Glasgow’s Book Festival ‘Aye, Write!’: The Tannahill Lecture

April 5th, 2018 by Ewa Balcerzyk | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Glasgow’s Book Festival ‘Aye, Write!’: The Tannahill Lecture
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Almost everyone on our publishing course has heard of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is due to take place in August. Not everyone, however, knows that Glasgow too has a very ambitious programme of literary celebrations. This year, Glasgow’s Book Festival ‘Aye, Write!’ is taking place between 15 and 25 March. From the impressive programme featuring over 200 authors, what caught my attention was the Tannahill Lecture that was to be delivered by Neil MacGregor, a Glasgow-born author of a forthcoming Penguin book entitled Living with the Gods. Having an academic background of cultural studies, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to listen to an art historian and philosopher give a talk about ‘how different societies have understood and articulated their place in the cosmic scheme’, as advertised in the festival programme.

On the night, I was amazed by the great turnout at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, where the lecture was taking place. One couldn’t help but notice, however, that the crowd was primarily one of pensioners. A very gallant elderly gentleman next to me dozed off for most of the talk (although, I must admit, it has happened to me on other occasions, despite the age difference). Nevertheless, I was happy to see that many people showing interest in a bookish and slightly academic event.

As soon as the talk started, I knew at once why so many people have turned up. Neil MacGregor is simply a brilliant speaker, genuinely enthusiastic about discovering as much as possible about human culture and sharing it with the general public. This sense of mission is perhaps not surprising for someone who has for many years run such important public institutions as the National Gallery and the British Museum.

In his lecture, MacGregor touched upon various themes related to the central question of how shared objects and narratives shape communities and help them establish a sense of a common identity. He skilfully presented a very brief, yet thoughtful, run through different emanations of such shared narratives, spanning the whole globe over thousands of years. MacGregor’s cultural references included, among others, the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Putin’s orthodox Russia, the Swiss minaret referendum, beliefs of the ancient Romans and Persians, the eternal flame of the French Arc de Triomphe, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Using those and many other examples, MacGregor demonstrated how shared religious beliefs have always been the foundation of communities and group solidarity. Common narratives provided people with a sense of cohesion and meaning in their lives.

The scholar ended his lecture on a surprising note. Unexpectedly, he moved on from discussing the images of floods in the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh to a cataclysm of our own times – the refugee crisis. MacGregor argued that our world has no global narrative, which would help us to respond better to the plight of refugees. His strong humanitarian message gave us all something to reflect upon long after the lecture.

MacGregor’s book, due in September 2018, explores all the above-mentioned themes in much greater detail. Listeners of BBC Radio 4 may already be familiar with the content, as the publication is based on a radio show of the same title, aired as an impressive 30-part series in 2017 (available as podcasts here).

The Tannahill Lecture marked the beginning of a great festival. The range of topics covered during the events is sure to satisfy all book lovers. From poetry, through Scottish interest, to art, politics, and sport, there is something for everyone. Avid readers can also turn themselves into aspiring writers, as there are nearly 20 different creative writing workshops running for the duration of the festival.

Browsing through the programme, I had only one regret – that I could not afford to attend more author meetings, as most are priced at ₤9, with no student concessions available. Other than that, ‘Aye, Write!’ is definitely doing a great job at developing the local literary scene. Can’t wait for next year!


Ewa Balcerzyk


Glasgow’s Historic Literary Societies- Book Week Scotland 2016

November 29th, 2016 by Kanika Praharaj | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Glasgow’s Historic Literary Societies- Book Week Scotland 2016
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For Book Week Scotland, Katharina Dittmann and I decided to nerd our little hearts out. And where did we decide to go, you ask? To the library, of course! Specifically, the beautiful Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where we attended a talk given by Lauren Weiss, a PhD student at our very own University of Stirling.

21-11-2016 quiz

The talk started off with a quiz. Needless to say, we now have ample proof that we would not fit into the nineteenth-century literary crowd.

According to Lauren, Glasgow has always been a city of readers and writers. In the 19th century men (and later women) got together to talk about books and reading. A ‘typical’ nineteenth-century literary group would meet up once a week. Reasons for joining a literary group usually had less to do with a love for literature and more to do with networking — networking isn’t just for us publishing students! Becoming a member of one of these groups would enable a young man to meet other people in a new place, people who could help him find a job and a place to live. This does not mean that there wasn’t an emphasis on the act of reading. Members were required to read for at least half an hour every day.

Many such societies had their own manuscript magazines. However, membership to a society wasn’t always needed to contribute to its magazine. These magazines weren’t quite as ‘literary’ as one might imagine. There were a variety of topics that people chose to write about. For example, a more traditional piece of literature like a sonnet could be followed by an essay entitled ‘Ants and Their Ways of Life’. Members weren’t always sticklers when it came to deadlines, making the editor’s job the hardest of all. In fact, the editor would quite often have to include last-minute contributions just as they were. Magazines would21-11-2016 then be passed on from member to member, who would all critique their fellow members’ works.

Between 1800 and 1914 Glasgow had at least 140 literary societies — less than ten of those are still running. A dismal figure until one thinks of all the reading groups (read: with wine) that people are a part of in today’s Glasgow. Reading is still a big part of the culture there, just in slightly different forms.

At the end of the talk, Dr Irene O Brien, Senior Archivist, and Patricia Grant, Library Collections Manager, spoke to us about the Mitchell’s unique collections. Fascinated by the wonders that the Mitchell holds within itself, we completely forgot what time it was and almost missed our train!

by Kanika Praharaj