Layla AlAmmar, Philip Hoare kick off season

The novelist Layla AlAmmar will be our first guest of the 2022-23 Writers in Conversation series when she joins us Monday 17 October at Southampton’s wonderful independent October Books.

AlAmmar will be discussing her most recent novel, Silence Is a Sense, starting at 7 pm with Carole Burns, writer and associate professor of English at Southampton.

Our own Philip Hoare will be joining our second guest on the evening of Monday 7 November at MAST Theatre in the city’s cultural quarter. More details to come.

AlAmmar’s second novel revolves around a young woman who is a refugee from Syria who, silenced by her trauma, becomes drawn into the lives of her neighbors in a set of flats in the UK. The New York Times reviewer wrote: “This is not just good storytelling, but a blueprint for survival: Turn to language even when there appears to be no hope.”

Layla AlAmmar grew up in Kuwait and has a master’s in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh. She has published in The Evening Standard, the TLS, the Guardian, Lithub, Arablit Quarterly, and Aesthetica Magazine, where she was a finalist for the 2014 Creative Writing Award. In 2018 she was the British Council International Writer in Residence at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival. Her first novel, The Pact We Made, was published in 2019. She currently resides in the UK, where she is doing her doctorate on Arabic women’s literature. Silence is a Sense was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.


Publishing Panel Extravaganza

Why a former Chicago Tribune “print” reporter turned into a Podcaster. How a young Southampton MA Creative Writing graduate moved to New York City and found work in publishing. And how a Canadian-turned-Welsh drew upon the history of Cardiff to write her latest novel.

These are some of the stories we’ll be hearing this Wednesday 11 May for our final Writers in Converstation of the academic year, hosted by writer and Southampton lecturer Carole Burns. We start 2 pm on the Avenue Campus, Lecture Theatre C.

We’ll start at 2 pm with a reading and conversation with Katie Munnik, whose newest novel, The Aerialists, was published by Borough Press in mid-April.

The Aerialists is ‘a heady and stylish read that swept me away…’

The Aerialists is based on the true story of Louisa Maud Evans, a fourteen-year old girl who died during the Great Exhibition in Cardiff, 1896, and whose demise – tumbling 8,000 feet into the Bristol Channel – captured the imagination of the city. (An exclusive excerpt from The Aerialists on ‘Unseen Histories’ can be found here.)

Then after a break, we’ll start up again about 3:15 for a panel with Munnik, the now podcaster Mark Caro (pictured above) and our own MA CW grad Abimael Ayala-Oquendo, to discuss their own paths into different areas of the publishing world.

As well as founding Caropop, Caro wrote The Foie Gras Wars and The Special Counsel: The Mueller Report Retold. He writes for The New York Times and Chicago magazine after a long Chicago Tribune career.

Ayala-Oquendo will talk about his beginnings in publishing in New York City, including his work in events at the Strand Bookstore, as well as his first publication, Airplanes.

Abi shares his stories with Carole last summer in the Big Apple

U.S. and British writers in Spring events

We are closing out the semester with a spring in our steps and two events featuring writers from America, Canada and the UK.

First, on Tuesday 3 May, Writers in Conversation will host American author Julia Ridley Smith, whose book of essays was recommended by IndyWeek “…for anyone who has lost a parent, for lovers and wranglers of ephemera, for amateur epistemologists, and for incorrigible musers.”

American essayist Julia Ridley Smith

We’ll follow that on Wednesday May 11 with a Writers in Conversation publishing extravaganza which begins with Katie Munnik reading from and talking about her latest novel, followed by a panel discussion with Munnik, Chicago writer and podcaster Mark Caro, and Abimael Ayala, a Southampton MA Creative Writing alum who is now working in publishing in New York City.

Writer Carole Burns, also head of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, will host both events.

Julia Ridley Smith, who writes both fiction and non-fiction, will be talking about her book of essays, The Sum of Trifles, at 6 pm GMT on Tuesday 3 May. She’ll be joining us online from America — though you’ll need to come to the Avenue campus, Lecture Theatre C, to hear her and ask questions.

“A profound and engaging meditation on personal possessions…”

Smith’s moving book of essays circle around the deaths of her parents and the treasure trove of antiques they had spent their lives buying, selling and loving. What is the value of things? As a white person in the American South, how does one grapple with the history of those things? And how does one honor our loved ones after they are gone?

The event begins at 6 pm at the University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Lecture Theatre C.

The following week, Wednesday 11 May, at 2 pm, please join us for our special Writers in Conversation/Publishing Extravaganza.

Katie Munnik starts us off with a reading and discussion on her newest novel, The Aerialists, which was published by Borough Press in mid-April.

The Aerialists is based on the true story of Louisa Maud Evans, a fourteen-year old girl who died during the Great Exhibition in Cardiff, 1896, and whose demise – tumbling 8,000 feet into the Bristol Channel – captured the imagination of the city.

The Aerialists is ‘a heady and stylish read that swept me away…’

You may read an exclusive excerpt from The Aerialists on ‘Unseen Histories’.

After a q-and-a led by Burns (and a quick break!) Munnik and our two other panelists – joining us online from Chicago and New York City – will talk about different aspects of publishing.

The event will be held at 2 pm in Lecture Theatre C, Avenue Campus, Building 65.

Spring Season Begins With Philip Hoare

The writer Philip Hoare, also a professorial teaching fellow in creative writing at the University of Southampton, is kicking off our first Writers in Conversation event of the Spring 2022 season on Thursday 24 February at 7:30 p.m.

Hoare will be talking about his most recent book, Albert & the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World, as well as the Derek Jarman exhibition at the John Hansard Gallery, at the MAST Mayflower Studios in Southampton’s cultural quarter. Book your tickets online, as seats are limited.

The book, an exploration of the life, and world of the German artist, was just shortlisted for the £30,000 Rathbones Folio Prize.

Another non-fiction writer will join us on Tuesday 15 March – Julia Ridley Smith, who will talk about her book of essays about mourning her parents, A Sum of Trifles. We will talk to Ridley Smith via Teams, but gather as a group on the Avenue Campus at 6 pm in Lecture Theatre B.

Finally, the novelist Katie Munnik, who is releasing her new book, The Aerealists, in April 2022, will join us after the Easter break, at a time and date to be announced soon.

New Season Begins On-Campus With Susmita Bhattacharya

The Indian-born short story writer, novelist and creative writing lecturer will join us Monday 25 October at 6 pm live on the University’s Avenue Campus for our first Writers in Conversation of the year. Online events will follow later this autumn from the award-winning writer Patrice Lawrence, and our own five-times novelist Rebecca Smith.

Susmita Bhattacharya has read her stories on BBC Radio 4.

Susmita Bhattacharya will be reading from and discussing her short story collection, Table Manners (Dahlia Publishing, 2018), which won the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection (2019). Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian, 2015, BEE Books, India 2016) was long-listed for the Word to Screen Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival, 2018. She teaches creative writing at Winchester University, facilitates the ArtfulScribe Mayflower Young Writers programme in Southampton and has been involved in Mayflower 400 projects.

Hosted by Carole Burns, the university’s head of Creative Writing, Writers in Conversation gives audience members a chance to ask question as well.

Our next two events will move online again as part of the Southampton Arts and Humanities Festival held by the University of Southampton.

Smith’s latest novel, The Ash Museum, came out in May

Novelist Rebecca Smith, principal teaching fellow in the University of Southampton’s English department, will help kick off the festival on Thursday 11 November at 7:30 p.m. to discuss her fifth novel, and her first for young people: Shadow Cat Summer. The book was inspired by a stay at Moniack Mohr in the Scottish Highlands and her own and her children’s love of the natural world. As she talks with Burns about her work, they’ll discuss the renewal one can gain from nature and the arts, as well as her own writing process.

On the following Monday, the award-winning writer Patrice Lawrence will talk about her novels for young people, which has won prizes from Waterstones and an MBE in the Queen’s Honours List. Please join us online on Monday 15 November at 7:30 p.m. as she discusses her book set in Southampton, entitled Diver’s Daughter.

Monday 26 April: Rebecca Smith

Our own Rebecca Smith, principal teaching fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, will be our featured guest Monday 26 April at 7:30 pm British time when she discussed her new novel, The Ash Museum.

This novel, Rebecca’s fourth, explores the history of a family through artefacts from their life: an old tennis racket, a letter from India, the fragment of a broken China plate.  Join us Monday at 7:30 for this free online event.

The novel is released 3 May.

Copies can be pre-ordered at October Books in Southampton and at P&G Wells in Winchester, where she will also launch her book at an online event on Thursday 6 May.

This is our last Writers in Conversation of the academic year! So don’t miss it.

Gish Jen and Margot Livesey Join WIC from the USA

Two award-winning writers based in the United States – the American writer Gish Jen, author most recently of The Resisters, and Scottish writer Margot Livesey, now a professor at the famous Iowa Writers Workshop – as well as our own Creative Writing lecturer and novelist Rebecca Smith will be guests this semester for our Spring 2021 season of Writers in Conversation.

Making a virtue of our need to hold talks online, we feel fortunate to have such renowned U.S.-based writers joining us this semester (with hopes with we can talk to Rebecca Smith in person in May). Please join us and ask questions via livestream from Youtube channel or our Facebook page.

Gish Jen will start us off on Monday 8 February at 7:30 pm London time, when she will be talking about her eighth book, The Resisters, to Carole Burns, the university’s head of creative writing, exploring how she intertwined concerns about climate change and racial and economic inequality in this vibrant novel in which a family of “resisters” works together to bring about change.

Margot Livesey will discuss A Boy in the Field, her ninth novel, on Monday 15 March at 7:30 pm London time; and Rebecca Smith will talk about her yet-to-be-released The Ash Museum at a date to be determined in May.

More information to come! Watch this space.

Donna Hemans on Bringing the Jamaican Immigrant Experience to Life: Mon 12 Oct

Join us as Donna Hemans, an award-winning writer from Jamaica and Washington, D.C., reads from her new novel, Tea by the Sea, described by bestselling author Marlon James as “a powder keg of a novel, where secrets and lies explode into truth and consequences, all told with spellbinding, shattering power.”

Donna Hemans will answer questions from Washington, DC

We go live here at 7:30 pm British time on Monday 12 October as Hemans read from her novel then answers questions from WiC’s Carole Burns and our live online audience, part of the University’s Black History Month programme.

From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces a mother’s circuitous route to finding the daughter taken from her at birth.

A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story—that of a family uniting and unraveling.

Jamaican-born Donna Hemans is also the author of the novel River Woman, winner of the 2003-4 Towson University Prize for Literature. Tea by the Sea, her second novel, won her the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature, and was listed in Ms. Magazine’s “June 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us.”

Writers Chevalier, Thompson, Hemans in Autumn Line-up

The author of the best-selling Girl with Pearl Earring. The writer of a critically acclaimed BBC drama about the Windrush scandal. A prize-winning Jamaican-American writer talking to us online from Washington, DC.

These writers – Tracy Chevalier, Stephen Thompson and Donna Hemans – are our guests this semester at Writers in Conversation, the literary reading series run by the English/Creative Writing department at the University of Southampton.

  • Author Donna Hemans
  • Tracy Chevalier in Winchester Cathedral

The reading and q-and-a events are online this year due to Covid, enabling us to talk to writers not in the UK – and having audience members from overseas as well. Do check here for online links to our events, once they are available.

Donna Hemans, whose second novel, Tea by the Sea, traces a mother’s circuitous route to finding a daughter taken from her at birth, will be our first guest on Monday 12 October 2020 at 7:30 pm. Hemans’ event will also be part of Black History Month events at the University of Southampton.

Stephen Thompson, whose TV drama about his brother’s threatened deporting during the UK’s Windrush scandal aired on BBC this summer, will be our next guest on Monday 16 November at 7:30 pm.

And Tracy Chevalier, whose most recent novel, A Single Thread, is set in Winchester and Southampton, will join us Saturday 21 November at 3:30 pm. These last two events are also part of the University’s Human Worlds Festival, run every year in conjunction with the UK-wide Being Human festival.

Check here for further information about each event, hosted by Carole Burns, the university’s head of creative writing, as well as links for you to join us on the night.

And also know we plan to record these events and post them on our Writers in Conversation Youtube channel.

WiC Highlights from 19-20 Season

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It seemed right to start off the season this past year with two of our own English graduates from the University of Southampton: the writer Ella Dove who visited campus with her agent Richard Pike to talk about her debut novel, Five Steps to Happy.

And the season continued with more fabulous conversation about writing: from Courttia Newland talking about Edna O’Brien’s story “Plunder” as an inspiration to his own; to Brian Dillon reading from the essay about his aunt which he admitted was going to require more words, maybe a book.

And finally, Judith Heneghan, whose novel, Snegurochka, was shortlisted later in the year for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing awards, talked about how her time in the Ukraine led to her debut novel.

We will be moving online for the Autumn, so look here for our guests, the format, and how you can join us – from pretty much anywhere! 

Carole Burns Head of Creative Writing, University of Southampton