The first Primadonna was held at Laffitts Hall, Pettaugh, Suffolk over the final weekend in August 2019 .
Almost 1,500 attendees took part in three days of programming, with the lineup including Elif Shafak, Bernardine Evaristo, Guy Gunaratne, Diana Evans, Katy Brand and Konnie Huq. We also showcased an incredible range of emerging and/or marginalised authors and created genuine opportunities for the discovery of fresh talent: two festival-goers from 2019 have since negotiated contracts with major publishers.
Amy & the Calamities
Amy and the Calamities. Amy is a singer-songwriter born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She writes music inspired by the sounds of her home, by the Celtic songs her mother would play when she was young, and by a strong dose of the blues, finding inspiration in artists like Howlin’ Wolf, The White Stripes and Ray Lamontagne. Her sound is marked by foot-stomping folk rhythms, the dirty-delicious sounds of delta blues on the slide guitar, accompanied by a dark, brooding vocal range, lilting melodies and thoughtful lyrics. The Calamities are a long story… You can find out more at www.amyandthecalamities.com
If Anneka Harry was pushed to describe herself in a nutshell she would say she's a 'Comedy Hustler (Performer, Producer, Writer, Etc.)'. The 'etc' leaves it open so that she can pursue whatever she decides to do tomorrow. Her writer/performer work consists of series, episodes and features for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV2, Radio 4, MTV and various online platforms including Stylist and Grazia magazines. When Anneka isn't parading around waving rainbow flags or trying to win feminism, she likes to be a thoroughly decent human being, drink alcohol (all types) and obsess over her sausage dog. The amount of work there is to do in the fight for equality gives Anneka regular stress migraines. She hopes Gender Rebels (her first book) will at least momentarily soothe anyone feeling equally overwhelmed.Anneka’s debut book, Gender Rebels: 50 Influential Cross-Dressers, Impersonators, Name-Changers and Game-Changers is out in Autumn 2019 and will be a lead title for Amazon Publishing’s newly launched non-fiction imprint, Little A. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Annekaharry.
Athena Stevens is an Olivier nominated actor and playwright. She is an associate artist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as well as a playwright on attachment at Finborough Theatre. Currently she is writing the book for a new musical as well as being under commission for BBC Radio 3 and National Youth Theatre. She was the first actor in a wheelchair nominated for an Offie for her performance in Schism, as well as appearing at the Barbican as Juliet last year. Stevens is also a spokesperson for the UK’s Women’s Equality Party. See her website here or find her on Twitter @athenastevens
Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is co-founder and publishing director of one of Africa’s leading publishing houses, Cassava Republic Press, set up with a mission to change the way we think about African writing. She has worked as a gender and research consultant in the public, private and development sectors for the BBC, UniFem, ActionAid, eShekels, Central Bank of Nigeria, the European Union and others. She co-founded Tapestry Consulting, a boutique research and training company focused on gender, sexuality and transformational issues in Nigeria. She has a Ph.D in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Warwick. She has published many academic papers and regularly presents papers at academic conferences. She sits on the editorial board of a number of influential journals. Bibi is also a Yale World Fellow, a Desmond Tutu Fellow and a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow. In 2019 Bibi was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2019.
Dorothy Koomson is an award-winning, global bestselling author whose novels have been translated into more than 30 languages with sales that exceed 2 million copies in the UK alone. Dorothy’s novels have all been Sunday Times Top 10 bestsellers including That Girl from Nowhere, When I Was Invisible, The Friend and The Brighton Mermaid. Passionate about the importance of reading and literacy, Dorothy is a regular speaker in libraries and at festivals and supports the work of the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that transforms lives through literacy and Little Green Pig, a Brighton and Hove-based charity that offers free writing workshops for young people in need. She is an Honorary Fellow of Leeds Trinity University and was awarded the prestigious IMAGE Award at the Black British Business Awards in 2019 in recognition of all her achievements.
Elizabeth Anionwu is Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London where she established the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice, before helping launch the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. The statue was unveiled in the grounds of London’s St Thomas’ Hospital in June 2016. Elizabeth was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the RCN. She retired in 2007 and in 2016 published her memoirs, Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union.
Elizabeth-Jane Burnett is a writer of English and Kenyan heritage. She was born in Devon and her work is inspired by the landscape in which she was raised.
She is the author of Swims (2017), a Sunday Times Poetry Book of the Year, and her poetry has been highly commended in the Forward Prize.
Her most recent work, The Grassling (2019), is a ‘geological memoir‘, taking in her own history and that of the land on which she grew up.
She holds a BA in English from Oxford, an MA and PhD in Contemporary Poetics from Royal Holloway, University of London, and studied performance at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York and Naropa. In addition to her writing she has made poem-films and she curates ecopoetics exhibitions.
She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Newman University in Birmingham.
She was recently (in May 2020) named by the National Centre for Writing as one of their ‘ten writers asking questions that will shape our future’.
Hannah Azieb Pool
Hannah Azieb Pool is an Eritrean-born journalist, author, and commentator who has written for the Guardian, Times, Vogue, and many others. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio and the author of the memoir My Fathers' Daughter. Hannah is now CEO of the Bernie Arts Centre.
Huma Qureshi is an experienced journalist and the author of How We Met, a memoir on grief and love, and growing up. Her story The Jam Maker won the Short Story award at the Harper’s Bazaar Literary Prize 2020.
Jane Dyball was one of the first CEO-level women executives in the music industry, running 3 collection societies (MCPS, PMLL and IMPEL) and the trade association which owned them, the Music Publishers Association. In November 2018 she won the Outstanding Contribution award at the Music Week Women in Music Awards, and in October 2019 she was recognised for her contribution to the songwriting community at the Ivors Academy Gold Badge Awards. Prior to MCPS she was SVP International Legal & Business Affairs at Warner/Chappell Music Ltd, which included responsibility for collection society relationships, digital licensing strategy, developing markets, public policy, mergers and acquisitions and working very closely with Radiohead on their In Rainbows project.
After leaving MCPS in 2019 Jane set up her own consulting business, Laffittes Ltd and has worked on a diverse range of projects such as TV shows, song catalogue valuations, equity investments, motivational talks and interviews across TV, radio and broadsheets internationally. Jane sits on the Board of Primadonna Festival CIC and is Co-Chair of charity Attitude is Everything, a Trustee of Suffolk Artlink as well as a mentor for numerous incubators & accelerators including Abbey Road Red (a digital music escalator based at the famous Abbey Road studios). Jane hosted the very first Primadonna festival at her home in Suffolk.
Jude Kelly CBE is CEO and Founder of The WOW Foundation. She founded WOW to celebrate the achievements of women and girls and confront global gender injustice. Starting as a three-day festival at London’s Southbank Centre in 2010, where Jude was Artistic Director for 12 years, the festival now takes place in 30 locations across six continents. In 2018 Jude established The WOW Foundation, an independent charity dedicated to building the WOW movement as a force for change. Jude has directed over 200 theatre and opera productions, is the recipient of two Olivier Awards, a BASCA Gold Badge Award for contribution to music, a Southbank Award for opera, an RPO award for her festival The Rest is Noise, Women’s Hour’s one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK in 2013, Red Magazine’s 2014 Creative Woman of the Year, CBIs 2016 First Woman Award for Tourism and Leisure and in 2017 the inaugural Veuve Clicquot Woman of the Year Social Purpose Award. In 1997, she was awarded an OBE for her services to theatre and in 2015 she was made a CBE for services to the Arts.
June has enjoyed a 20-year career, in which she has become one of the most recognisable faces of British television. June began her career at Kiss 100 and later became a presenter for MTV UK & Ireland. It was when she started on Channel 4’s T4 that she became a household name. June hosted 2005’s Make Poverty History event and presented at the UK leg of Live Earth in 2007. In 2008 she hosted Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in front of 30,000 people in London’s Hyde Park. She has worked extensively with HRH Prince Charles as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, whilst campaigning for The One and Produce (RED). June was awarded an MBE in 2007 for her services to broadcasting and charity, making her one of the youngest people ever to receive an MBE. June was awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Years’ Honours List. June is the co-founder of the WIE Network (Women: Inspiration & Enterprise). She is also the author of two award winning books; ‘Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration’ and The Power of Women. June is currently the Director of Creative Diversity at the BBC, having been appointed in the role in 2019. Acting as the broadcasting giants’ first ever Diversity Director, June will work to increase representation throughout the company and ensure that the BBC’s content reflects the public they serve.
Kathryn De Pruhoe
Kathryn de Pruhoe is an integrative psychotherapist specialising in trauma, whose father Tony died on 14 April and who is now campaigning with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.
Kit De Waal
Kit de Waal is an award-winning writer whose novels place ordinary people at the centre of the story. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon (2016), was the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2017 and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, among others. Kit’s second novel, The Trick to Time, was published in March 2018 and longlisted for The Women’s Prize. Her first YA novel, Becoming Dinah will be be published in July 2019 for Hachette. She has also crowdfunded Common People an anthology of working class memoir by new and established writers published in May 2019. See her website here or find her on Twitter @KitdeWaal
Lisa Milton is Executive Publisher HQ Stories as well as sitting on the Exec Committee of HarperCollinsUK. She joined HarperCollins in 2015 after a decade as Managing Director of Orion Publishing where she was responsible for Orion, Orion Children’s, Gollancz and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, which was awarded Imprint of the Year at the 2015 Bookseller Industry Awards. Whilst there she published major bestsellers and award winning authors including Maeve Binchy, Ian Rankin, Gillian Flynn and Malala Yousafzai. Previously Lisa was Editorial Director at BCA, the UK’s biggest book club, and prior to this she had a successful career at Waterstones, where one of her most notable achievements was opening the flagship store in Piccadilly and winning the Bookshop of the Year Industry Award in 2000. Find her on Twitter @MsLisaMilton
Lynne Parker founded Funny Women in 2002 to help women find their voice through performing, writing and using humour in business and everyday life. The Funny Women Awards were launched in 2003, and have seen some fantastic acts pass through its doors who are now major names on the comedy circuit including Bridget Christie, Katherine Ryan, Andi Osho and Sarah Millican. Funny Women run comedy workshops, weekend events and conferences in London, Manchester, Brighton and Edinburgh on stand up, comedy writing, improvisation, sketch and character, and ‘Time of the Month’ a scratch night to try out new comedy ideas.
Maxine Mawhinney is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a career spanning four decades. From Belfast, her career began in newspapers then moved to broadcasting for BBC, ITN, SKY, GMTV and Reuters, based in Ireland, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Washington DC. She became one of the most recognisable BBC TV news anchors on BBC News at One, BBC News Channel and Dateline London. Career highlights include covering the Clinton presidency and the death of Princess Diana. Recenlty, at the age of 60, she started a new career as a keynote speaker, event host, panel moderator and interviewer. She also produces and anchors her own interview programme The Moment with Maxine Mawhinney. Maxine is currently writing her first novel. Maxine is a sought after keynote speaker, event host, panel moderator and interviewer. See her website here or find her on Twitter @maxinemawhinney
Michael Donkor was born in London, to Ghanaian parents, and teaches English Literature in West London. Many of the issues explored in his debut Hold are close to his heart, and his writing won him a place on the Writers’ Centre Norwich's Inspires Scheme in 2014, where he received a year’s mentoring from Daniel Hahn. In 2018 he was named as one of The Observer's New Faces of Fiction, and this year Hold was longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Award.
Mikki Kendall is an activist and cultural critic, and author of Amazons, Abolitionists and Activists, and Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot (both published by Penguin Random House).
Mikki talks a lot about intersectionality, policing, gender, sexual assault, and other current events. Her nonfiction can be found at Time.com, the Guardian, Washington Post, Ebony, Essence, Salon, XoJane, Bustle, Islamic Monthly and a host of other sites. Her media appearances include BBC, NPR, the Daily Show, PBS, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, WVON, WBEZ, TWIB, and Showtime. She has discussed race, feminism, violence in Chicago, tech, pop culture, in various forms of media, as well as at universities across the US.
Monisha Rajesh is a British journalist and travel writer whose writing has appeared in Time magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Telegraph, in which she wrote a monthly column about travelling the world by train. Her first book Around India in 80 Trains (2012) was named one of The Independent’s best books on India, and her second book Around the World in 80 Trains has just been published to great acclaim. “A rare rising star of the genre”, (Daily Mail), Monisha was born in Norfolk and mostly raised in Yorkshire – with a brief stint in Madras. She currently lives in London with her husband and children. See her website here or find her on Twitter @monisha_rajesh
Nikki Young is an author and storyteller, who founded Storymakers, a creative writing club for children aged 7 and upwards, in 2017. Going from strength to strength, Storymakers provides weekly classes and holiday workshops to help encourage kids to enjoy writing. Nikki’s published work includes Time School and The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants.
Priya O’Shea lives in Leicester with her husband and two (somewhat feral) young boys. After 12 years at Microsoft, she took redundancy to focus on her passions. She was a contestant on The Great British Bake Off and was selected as a mentee on the Penguin Write Now Scheme. She is currently writing her first novel (when she's not baking or forced to play transformers) about a group of British Asian women who come together over cooking lessons.
Sabeena Akhtar is a Writer/Editor and an Arts and Culture programmer working across a variety of literary festivals. She is the Festival Coordinator of Bare Lit, the UK’s principal festival celebrating remarkable writers in the diaspora, a co-founder of the Primadonna Festival which spotlights the work of women writers including through the Primadonna Prize for writing, and also co-founder of Bare Lit Kids, the UK’s first children’s festival showcasing the work of writers of colour. She is also Senior Programmer at the WOW Foundation, working on its London festival at the Southbank Centre and across its global programmes. A keen advocate for Partition commemoration, in 2017 she partook in the BBC’s coverage of the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and alongside her daughter, filmed a programme on the Partition of India for children. She has since been invited to discuss the subject on various media outlets. She has published a wide variety of work including editing Cut From The Same Cloth? an anthology by visibly Muslim women in Britain, Talking About Islamophobia published by Hachette, and is currently working on a novel. You can find Sabeena tweeting at @pocobookreader
Salena Godden is a high-profile poet based in London. She is also an activist, broadcaster, essayist and memoirist and is widely anthologised. She has had several volumes of poetry published including Fishing in the Aftermath: Poems 1994-2014 (Burning Eye Books) Pessimism is for Lightweights (Rough Trade Books) and literary childhood memoir, Springfield Road (Unbound). Her spoken-word album LIVEwire (Nymphs and Thugs) was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award. Most recently Canongate pre-empted world rights to her debut novel Mrs Death Misses Death. A documentary following Godden’s work-in-progress over 12 months was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Mrs Death Misses Death has been described by the publisher as an “electrifying genre- and form-defying firestarter." It will be published in February 2021.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sandi Toksvig was brought up around the world in Europe, Africa and the United States. She began her comedy career at Girton College, Cambridge where she found time to write and perform in the first all-woman show at the Footlights as well as achieve a first-class degree. Sandi is well known to UK audiences as a broadcaster having begun her career in children’s television playing Ethel in the long-running Saturday-morning show Number 73. Since then her television career has included celebrated series such as Call My Bluff (as regular team captain) and Whose Line Is It Anyway? She was also host of Antiques Master for BBC2 and 1001 Things You Should Know for Channel 4. In 2016, Sandi took over from Stephen Fry as host of ‘QI’, BBC2’s fiendishly difficult and hugely popular quiz. She also replaced William G. Stewart as the host of the popular teatime quiz Fifteen to One which made its comeback after 11 years in April 2014. In 2017 she and Noel Fielding became the new co-hosts of ‘The Great British Bake Off’.For a decade Sandi was a familiar voice for BBC Radio 4 listeners as the chair of The News Quiz which led to her induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. Sandi is passionate about live performance. She performed at the very first night of The Comedy Store in London and for many years was a member of The Comedy Store Players, an improvisational comedy team. See her website here or find her on Twitter @sanditoksvig
Sarah Savitt is Publisher at Virago Press, the UK’s longest-serving publisher of books by women. Sarah started her career in publishing in 2002, and worked at Faber before joining the Virago team. She took up her current role in 2017.
Shareefa Energy is a spoken word poet, writer, mentor and workshop facilitator. Her poetry is raw, honest and consistent against injustice. Witnessing her performing has been described as an almost religious experience. She was awarded with the UK Entertainment Best Poet 2017 Award and a nominee for the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre 2019 award by the Arts Council. She released her spoken word neo-soul jazz EP 'Reasoning with Self' in 2015.
Her poetry has featured on BBC The One Show, Channel 4 and ITV and been published in various publications. Shareefa performed at Poetry Meets Hip Hop in Berlin, the Verve Festival and The Flamenco Festival 2019. She has facilitated creative writing poetry workshops internationally, from Palestine to Sierra Leone across generations. She was artist in residence at North Kensington Library for the Apples and Snakes Spine Festival 2018 and 2019. She is a member of the UK female South Asian poetry collective The Yoniverse.
Her debut poetry collection Galaxy Walk was published by Burning Eye Books in autumn 2019.
Sharon Kendrick started story-telling at the age of eleven and has never stopped. Sharon writes for Modern Romance and has written over 115 romances for Mills & Boon which are loved by readers all over the world. So far, she has sold over 27 million copies worldwide and counting. Her passions include music, books, cooking (curries and cakes in particular) – and drifting into daydreams while working out new plots. She also loves foreign films, dystopian novels and listening to other people's conversations.
Shola Mos Shogbamimu
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a New York Attorney and Solicitor of England & Wales with broad expertise in the financial services industry, an author, public speaker and political commentator featured in mainstream and online media. A political & women’s rights activist, she also teaches intersectional feminism to female refugees and asylum seekers; scrutinizes government policies from a gender and diversity inclusion perspective; and co-organises women's marches and social campaigns. She founded the Women in Leadership publication as a platform to drive positive change on topical issues that impact women globally through inspiring personal leadership journeys; and established She@LawTalks to promote women & BAME leadership in the legal profession through universities and secondary schools. She is also the Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Africa committee. See her website here or find her on Twitter @SholaMos1
Shona Abhyankar is an award-winning book publicist and one of the Primadonna founding members. She is associate director at ed public relations , a boutique PR agency who specialise in fiction and non-fiction book campaigns, as well as publishing awards and events. Shona’s former roles include Head of Publicity at Penguin Random House and PR Lead for Amazon Publishing UK. She is a mentor for the Publishers Publicity Circle (PPC) and has won PPC awards for her work on Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Elmer’s 30th Anniversary. Shona’s previous authors include Vikram Seth, Arianna Huffington, Adam Grant, BJ Fogg and Dr Dominic Pimenta. Recent campaigns she’s handled PR for are The Handshake: A Gripping History by Ella Al-Shamahi, Tarzan Economics by Spotify’s first chief economist Will Page, and Moth by debut novelist Melody Razak.Find her on Twitter @PublicityShona and on Instagram @shonaandotherstories.
Shrabani Basu is an author, journalist and historian whose books include Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant and Spy Princess: the Life of Noor Inayat Khan about the trailblazing British spy who was killed in action during World War 2. Shrabani set up the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust to help preserve Noor’s story for future generations, with the memorial unveiled in London’s Gordon Square in November 2012.
Sinéad Gleeson writes essays, fiction and poetry. She is the editor of three short story anthologies, including the award-winning The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women from the North of Ireland. Her essays have appeared in Granta, Winter Papers and Gorse. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies including Repeal the 8th (2018, Unbound) and Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (2019, Faber). Her debut essay collection Constellations was published by Picador in April 2019. She is currently working on a novel. See her website here or find her on Twitter @sineadgleeson
Sioned Wiliam lives in London, and is very recognisable in the world of comedy television in Britain. She was born in Carmarthen and brought up in Barry. Her novel Dal i Fynd has been picked up by television company Working Title. She produced a variety of comedic programmes for the main networks. Between 1999 and 2006 she was ITV’s Head of Network Comedy, and commissioned many films and series’ including Harry Hill’s Sketch Show and Cold Feet. She has numerous ongoing projects with Working Title and has been developing a series for Sky with the crew from Horrible Histories. Find her on Twitter @sionedwiliam
Author of Millennial Black and Anti-Racist Ally, Ted Speaker, Founder of @OfficialMillennialBlack, and Racial Equity Consultant and Activist by night, Manager, Production Planning at Netflix by day.
Stella Duffy is an award-winning writer with over seventy short stories, fourteen plays written and devised, and seventeen novels published in fifteen languages. She worked in theatre for over thirty-five years as an actor, director, playwright, and facilitator. She is the co-founder of the UK-wide Fun Palaces campaign supporting creative community connection. She was awarded the OBE for Services to the Arts in 2016. Stella is also a yoga teacher running workshops in yoga-for-writing and is training in Existential Psychotherapy towards eventually combining psychotherapy, embodied practice and creative work.