Sunday 15 November 2020

An Interview with Cathy Moore: Director of Cambridge Literary Festival

We had a first for the Cambridge Library Group on Wednesday 11th November, with founder and director of the Cambridge Literary Festival, Cathy Moore, being interviewed via Teams by Leigh Chambers, writer and broadcaster from Cambridge 105 radio. We learned how one person's inspiration and hard work can really make a difference to their community. Cathy had worked in publishing, and then part time in bookselling while raising a family, when she wondered why a city like Cambridge didn't have a literary festival. And so, in 2003, Cambridge WordFest was born, with 24 events in a small number of venues, with friends roped in as volunteer stewards. Local author Ali Smith was involved from the first, and is now one of the patrons of the festival. 

Left to right: Ali Smith and Cathy Moore (Festival Director)

Initially there was just the Spring Festival, with a Winter one added in 2008. In 2014 it became a charity, Cambridge Literary Festival. Over the years it has gone from strength to strength, with a large number of high profile speakers, including internationally famous writers, covering literature, politics, environmental issues, poetry, history, comedy and current affairs. The venues have become numerous and larger, with some events selling out even in 450+ seat auditoriums. It has attracted not just well known names, but often provided a platform to unknowns, who have gone on to become prize winning celebrities. 

The festival is still run by a very small team of dedicated staff and a large group of volunteers. 2020 has been a challenging year, to which they have risen magnificently, and in some ways stronger than ever. The Spring Festival had been arranged, tickets sold and 20,000 brochures printed when the first Covid lockdown was announced. Obviously money was lost, but the generosity of a large number of people who donated their ticket money rather than a refund, and a fund raising campaign, and grants were received from a number of sources. During the summer, two online paid events were very successful, and reached audiences from around the world, who could not have attended a purely Cambridge-based event, and further raised the significance of the festival as an event at which to appear. 

The Winter 2020 festival beings on 18th November, and will have 38 all online events, covering a very wide range of subject areas. These have been pre-recored, rather than rusk technical difficulties occurring on the night, and have carefully paired interviewers with their subjects. Tickets can be bought for single talks, or a £25 pass allows 'attendance' at all events, which will able be available as 'catch-up' so even more people will be able to enjoy them at a time that is convenient. Some of the major names appearing this year are sculptor Maggi Hambling and best-selling children's author Jacqueline Wilson. It opens with a panel discussion of the arts in the era of Covid-19.

Jacqueline Wilson

The full programme can be found here

The future of the festival for 2021 will obviously depend on global circumstances, but it is hoped that it might be able to be a hybrid event, with a mixture of virtual and live events. 

Many thanks to Cathy Moore and Leigh Chambers for taking the time to speak to the group. 

Leigh's radio show

Write up contributed by Sarah Preston, Sidney Sussex College and Treasurer of CLG.

Photos taken from