A conference which heralded a turning point in the evolution of international literature – and which triggered the explosion of book festivals we know today - is being explored by academics at the University of Strathclyde.
Dr Eleanor Bell and Dr Angela Bartie, of the University’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, are joining forces with the Edinburgh International Book Festival to revisit the landmark International Writers’ Conference of 1962, which has been credited with bringing the influential American author William S Burroughs to a wider audience and with giving exposure to a new generation of Scottish writers.
The researchers believe the impact and legacy of the influential conference extends far beyond its popular perception, which focuses largely on animated exchanges between different generations of Scottish writers and frank discussions of subjects which at the time were rarely covered in mainstream media. Alexander Trocchi, then an emerging author, claimed the debate was “turgid, petty, provincial, stale” and was described by long-established writer Hugh MacDiarmid as “cosmopolitan scum.”
The findings of Dr Bell and Dr Bartie will be discussed at the event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday 17 August. They will be joined by the organisers of the 1962 conference, John Calder and Jim Haynes, who will describe their memories as its 50th anniversary approaches.
The event is being held in parallel with the 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, which is being held from 17-21 August and is mirroring the format of the 1962 conference. In 2010, Dr Bell and Dr Bartie contacted Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with the idea of marking the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Conference and their approach sowed the seed of the idea for this year’s conference.
Dr Bell said: “The 1962 conference is perhaps best remembered for the heated exchange between Alexander Trocchi and Hugh MacDiarmid, whom Trocchi actually respected. It is also remembered for candid discussions of subjects such as sexuality and drug misuse but there was far more to the debates and to the impact they had.
“In the event held at the Book Festival, we’ll be exploring how the 1962 Conference helped to engage Scotland and broaden the influences of Scottish arts and literature- we have spoken to artists who found the event to be life-changing and went on to inspire others themselves.
“We’ll also be looking at the tensions between more traditional writers of the time and those who were attracted by new ways of thinking about the possibilities for Scottish literature, exemplified in Edwin Morgan’s increasing interest in concrete poetry and the Beats.
“We are very proud that our initiative provided the inspiration for what has now become the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference.”
Dr Bartie added: “Scotland in the 1960s is sometimes seen as a place where there was little cultural experimentation but, through the 1962 conference, the country became a stage for debates that reflected the many changes that were occurring. What role, for example, should the writer -and artist- have in society? How important was personal -including sexual- identity? Did censorship have a place in modern society?
“The cultural and social environment in Scotland then was very different to that of today and we’ll be discussing the impetus the Writers’ Conference, and other key events, gave to developments in the past 50 years.”
The 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, an ambitious programming partnership between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council, will be exploring the same themes as the original conference, including Scottish literature, censorship and whether literature should be political.
Keynote speakers at the conference will include Scottish author Irvine Welsh, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Souief and science fiction writer China Miéville.
A book by Dr Bell and Dr Bartie on the original conference, entitled The International Writers’ Conference Revisited: Edinburgh,1962, has been published by Cargo Publishing.
The event, entitled The Edinburgh Writers’ Conference 1962: The Legacy: Putting a Bomb Under Scottish Literature, will formally open the 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, and will be held at the Scottish Power Studio Theatre, Charlotte Square Gardens, from 10:30am- 11:30am on Friday, 17 August. Tickets are available from www.edbookfest.co.uk. This will be followed by the formal launch of the book.
13 August 2012