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Literature Matters: In The Moment


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Ali Smith, Jay Bernard, James Graham discuss writing the contemporary moment. Chaired by Matthew Sweet.

Making art from real events is as old to writing as the pen – older. But what happens when the events you are writing about have taken place recently, or are happening as you type? What are the writer’s duties to fact? And how does a writer bring insights from current events to bear on the historical contexts of their work?

Ali Smith has published three novels in a four-novel seasonal cycle, Autumn, Winter and Spring, exploring time, society and art in the context of Brexit Britain. Her books take the most of-the-moment political and social developments into the world of the novel. Jay Bernard’s collection, Surge, is a fearless exploration of the Black British archive, drawing its enquiry into the New Cross Fire in 1981 alongside the 2017 Grenfell disaster. James Graham’s play The Vote takes place in the last 90 minutes before polls close in the 2015 General Election, and was broadcast live on Channel 4 on election night. His 2019 drama for Channel 4, Brexit: The Uncivil War, explored the very recent history of the Brexit referendum.

Their conversation is chaired by writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet.

This event was broadcast by BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking programme and is available as an Arts & Ideas podcast.

Recorded on: October 28, 2019
Recorded at: British Library Knowledge Centre