The theme is inspired by Hewitt’s poem “The Search”, which includes the lines
It is a hard responsibility to be a stranger;
to hear your speech sounding at odds with your neighbours […]
Often you will regret the voyage,
wakening in the dark night to recall that other place…
Hewitt himself experienced the notion of “the stranger”, both in Ireland and the UK, where he took up residence in the 1960s.
Given the migratory nature of modern life in Ireland – whether by those born in foreign lands who have made their home here (a recent RTÉ documentary which followed children’s television presenter Diana Bunici to her native Moldova springs to mind) or the new generation of young Irish men and women forced to emigrate to every corner of the globe in search of a job first, and prosperity second – the theme is well-chosen.
The blurb for the John Hewitt International Summer School includes lines such as
What is the place, ‘the local’ in the twenty-first century? In a world of globalised entertainment and communication, and increasingly migratory labour, is there room for sentiment about place in our art?
Is the ‘living among strangers’ that allowed separate, mutually opposed cultures to develop here over four hundred years to be the norm for future populations? Will diversity reduce conflict, or increase antagonism between hosts and guests? Can those of different backgrounds and histories share increasingly fragmented spaces?
All of which, added to the list of names on the programme, should whet the appetite for a fine five days in Armagh’s Market Place Theatre the week after next.
The lunchtime reading series alone are worth the trip, with Irish writers Pat McCabe, Anne Enright, Deirdre Madden and Gavin Corbett joining English novelist Salley Vickers over the five days.
There is a poetry reading by Simon Armitage, Medbh McGuckian, James Byrne and Conor O’Callaghan (among others), a creative writing workshop with Carlo Gebler (among others), a fascinating talk entitled “Ulster Through Polish Eyes: Reconsidering the Stereotypes” by Professor Jan Jędrzejewski, several art exhibitions and evening theatre performances.
It all promises to be a great few days.