Director's Spotlight - Ros Green of Essex Book Festival
Name: Ros Green
Title: (Dr) but I never use it
Festival: Essex Book Festival
I have worked across multiple artforms as a creative producer/director, journalist, arts consultant, and educator for more decades than I care to remember, both in the UK and Australia. I began my working life as Manager of the Canal Café Theatre, a tiny chocolate box of a venue located above a pub in
Little Venice, London (which taught me everything I have ever needed to know about survival in the arts), and finally ‘landed’ at Essex Book Festival following the completion of my PhD in Literature at the University of Essex.
How long have you been with the Festival?
Since August 2014
How long have you been in your current role?
Career background? Have you been involved in the literary festival scene previously? Or in the book world?
Although I have always been passionate about books, I had never given the literary festival scene much thought beyond my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Book Festival. That is, until writer and mythographer Marina Warner, my PhD supervisor and mentor, roped me into helping her organize a series of events at University of Essex. One thing led to another, and suddenly I found myself working in a part-time capacity as Development Manager at Cambridge Literary Festival. This was quickly
followed by my appointment as Festival Director at Essex Book Festival. I can’t quite believe it took me so long to get here..
What do you love about the litfest world?
The inspirational and challenging conversations, the constant appetite to share new ideas, the wonderful friendships, and, well, the books of course.
What would you like to see more of at Festivals?
A commitment to working more collectively to raise awareness of the accelerating Climate Emergency. This is the pressing question of our Age. It will define us for future generations of readers and writers.
More international exchanges and residencies for authors and curators. It is one thing attending individual festival event, another thing experiencing a festival from the ‘inside’, making new friends, and exchanging ideas. We are hoping to extend the capacity of our Essex Writers House, which runs alongside our festival programme of activities throughout June, in future years.
More writers-in-translation events. These can be prohibitively expensive for smaller festivals, but they are so important in terms of sharing ideas and breaking down any perceived barriers between communities.
What sets your Festival apart?
Aside from the fact that Essex Book Festival takes place over the entire month of June in over forty very different venues across the county, I think we are defined by our sense of adventure. Whether it’s hosting an immersive multidiscipline event in a redundant nuclear bunker now-turned-museum,, or a Radical Writing Retreat adjacent to a functioning nuclear power station on the Dengie Peninsiular, adventure and fun are always in the mix.
What is your favourite festival memory?
That’s a tricky one. I guess one of my favourites would have to be Gogol’s Silent Disco, which took place in The Commander’s Room as part of our 1-day event The Nuclear Option in Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker in 2018. It was my first silent disco, and I can’t think of a more remarkable person to DJ the event than Estonian writer Paavo Matsin, who had just published his book, Gogol’s Silent Disco, and who was taking part in one of our international writing residencies at Essex Writers House in Southend. Paavo supplied the vodka – he insisted – and I brought the gherkins under his instruction. Paavo also compiled the playlist, which comprised banned Estonian pop songs sung at the now legendary Singing Revolution in 1991. Racheal Jolley, then Editor of Index on Censorship, sent me a message next day saying every book/literary festival should have a Gogol’s Silent Disco. That may have been Paavo’s fatal vodka gherkin mix talking …
Aside from Covid-19, what has been your biggest challenge?
Funding, and the uncertainty and stress that comes with it.
If you could have a festival panel featuring any authors dead or alive, who would you
have and what would the topic be?
The topic would be: Planet Earth: Surviving the 21sr Century. I would invite Charles Darwin, Richard Powers, Margaret Atwood, chaired by Amol Rajan
Last book that you read and what are you looking forward to next on your reading
The Silent Project – Carole Hailey. Next up, Birnham Wood, Eleanor Catton
Authors we need to know about from your region/country?
Penguin Classic Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village – Ronald Blythe, who recently
died aged 100 years old. Written in the late 1960s, Blythe painted a vivid picture of a
community in which the vast changes of the twentieth century were matched by
deep continuities of history, tradition and nature.
Essex Girls: For Profane and Opinionated Women Everywhere – Sarah Perry. In this
exhilarating feminist defence of the Essex Girl, Sarah Perry, author of The Essex
Serpent, re-examines her relationship with her much-maligned home county.
Favourite literary quote?
My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
The Four Quartets
Any parting comments?
Thank you for asking me!