Writers and public rally to support a new virtual literature festival

Published: 7 April 2020

Over 200 writers are taking part in the world’s first virtual international literature festival, Stay-At-Home! Festival, which is founded by Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke from University of Glasgow.

Over 200 writers are taking part in the world’s first virtual international literature festival, Stay-At-Home! Festival, which is founded by Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke from University of Glasgow.

With so many challenges facing individuals and their communities during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the College of Arts’ Dr Jess-Cooke came up with a novel solution – a festival to celebrate the power of writing and reading to prevent loneliness and champion connectivity and community amidst social distancing.

Dr Jess-Cooke, who is a multi-award winning author who publishes her fiction as CJ Cooke, has partnered with creative writing incubator Paper Nations to create the freely accessible Stay-at-Home! Festival, which runs from 27th March – 11 April 2020.

Stay at Home Literature Festival  logo

Dr Jess-Cooke said: “I wanted to create a vibrant and responsive online literary event to create a means of connection and respite in these troubled times. The festival has sought to combat loneliness and provides a creative lifeline for emerging and established writers alike.

“In just over a week, the festival has had a virtual worldwide audience of over 8,000 in attendance. The feedback has been incredible, with many calling this festival ‘soul-food’, ‘a lifeline’, and ‘game-changing’. Many people have commented that they are unable to attend literary events, pandemic or not, so this festival has made it possible for them to engage. I am currently looking into ways that I might continue it in the long-term.”

Dr Jess-Cooke first pitched the idea on Twitter on Friday 13 March, and in just one week a host of authors came forward to take part in events.

A photo of Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke of the University of Glasgow 

The festival, which started on Friday 27 March and runs until Saturday 11 April, has featured authors such as Maggie O’Farrell, Samantha Downing, Esther Safran Foer, Dr Pragya Agarwal, and Sarah Vaughan.

The programme features workshops, panels, readings and talks hosted from writers’ homes on subjects ranging from poetry to novel writing and nonfiction, career advice, wellbeing and mindfulness, mental health, and publishing. The charitable event is freely accessible to everyone.

Paper Nations is a partner on the festival, which forms part of their ‘The Great Margin’ project, a season of celebration seeking to give voice to marginalised writers.

Paper Nations Executive Development Producer, Professor Bambo Soyinka said: “Our work through The Great Margin focuses on writers living at the margins of society.

“But since the Covid-19 outbreak, we are all feeling as if we are on the margins and many of us are isolated in our homes. We’re responding to Covid-19 with a series of flash initiatives over the next three months, reacting quickly to the evolving needs of a writing community in isolation.

“The Stay-at-Home! Festival is the first of these initiatives and we are thrilled to work with Carolyn to bring
this to fruition.”

Dr Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet, novelist, and academic published in 23 languages. She convenes the MLitt Creative Writing by Distance Learning at the University of Glasgow and has expertise in online events.

Stay-at-Home! Festival

You can follow the Stay-at-Home! Festival at www.stayathomelitfest.co.uk.

The Stay-at Home! Festival is an online literature festival designed to (a) prevent loneliness, (b) champion connectivity and community amidst social distancing, and (c) celebrate writing and reading as tools to achieve (a) and (b)! It will be a free and completely online festival with workshops, readings, panels and Q&A sessions by writers of all genres that people can enjoy from their sofa, and which can be presented from writers’ sofas! The festival was created by author Carolyn Jess Cooke (CJ Cooke) and is brought to you in partnership with creative writing incubator, Paper Nations.

The festival will be conducted virtually to reach audiences worldwide, from 27th March - 11th April 2020.

Carolyn Jess Cooke 

Northern Irish author, Carolyn Jess Cooke, is an award-winning poet, novelist, and academic. She has four published novels, including The Guardian Angel’s Journal, which was an international bestseller published in 23 languages. Her debut poetry collection Inroads received a Northern Writers Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie prize, an Arts Council Award, and was shortlisted for the New London Poetry Prize for Best First Collection in 2010.

Paper Nations

Paper Nations is a creative writing incubator. We commission writers throughout the South-West of England to create new work, we nurture local communities of support for writers, and we create multi-channel partnerships to showcase new writing internationally.

Paper Nations is led by Bath Spa University’s TRACE centre (The Research Centre for Transcultural Creativity and Education). Paper Nations works in partnership with Bath Spa University’s Creative Writing Faculty and Institute for Education, Bath Festivals, the National Association of Writers in Education, StoryHive and a thriving community of local schools and arts organisations. Paper Nations is supported by Arts Council England, Bath Spa University and Investors in Writing.

First published: 7 April 2020

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