Essex Book Festival 2021

  • Date

    Mon 24 May 21

Ben Okri, wearing a black jacket, white shirt and black beret.

Literary staff and former students are getting ready to showcase their work in the highlight of the county’s cultural calendar as Essex Book Festival 2021 launches in June.

Events hosted or supported by the University will feature guests including former BBC journalist Gavin Esler, poet Ben Okri and Dr James Canton, whose book The Oak Papers stars as The Essex Read.

University events get under way on 8 June when award-winning television and radio presenter Gavin Esler will discuss his latest book How Britain Ends with Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony. Tickets for the online event start at £5.

On 27 June novelist Jonathan Crane, who graduated from Essex with an MA Literature and a PhD Creative Writing, will host a Story Hunters Project Creative Writing Workshop at Danbury Country Park. The two-hour flash fiction-writing course will include a guided tour of the beauty spot, with tickets costing £20 (£15 concessions).

On 2 July former Essex student Ben Okri will be discussing his latest collection of poems A Fire in My Head with Dr Jak Peake from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies. This collection by the Nigerian poet, novelist, short-story writer and playwright has been described as a “work of beauty, grace and uncommon power” and covers topics including the refugee crisis, President Obama, Grenfell Tower, and the impact of Covid-19. Tickets cost £10, or ‘pay what you can.’

A highlight of the Festival will be The Essex Read which this year celebrates the nationally-acclaimed 2020 book by Dr James Canton from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, The Oak Papers. Some 20 copies of the book have been placed around the county with a red Pick Me Up sticker on the front cover and a reader's library card on the inside cover so people can read the book, add their name and return it where they found it.

The book, which was featured on Radio 4 as Book of the Week, has been described as “a profound meditation on the human need for connection”. Dr Canton spent two years studying the ancient Honywood Oak at Marks Hall Estate, which was just a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed.

Dr James Canton, smiling and wearing a dark blue sweater
"Essex Book Festival has masterfully reinvented itself for 2021...I'm so excited to be part of it and especially pleased to see The Oak Papers as The Essex Read."
Dr James Canton department of literature, film, and theatre studies

Dr Canton said: “Essex Book Festival has masterfully reinvented itself for 2021. There’s an extended programme over three months now with events online, in person and even on foot, including its programme of In My Steps: Radical Walks in Essex.

“I’m so excited to be part of the festival this year and especially pleased to see The Oak Papers as The Essex Read with copies of the book placed in public spaces all around the county, even at the end of Southend Pier, I hear!

“I’m really looking forward to leading one of the In My Steps walks and also talking about The Oak Papers and the magnificent 800-year-old Honywood Oak on 14 July. It’s great that Essex Book Festival is continuing to push the boundaries in challenging times.”

Tickets for Dr Canton’s talk at Colchester Library cost £7 (£5 concessions).

Fans of Dr Canton who want more can also meet him under the branches of the Honywood Oak on 10 July for a walk around the Marks Hall Estate and, on the same day, take part in a wild writing workshop with the author.

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “Once again, we are delighted and proud to be supporting Essex Book Festival which rightly celebrates the county’s thriving literary community. Meeting largely online this year does nothing to dampen our creative spirit and our University’s commitment to bringing literature and creative ideas into the community.

“The Festival is an opportunity to learn new things about the world, hear new and interesting ideas, and maybe be inspired to do something creative ourselves. We feel very lucky to be a part of it.”

This year, Essex Book Festival is also supporting Maja’s Education Project, an initiative launched by Essex student Maja Antoine-Onikoyi which makes books about Black history, racial injustices, the oppression of Black people and Black lives available for free.

Picture of Ben Okri courtesy of Mat Bray and Essex Book Festival.