Primadonna Festival and Prize to return in 2020

Today, the team behind the Primadonna Festival announce its return in 2020. Primadonna, which was held for the first time in August 2019 to rave reviews, is a festival of writing, creativity and ideas with one of the most diverse and inclusive line-ups on the circuit. The 2020 festival promises a similarly exciting mix of established and emerging names in fiction and non-fiction, music, poetry, screenwriting, performance and comedy, along with brilliant debates, conversation and family fun, fulfilling Primadonna’s vision of creating ‘the world as it should be, for one weekend’.

The success of the 2019 event has persuaded its organisers – 18 women drawn from across the publishing and entertainment industries – to set up Primadonna on a sustainable basis, and appoint a full-time general manager. Catherine Riley, who is an expert on contemporary feminist publishing in the UK and one of the original volunteer ‘Primadonnas’, took on the role earlier this month and will oversee Primadonna’s transition from a one-off event to a not-for-profit company incorporating the festival, various standalone author events, and the Primadonna Prize for unsigned authors.

The Primadonna Prize, which was launched ahead of the 2019 festival, is the first literary prize to be judged blind (all first-round entries were anonymised) and without regard to spelling and grammar. The winner of the inaugural award will be announced on Monday 2 March 2020 at a special event in central London when the final judging panel of six – Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and many other bestsellers; Lemn Sissay, #1 best-selling author of My Name is Why, official poet of the London Olympics and newly awarded the Pinter Pen Prize; Irish novelist Neil Hegarty; and Primadonnas Lisa Milton, Monisha Rajesh and Cathryn Summerhayes, who is British Book Awards Agent of the Year 2019 – will select one overall winner from the five shortlisted writers. The winner receives a year’s representation by Summerhayes and £500.

The festival’s 2019 line-up was 87% female, 8% male and 5% non-gender-binary, with a third of the speakers and performers being from a BAME background. This included the first black woman to win the Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo, who was joined at the festival by fellow Booker nominee Elif Shafak. ‘I took part in Primadonna this summer and loved it,’ says Evaristo. ’It’s a wonderfully inclusive festival for women writers, open to everyone, based in a beautiful countryside setting. Very special.

Reflecting Primadonna’s mission to give new as well as established writers a voice, Evaristo and Shafak were joined by emerging talent such as Alya Mooro and Zeba Talkhani. There were also appearances by historian Kate Williams, crime writer Sophie Hannah, biographer Sonia Purnell, science writer Angela Saini and novelist Diana Evans, among many others.

Alongside the writing panels and discussions, there was comedy from the likes of Sandi Toksvig, who chaired the uproarious ‘Her Breasts Preceded Her into the Room’ panel on the ways men write about women, Katy Brand, Ada Campe and a hilarious open mike contest to ‘Make Sioned Laugh’ – Sioned Wiliam, commissioning editor of comedy for BBC Radio 4. There was also poetry and music from well-known names such as Raymond Antrobus and the Noisettes’ Shingai and up-and-coming artists such as Sink Ya Teeth and Signkid.

Author and Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer came up with the idea of Primadonna along with Jane Dyball, who recently left a top job in the music industry. ‘We were overwhelmed by the feedback we had following this summer’s festival,’ says Mayer. ‘Our audience, which was 90% female, were rhapsodic about what was on offer: incredible talent, industry insight and expertise and, overarching all of this, a shared sense of community, care and plain fun. We felt duty bound to do it again.’

And as she points out, it’s not just for women. ‘I had a fantastic weekend,’ said poet and author Ashley Hickson-Lovence, who spoke on the main stage. ‘It was a hugely successful, inclusive literary festival that was expertly organized, and I look forward to working with the Primadonna crew again.’

Primadonna tickets go on general sale on Boxing Day, and Primadonna today launch a crowdfunder to support their 2020 plans.

The Primadonna Festival will be held at Laffitts Hall, Pettaugh, Suffolk, from 31 July – 2 August 2020. Tickets go on general sale on 26 December 2019.