A literature festival should hit the zeitgeist. Publishers naturally want their authors to shine, to create, be part of, or further the zeitgeist. Successful books occur like fireworks. They suspend disbelief in the reader. They shine beautifully and momentarily. If the metaphor stands then literature festivals are spectacular firework displays, a celebration of the vitality of literature. The audience attends to experience in awe the nightly spectacle. In an age of click and buy this contrasting live event is a wondrous thing.
If Moses were around on a world tour maybe he would have delivered a version of his radical “sermon”: Published by Canongate? He would have “performed” at Hay On Wye. If Martin Luther King was visiting London no doubt he would have read from his book at London Literature Festival: published by Bloomsbury? The book whose story imprints into the mind of a nation long after it has been experienced, long after the momentary display is the truly successful one.
But when does a literature festival leave the need for zeitgeist for a more comfortable less dynamic life? When does it stop being zeitgeist and start becoming a clearing house for the PR people of the major publishers and confirmation for a less questioning audience? Like a writer, literature festivals can become indifferent to zeitgeist in the blinding light of their own success. Unbeknownst to the literature festival organiser authors are inadvertent experts in what makes a successful literature festival. Authors experience more literature festivals than festival organiser's themselves who are bound behind the curtain, like wizards of Odd, to the gargantuan task of logistics and programming
The thing about the zeitgeist is that it can not be manufactured. But it can and must be engaged. Rightnow the international and local zeitgeist is The Arab Spring, freedom of speech and the struggle against libel. The closure today of News Of The World and the questioning of News International is of local and international significance. Should our literature festivals stand up and be counted and for example elevate Simon Singh to his rightful place as the writer who has been fighting the libel laws for years for their benefit with as yet little true recognition from them.