Asking the questions that will shape our future
Owen Sheers introduces his 10 writers for the International Literature Showcase

Poet, playwright, author and Professor in Creativity at Swansea University, Owen Sheers, has selected the ten writers for the new International Literature Showcase, focusing on those writers who are challenging us about the past, present and the future. You can explore his list here, or read on for his introduction to the showcase’s themes.

What is the role of a writer at times of transition and change? How might their work contribute at a turning point in history when the choices we make today will so significantly affect the kinds of lives we live tomorrow? Perhaps the answer to these questions is no more than a continuation of the primary duty of any writer – to try to be good. To write whatever you’ve chosen to write to the best of your ability.

But what if that isn’t enough? What if a writer also wants to illuminate the fault lines of the moment, embody an injustice or humanise an issue burning within them? Then the challenge becomes more complex and, I’d say, considerably more demanding. To write a piece of work that rides an issue without being submerged by it. To give literary shape to the climate crisis, sexism, racism, inclusivity, yet still make good art. To avoid didacticism or polemic and create a poem or story that carries us effortlessly – through craft, imagination and empathy – into the beating human heart of a matter. A work that penetrates the gauze of the present moment to make us witness and feel anew and therefore question anew as well.

All the writers on this list have, in a variety of ways, met that more demanding challenge with brilliance and verve. The forms in which they’ve done so are equally various – from travelogues to poems to memoir to YA and adult fiction. What they share, across that array of form and approach, and what makes them so well equipped for inclusion in this list, is primarily an ability to see clearly into the connective tissue of their subjects. By writing with a quality of attention that breaks down inherited norms and perspectives they create narratives that join the dots; that follow threads of consequence and causality through the fabric of society to render the experiences of others or themselves in such a way as to make them live afresh on the page. 

Forster’s ‘only connect’ then. Well, yes, and maybe that’s another way of describing these writers, as ten of the most inspirational ‘literary connectors’ at work in the UK. But for me it’s what they do with those connections that marks them out as voices to which we should pay special attention. By creating stories and poems which offer us glimpses of how we might reposition ourselves in relation to the natural world and each other, they also invite us to imagine other ways to be, not through explicit direction but via the subtle enquiries and empathies of narrative suggestion. 

In 2016 I wrote a film-poem about the founding of the NHS, To Provide All People. As part of my research I read Aneurin Bevan’s seminal collection of essays, In Place of Fear. It’s book which came to mind again as I read the work of these ten writers. Because that is the other thing the questions they ask offer us – an alternative response to so many of our contemporary fears about the future, from climate collapse and immigration to motherhood, technology and nationalism. Bevan’s essays also asked a question of his time, one that was perhaps made most manifest in the creation of the NHS – ‘Who do we want to be?’ Ultimately, that is also what the work of these writers is asking us now. Who do we want to be? What kind of a humanity do we want our children to inherit? How we answer – as individuals, nations, a species – will shape our future.

Owen was invited to selected the list by the National Centre for Writing in partnership with the British Council as part of the International Literature Showcase. Owen’s selected writers are: 

  • Martin MacInnes
  • Hannah Lavery 
  • Elizabeth-Jane Burnett
  • Laura Bates 
  • Nikita Lalwani
  • Alys Conran
  • Raymond Antrobus
  • Clare Pollard
  • Adam Weymouth 
  • Garrett Carr

Find out more about the International Literature Showcase here.

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