A Star Wars actor, a Booker Prize nominee, and the acclaimed director of one of the 1980s’ iconic black comedies will be among the lead figures appearing at the inaugural Plymouth Festival of Words.

The event, starting on Wednesday 3 May, will feature five days of events at venues across the city aimed at celebrating the power of the written, spoken and sung word.

It will showcase an eclectic blend of nationally and internationally renowned writers, alongside a rich community programme involving literary groups from across the city and region, and the crowning of the 2017 Plymouth Mayflower Young Laureate Award.

It will also host the annual gathering of the Society for Storytelling, featuring a host of performances and workshops by regional and national storytellers on the theme of Change and Exploration.

The festival is being organised through a partnership of Literature Works and the University of Plymouth, Peninsula Arts, Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) and local literary groups.

It aims to build on the success of the former Plymouth International Book Festival – held from 2012 to 2015 and featuring renowned authors including Audrey Niffenegger, Ben Okri, Kate Mosse, Joanna Trollope, Will Self and Judy Finnigan – which in turn inspired the Plymouth Literary Festival, held successfully for the first time in 2016.

The highlights for the 2017 festival include:

  • Michael Pennington: Chekhov in Siberia – The actor, whose roles included Moff Jerjerrod in Return of the Jedi (1983) and Michael Foot in The Iron Lady (2011), as well as founding the English Shakespeare Company, brings Anton Chekhov’s 1890 journey to survey penal colonies to life with a pungent one-man performance;
  • Peter Greenaway CBE – the acclaimed film director, screenwriter and artist will speak about his life writing and directing screen, and the art which influences him, before a screening of his iconic film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), starring Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon;
  • Michèle Roberts – the author of 13 highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House, which won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She will speak about her writing and introduce us to her latest book, A Walworth Beauty;
  • Histories of the Unexpected Live – Presented by Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell, from the University of Plymouth, this event will build on the hugely successful podcasts of the same name which aim to offer answers to many historical questions that will have never crossed your mind;
  • Helen Chadwick Song Theatre: War Correspondents – War Correspondents bears witness to those who risk their lives in extreme circumstances in order to tell the truth to the outside world. Chadwick and creative collaborator Miriam Nabarro interviewed over 30 journalists working in conflict zones across the world which were then transformed into songs.

There will also be events with up and coming international authors Irenosen Okojie, whose work has been championed by former Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, and Fereshteh Ahmadi, who will reflect on women’s literature in contemporary Iran.

Plymouth-based WonderZoo will present an evening of spoken word and music, which will include the announcement of the 2017 Plymouth Mayflower Young Laureate Award. And there will be a host of other workshops and presentations designed to celebrate words and literature in all their forms.

Dr Sarah Chapman, Director of Peninsula Arts at the University of Plymouth, said:

“Over the last few years, with the support of the Plymouth International Book Festival, the writing scene in the city has really grown. Alongside a vibrant arts, music and theatre offer that has helped foster Plymouth’s growing reputation as a cultural destination. The new Plymouth Festival of Words builds on this cultural diversity, providing an exciting new space to explore the importance of words across all art forms.”

Heather Norman-Soderlind, Chair of Literature Works, added:

"The Plymouth Festival of Words builds on the substantial legacy of the Plymouth International Book Festival and enriches it as a truly cross-platform celebration of words in performance, storytelling, film-writing, theatre, song, comedy, poetry, literature and the recollection of history. The new festival is designed to introduce diversity into the well-established and popular field of literary festivals across our South West region and is designed to appeal to both established and new readers and to cultural spectators alike.”

Councillor Glenn Jordan, cabinet member for culture at Plymouth City Council, said:

"The Plymouth International Book Festival has been a great success in previous years and has attracted a number of important authors to the city. We're very pleased, through our collaborative working with the University, to be one of the supporting partners in this new event which incorporates a real variety of art forms and is sure to become a firm favourite on the city's cultural calendar."

English and Creative writing research