Aug 17, 2010

Wales at Wordstock

The Venue

As part of this year's Left Coast Eisteddfod celebrations we are presenting a panel discussion at the prestigious Wordstock literary festival ( 7th-10th October 2010 ) entitled 'Welsh Identity in Literature: From Dylan Thomas to Dr Who'. Featured panel authors include Niall Griffiths, Harrison Solow and Chris Keil. We are pleased to announce that this will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning in the OEA Performance Area at the Oregon Convention Center ( pictured left ). In addition two of our authors will be presenting workshops at the event  ( see details below ). The AmeriCymru booth, where you will find  a  wide variety of Anglo-Welsh literature for sale and signing sessions by our featured authors ( including Peter Griffiths and Lorin Morgan-Richards), will be open throughout the event. See this floor plan for our location ( we are at booth 620 )

The Authors

Check the Wordstock blog here daily for posts by our featured authors. Find details of featured authors in the slideshow above .

The Panel Discussion

Welsh Identity in Literature: From Dylan Thomas to Dr Who - 11 a.m. on Saturday morning ( 9th Oct ) in the OEA Performance Area at the Oregon Convention Center

What is Anglo-Welsh literature and why should anyone care?  As historian Gwyn Williams once famously said:- “The Welsh as a people have lived by making and remaking themselves in generation after generation, usually against the odds, usually within a British context.” For the Welsh speaking minority in Wales cultural identity is not a problem. The language defines it. For the English speaking majority, this question is not so easily answered. In Wales we see the same TV programs , read the same newspapers as our neighbours do a few miles away across the English 'border'. Wales is a popular vacation spot and in the summer months there are areas where you will be lucky to hear a Welsh accent let alone hear the native language spoken. And yet for centuries the Welsh have refused to be subsumed or absorbed by the Anglo-Saxon cultural Borg .  Welsh authors are rarely included in the English literary canon. Perhaps there is a reason for that? How does Welsh literature help to preserve Welsh identity? What lessons does this hold for others attempting to maintain an identity in the face of  cultural globalization.

From 'Mr Vogel' by Lloyd Jones - “When was Wales? Wales has never been, it has always been.” he rambled on to his next victim, Myrddin the schizophrenic, who fortunately) was asleep. “I’ll tell you something for nothing.” he said, “true Wales is never more than a field away, and true Wales is always a field away, like Rhiannons horse in the Mabinogi. Got it?” 

We asked our panelists to respond to the followowing question:- How do you think Welsh writers, writing in English, contribute to establishing a distinct Welsh cultural identitiy. Do you think there's anything unique about the Welsh experience or about Anglo-Welsh literature in this regard?  Here are their responses:-

Chris Keil - "What do you call it? Welsh writing in English? English-language writing in Wales? If youʼre not confused you donʼt understand the situation. The one constant is that cultural politics are always changing. In the last thirty or forty years the languages have inverted their relationship to each other, and Welsh is now the speech of the elite. This puts English- language writers in Wales in a new place. For me, the salient, abiding characteristic is a sort of estrangement - from England, but also from Wales; not so much embattled/romantic/heroic, as just not-signed-up: a failure (and I mean that in the most successfulsense of the word) to invest in any of the big-noting nationalisms that compete for our souls. Itʼs never a party-piece, either of dull fields and sullen rocks and angst, or of verbal tics and tricks and archness and cutesyness, boyo, look you. To invoke Mae West: “Indeed-to-goodness has nothing to do with it.”

Niall Griffiths - "Difficult to answer briefly .Let's just say that the less power London has, in every realm, the better for the UK and Europe and indeed humanity as a whole. Wales is bi-lingual, and gloriously so; being able to mediate the world through two languages is very beneficial and enriching."

Harrison Solow - "There is everything unique about the Welsh experience. I have said in various interviews about my writing about Wales that "no word equals its referent, and that the meaning of what is approximated in words lies in the shadow of them – in a different realm altogether." I believe  "there is a meaning in any experience described within a book, that cannot possibly be in the book." Nowhere have I seen this belief personified, indeed, living, except in Wales: “The Welsh have survived as a nation chiefly by cunning and reserve...they play for time, they fence, they scout out the situation, but they do not commit themselves. Those sweet smiles are sweet, but they are well under control. It is performance that greets you, polished and long practiced, played on a deceptively cosy stage set with brass pokers by the fire...” as Jan Morris says in her book A Matter of Wales. This is a mystical nation and the daily life of y Cymry remains a mystery to outsiders, some of it even to fellow Welshmen who do not speak Welsh and whose intrinsic and amorphous content is shaped by what is considered by some to be an alien form: English. My significant encounters in Wales have been with the Welsh speaking Welsh, whose intermittent appearance behind those smiles have both an I-Thou magnetism and a faint but discernable invitation; whose bland and wordless gazes bespeak the language of a somehow recognizable teulu (family) that sent me hypnotically to the Welsh Department of The University of Wales to embark on a journey of another kind: the lifelong acquisition of an ancient, bardic tongue.  But when I won the Pushcart Prize for Literature for writing about Wales, even those Welsh speakers celebrated the notion that it is possible to write about Wales in English. I'm not so sure that one can write Wales without Welsh. But one can write about it. Wales is a state of mind, or rather a state of heart. It is the scent of lanolin in the air – the hum of small cities in the loam beneath the oaks, the conviction of Celtic blood. It is an endless and sirenic song - as far from English sensibility as  it is from German or Cherokee. Sometimes I think that any story about Wales should be told outside the written word. It is only because I cannot sing or paint that I write and what I write is a word-performance. It is eisteddfod."

The Workshops

The Writing Life: A Serious Pursuit of Self Definition - Harrison Solow ( OCC room B118 Saturday 9th Oct 9-10.15 am )

In this seminar, we will address writing under a variety of conditions, about  a variety of subjects, under the guise of ourselves and alter egos, in company and in isolation.

Writing Dialogue in the Novel - Chris Keil  ( OCC room B119 Sunday 10th Oct 1.30- 2.45 )

The workshop contains lecture, discussion, examples and participation in writing, on technical characteristics of dialogue in order to intensify mood, compress/express social/emotional connections etc

STOP PRESS:  Author Lorin Morgan Richards will be joining us at our booth at Wordstock where he will be selling and autographing copies of his works throughout Saturday and Sunday.

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