Out-going StAnza Director Brian Johnstone and new Festival Director Eleanor Livingstone
Photo: Al Buntin
Brian is a co-founder of StAnza, which started life in 1998 as a fairly small gathering of poets and poetry lovers in the Fife town of St Andrews. During his time as Festival Director, he has overseen StAnza’s astonishing growth both in audience numbers and in reputation. He leaves the festival a highlight of the busy arts calendar in Scotland and the UK which regularly draws audiences from the rest of Europe and America. Last year, he saw StAnza shortlisted for a Scottish Thistle Award, in recognition of its impact during Homecoming Year.
In previous years he has brought a range of major American poets to the festival, commissioned art works from leading Scottish artists, featured both past and present Poet Laureates, and has brought to StAnza poets from over 40 countries. The last five years have seen sustained increases in attendances – 11,000 at this year’s festival – and the festival has become a byword for excellence and hospitality.
Brian Johnstone says: ‘While I’m looking forward to having more time to pursue my own creative interests, I will also enjoy seeing how StAnza develops and grows as I’m sure it will under its new Festival Director. I’m delighted to be passing it on to such a dedicated successor – it’s going to be great – just you wait and see!’
StAnza’s new Festival Director, Eleanor Livingstone has been involved with StAnza for seven years and has been Artistic Director since 2005. Among her recent achievements has been the creation of Distant Voices: StAnza’s Digital Poetry Festival, which webcast live events to over 60 countries. She is already planning the 2011 festival and will take over the other responsibilities from June.
Of her new role, Eleanor says: ‘Over the last five years, working with Brian and our wonderful team has been a rewarding experience and I’m looking forward with enthusiasm to the challenge of leading StAnza into the future. With so much great poetry available, so many exciting possibilities for future festivals and new types of poetry encounters and engagements, I’m sure StAnza can continue to expand and develop with our focus firmly on creativity and excellence.’
‘It’s been a privilege to develop such a major event and I am happy to hand over a festival of which we can all be justly proud,’ added Brian Johnstone. ‘Without the immense commitment and support of all our members and volunteers, StAnza could simply not have functioned. And without their sharing my vision for StAnza I would simply not have been able to achieve what I – in truth we – have achieved in making StAnza all that it is today.’
StAnza's directors were delighted to hear the news that Don Paterson, who is among the poets leading the bill at StAnza 2010 has been awarded the Queen's Medal for Poetry for his latest collection Rain. The announcement was made on New Year's Eve.
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who chaired the judging panel, praised Paterson’s writing as: "acutely attuned to the most intimate of human exchanges, rendered with a formal grace, a moving candour and a beguiling cadence. These poems are a witness and a guide to our most precious moments, achieving in two decades of work what few manage so well in a lifetime."
StAnza's Artistic Director, Eleanor Livingstone said: "This is a most deserved honour for a poet hugely acclaimed both at home and abroad whose work significantly enhances the reputation of Scottish poetry. All congratulations to him."
Rain was also awarded the 2009 Forward Prize for Poetry. Paterson has previously won many awards, including the T. S. Eliot and Whitbread Prizes. He received an OBE in 2008.
Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Kelly with Peter Lederer, Chairman of Visit Scotland
The Awards were founded in 1991 by VisitScotland, and celebrate excellence, innovation and creative thinking in the tourism industry.
StAnza Festival Director Brian Johnstone said: "I am absolutely delighted that StAnza's contribution has been recognised in the Scottish Thistle Awards in what is my final twelve months as Festival Director. It bears out the ambition and aspirations we had for the festival right from the start and is a wonderful tribute to everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - who has worked to make StAnza what it is today."
The winners will be announced on 23 October during a ceremony at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
Festival goers will recall the spectacular ‘Burning Burns’ event at our festival’s launch back in March when artist David Mach set fire to one of a pair of matchhead sculptures of the head of Robert Burns, with First Minister Alex Salmond in the audience. Now there is a twist to the tale of this memorable event.
The sculptures, which were especially commissioned for StAnza as part of this year’s Homecoming celebrations, are going on long-term loan to Parliament and will be on display there from 18th August, to coincide with the start of Edinburgh’s Festival of Politics. The heads, one blackened by burning and the other with the red of its matchheads still intact, make a dramatic contrast and will be displayed together in a specially made glass case at the public entrance to the Holyrood Debating Chamber.
Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza’s Artistic Director said: ‘David Mach’s matchheads of Burns became the iconic image of this year’s festival and StAnza’s involvement with Homecoming Scotland . I’m delighted that they will have continuing exposure and impact, especially within the context of Holyrood, a building and institution in which, as in the matchheads, past, present and future meet.’
Iain Smith, MSP for North East Fife, said: "In this year of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, I'm delighted that these splendid matchhead sculptures are being lent to the Scottish Parliament. I'm sure their display will be well-received by public visitors to Holyrood and by the MSPs."
Warm congratulations from StAnza to Jen Hadfield. On 12th January 2009, she became the youngest poet to win the T S Eliot Prize - the most prestigious in the UK - for her second collection Nigh No Place (Bloodaxe). Jen, 30, who lives on Burra, Shetland, gave a wonderful reading at StAnza 2007 and returned in 2008 to show a series of artworks, also called Nigh No Place: Mexican folk inspired retablos (created inside old tobacco tins) which evoked the Shetland landscape and complemented the themes of her book. She was also one of the poets who took part in StAnza's exchange with Stavanger, European City of Culture 2008, where she gave two excellent readings and an inspirational workshop.
"We've taken note of Jen's talents for some time," says Artistic Director Eleanor Livingstone, "and are delighted that she's now achieved such stunning success." Winning the T S Eliot Prize puts Jen in the company of of some very prominent poets. Recent winners have been Sean O'Brien, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, George Szirtes and Don Paterson. All at StAnza say: well done, Jen! We look forward to your return to the festival."
Adrian Mitchell reading at StAnza 2008