On Monday evening, 13 October 2014, James Runcie (Head of Literature and the Spoken Word at Southbank Centre) introduced the Man Booker Prize Readings with these words. We thought it was such a good way to see out the festival and celebrate all that we achieved this year that we wanted to share it with you too.
Happy reading, and don’t forget: words can change the world.
Welcome to this, the final event at the London Literature Festival. We started, two weeks ago, with the Forward Prize for Fiction and end with this, the Man Booker Prize Readings.
In those two weeks, over 20,000 people have come to literature events here at Southbank Centre – many of which were free.
We’ve commissioned a new poem from Alice Oswald, a new play by Craig Taylor, a Gavin Bryars cantata celebrating the work of William S Burroughs, and staged a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
We’ve paid tribute to Maya Angelou, set up a debating chamber, brought 100 plays from all over the country into one room, and staged our first Young Adult Literature Weekender – at the end of which one person wrote on the wall:
“Reading is Dreaming with Your Eyes Open.”
Our work celebrates the power of art and the imagination to change lives – and tonight we are very grateful to the organisers of the Man Booker Prize for bringing us the best in contemporary fiction.
It’s wonderful to celebrate the power of fiction at these high profile events, although I’d like to add that here at Southbank Centre we are equally keen to support, encourage and collaborate with writers at every stage of their career; at the beginning, at the peak, and even when others think they might be on the way down because – this being literature – hope is our currency.
Writing, publishing, and reading are all acts of faith and trust.
And all the exceptional writers you are about to hear tonight can have cause to be hopeful – not least because Hilary Mantel has only published a volume of short stories this year.
We are proud, for example to have already staged events this year with three authors on the shortlist: Karen Joy Fowler, Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith – and last year we arranged the first London event for Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries before she was even long listed for this prize.
I think it’s important to take a punt on people, on writers – to believe in them, to encourage the unacknowledged legislators of the universe, and to nurture and celebrate all that we believe to be good about literature.
In an age of shouty solipsism and pointless celebification, where the literati somehow feel pressured to become the twitterati, reading offers something quieter, more focused and more long-lasting. It’s not just about impact, but resonance.
Literature should offer the pleasure of discovery, transcend expectation and leave us – after we have stepped into the lives of others – thinking differently about the way we live an improved life.
The greatest happiness often comes from outside ourselves.
Other worlds. Other wonders.
So let’s find them.
Thank you to everyone who came to this year’s London Literature Festival and helped make it so great.
Keep up to date with literature and spoken word at Southbank Centre, because we’re certainly not stopping there! Come and join us as we plough ahead with our autumn season. And to make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for emails, follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook.