Review: Eric Page
The Coast Is Queer, Brighton & Hove’s celebration of LGBTQ+ writing, returned for its third year in October. The festival brought together writers, poets, performers, academics, activists and, of course, readers, for three superb days of accessible, lively in-conversation events, workshops, films and discussions celebrating queer lives and literature.
Wrapped up in the stark brick built beauty of the Attenborough Centre at Sussex University – with its brutalist charm, embracing curves and verdant Manhattan loft plants – the sun shone, warming the audience and flooding the space with light, and the festival had a real feel of swish and swank about it. From headliners to modest first timers, the line-up covered a diverse group of creative writers from across the social spectrum.
Coast Is Queer excels in ensuring it is representative of not just the LGBTQ+ and queer communities but also gives care and consideration to platforming voices from older, disabled and migrant communities. What we end up with is a range of writers who offer a vivid rich seam of lived experience, sharing their creative narratives and ideas about writing, offering widely different insights into life, living and death and showcasing the very best of LGBTQ+ / queer writing in Britain today.
David Sheppeard introduced the delightful trio of Stacy Makishi, Ursula Martinez and Oluwaseun Olayiwola for a wonderfully funny discussion on the transformative power of art and storytelling in all its forms which gave the audience insight into narrative construction, the ideas that transform into amazing stories and the things which keep the writers up at their keyboard.
An evening of pure queer joy was had with the Sunday Times best-seller Juno Dawson, who invited us to join them at their uber cool Literary Trans Salon, which oozed charm and bookish delights, for an interview with the delightful Travis Alabanza – award-winning writer, performer and theatre maker. They talked about their writing, upbringing, class, sex, ideas, sex, narrative journeys, current books and ‘working the circuit’.
Dawson’s Salons are always a treat and Alabanza served up candid clarity on a range of queer topics, discussing doubt, joy and finding ways to hold both, which delighted an attentive audience and brought a lot of warm laughter into the theatre. It was probably my favourite event of the festival! We learned why they no longer write poetry and the talk about ‘pandemic self sexting’ was wonderfully funny.
Dawson received a round of applause, quite rightly, for achieving number one on the Sunday Times bestseller list, which they waspishly observed forced the paper to ‘actually write something good about a trans person’. Alabanza had also delivered a workshop on developing the process of making LGBTQ+ autobiographical work.
The New Voices panel with Okechukwu Nzelu – in conversation with three new writers – allowed us to listen to writers recently published, although often writing for a long time, as they talked about their own journeys to being published. Hearing them read their own works to an attentive queer house was simply lovely. Elizabeth Chakrabarty frankly discussing compassion and hate crime was revelatory; Jon Ransom sharing the power of his seminal novel on grief brought the room to a tangible stillness; Tice Cin‘s modest soft exploration of intersections of identity and visibility was moving and presented awareness with gut punch prose.
Other highlights of the festival: a fun and eye opening learning session from podcasters Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller, authors of Bad Gays: A Homosexual History, who presented Bad Gays, an uncomfortable but endlessly fascinating true history of some wicked, nasty and just plain dangerous homos.
An evening of music and poetry on the Saturday night, which felt like the coolest club in town, featured legendary DJ Ritu who brought the eclectic and classically fabulous Club Kali to the coast, with their unique mix of soul, disco, Motown and world music.
The festival was on all weekend and featured Salon faves, international guests, local writers and a host of literary queers, who shared their stories, discussed the importance of LGBTQ+ narratives by and from our own communities, read from their works and took part in many entertaining panel discussions.
The Coast is Queer 2022 delivered quality arts and literature; an opportunity to listen in great comfort to queers talking about queers. Attendees also had the opportunity to buy and browse the bookshelf, curated by Brighton & Hove’s independent bookshop: Feminist Bookshop.
Overall, a superb weekend – New Writing South and Marlborough Productions are to be congratulated on this world class literary festival which continues to elevate the Brighton and Sussex cultural scene into national prominence and brings a hungry local audience into contact with some dazzling queer minds.
More info and the full programmes can be found here