John Hewitt International Summer School

Watch David Park read from his forthcoming novel and more in our video below


The John Hewitt International Summer School returned to the Market Place Theatre in Armagh this month, with this year’s theme being ‘Back to Uncertainty: Considering Other Possibilities’.

JHISS runs annually in the Market Place in the last week of July, and attracts a generous sprinkling of literary enthusiasts to workshops, panel discussions, book readings, book signings and more in the former homeplace of the late poet and cultural commentator.

There with camera in hand on opening day, we caught up with the summer school’s director Tony Kennedy, who expanded on the theme. ‘We’re exploring what uncertainties face us all [in the arts sector], how we’ll move forward, how we’ll deal with uncertainties political, cultural, financial.’

This year the school featured appearances from Louis de Bernieres, Eavan Boland, American poet Sharon Olds, Joseph O’Connor, Michael Longley and Blake Morrison, amongst others. But the man after whom the summer school is named was never far from people's minds.

'There is a lovely clarity about the north of Ireland and it's people - and our flaws - in John Hewitt's poetry,' author David Park told CultureNorthernIreland. 'It is a tribute to Hewitt that we could take that from someone we might have considered to be an outsider. But he was and always will be one of us.'

Park was there on opening day to read from his acclaimed 2008 novel The Truth Commissioner - which he admits to being 'a little bit bored with now' - but also from his as-yet-untitled forthcoming novel 'about the complications of family life. Strangely, for me, it's set in the city of Amsterdam and starts on the day of George Best's funeral'. Watch Park read an exclusive extract from this book in the video below.


Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Nelson McCausland was also there, and gave a quick opening speech in the exhibition space, currently dedicated to literary notables from across Ireland.

Later he blogged about his appearance at the summer school on his Nelson’s View blog page. There the minister refers to a book written by John Hewitt in 1974 about rhyming weavers in Antrim and Down, and cites an introductory note by the poet Tom Paulin in expressing his admiration for Hewitt and the current Ulster-Scots revival.

Workshops on the day included memoir, poetry and drama, the last taught by renowned playwright Darragh Carville. Participants said they found the class 'stimulating and informative', and looked forward to reading each other's work at the end of the week of workshops and events.

But what about the writers themselves? How do they feel about getting out and about to meet their adoring public? Is it a help or a hindrance?

'My personal worst nightmare is to sit in a dark room looking at a computer screen,' said Park. 'I like to get out and meet people. It's good to get reaction from those who have actually read your work. I think that coming to literary schools and festivals like this is a valuable and invigorating experience for writers.'

Before taking the stage for a Q&A with Cathal Dallat, Park paid tribute to the JHISS as one of the longest running literary events in the country. 'I think we have come a long way, from being a literary wilderness to what we are now, healthy and active. The John Hewitt International Summer School is a very important aspect of Northern Ireland's cultural life.'