliot,” he says.

London’s East End runs through Nobles’ veins: his mother was born in Hackney and grew up in a one bed flat in post war Stamford Hill while his great grandmother (who was arrested and jailed for ‘preaching on the streets’) was buried in Abney Park cemetery. Nobles taught poetry and creative writing for 10 years with Hackney-based charity Core Arts and on Homerton Hospital psychiatric wards. He now writes and bartends at local haunt the Mascara.

On the area’s creative scene, he says: “What’s emerged in the last 10 or so years are festivals like Stoke Newington and the East End Film Festival of course. They preserve the vibrancy of the place that high rents and developers are effectively killing off. In the past the East End had an edge that appealed to artists and writers.

“The idea of falling in with thieves and villains has always been romanticised. It still exists in myth, the history’s here, it’s in the bricks, it lurks in the sewers. You can’t remove it. But these days just about anyone who owns an iPad tends to call themselves ‘a creative’.

Other highlights over the weekend include a debate with podcast sensation Remainiacs, an exploration of black graphic novels with the Skank Collective, Trump and Putin are dissected by Michael Goldfarb and Luke Harding, a discussion around Trans Britain and another on veganism. There’s also a children’s festival programme, walking tours, beer tastings, and a late night ghosts event in the ruined Mortuary Chapel in Abney Park cemetery.

“The festival isn’t beholden to the publishing industry or any major franchise so it provides the perfect platform where emerging writers can appear alongside more established voices,” Nobles adds.

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