John Hewitt International Summer School: Borders, Brexit and Dreams #JHISS

Borders are one of the recurring themes of this year’s John Hewitt International Summer School which runs between Monday 24 and Saturday 29 July in The Market Place Theatre in Armagh. 2017 is the 30th anniversary of the John Hewitt Society, and this year’s event features 55 artists, writers and speakers participating in 35 or more events over the six days.

On top of the creative writing workshops and masterclasses, there’s a rich set of talks and panels looking at contemporary politics and culture. Some events are already sold out, so worth checking The Market Place Theatre website or box office before travelling down to Armagh.

On Tuesday evening evening, Kabosh Theatre will perform Green & Blue, a play that looks back at border policing using Garda and RUC officers’ oral history. One of the most memorable pieces I reviewed during last year’s Belfast Festival, a thoughtful and respectful play that is worth catching.

Political sociologist and border studies expert Dr Katy Hayward will discuss the future of borders – frictionless and otherwise – on and around the island of Ireland after Brexit in her Wednesday morning reflection.

Thursday morning sees literature academic Dr Caroline Magennis take to the Armagh stage to discuss Unsettling Intimacy: Northern Irish Short Fiction after the Agreement. (Caroline is currently organising an international conference on the cultural legacy of the Good Friday Agreement, to be held in Manchester in April 2018.)

Friday morning continues the theme of borders with Dominique Jan Searle talking about The Garlic Wall and the border separating Spain from Gibraltar that was closed between 1969 and 1985. Dominique is the Gibraltar Representative to the UK and will talk about the human and political factors behind the dispute with Spain and how the future management of the frontier will be affected by Brexit.

Borders also return on Friday evening with a reading from Garrett Carr’s recently published book The Rule of the Land which documents his walks along the border that separates north from south. He’ll be joined by John Paul Connolly who voiced the book when it was adapted for Radio 4.

Before all that, the opening address on Monday morning will be delivered by Dame Helena Kennedy QC, a barrister and broadcaster who champions civil liberties and promotes human rights. As a Labour peer, she currently holds the record of rebelling more frequently that any of her other party colleagues in the House of Lords. She recently appeared– quite frustrated – on screen in Laura Poitras’ documentary The Risk that profiled Julian Assange.

Monday afternoon’s panel discussion asks 30 Years On: Where are we now? Seamus Mallon, Naomi Long, Steve Aiken and Steven Agnew will be in conversation, chaired by Peter Osborne.

The opening night’s gala event reprises In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: A Journey in Words & Music. First staged in the Dublin Abbey Theatre and at Belfast Festival last year, the show features a selection of the island’s finest and most respected artists as they look back over the last century and chart the journey of reconciliation from 1916 to the present day through poetry, music, drama and imagery.

Tuesday afternoon’s panel discussion looks at The Art of Conflict Transformation with Katy Radford, Paula McFetridge, Marguerite Nugent and Oliver Sears.

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