My experience planning and chairing an event for Turn Up For The Books 2022

Turn Up for the Books is a partnership project between New Writing North and English PEN, designed to give young people aged 16-25 an insight into careers within literature. Travel to Durham Book Festival was made possible by sponsorship from the Bishop Line Community Rail partnership. Here, participant Nalini Ram-Prasad tells us about her experience in 2022.

Hey I’m Nalini. I am a third-year history student at Cambridge, although I am originally from Lancaster, just below the Lake District. For about a year now I have been considering a career in the literary world, my understanding of this being very limited to publishing and becoming an editor. I applied for Turn Up For the Books 2022 with the hope of learning more about pathways into the industry and what to do beyond graduation. Turns out, I gained so much more.

Over the course of the 6 seminars, I discovered that opportunities within the industry are as diverse as the books it produces. The programme gave me insight into elements of publishing, event planning, reviewing, and journalism through little ‘masterclasses’ with industry professionals who were as accessible as they were accomplished. Turn Up for the Books encouraged us to work collaboratively among ourselves as well as affording us the opportunity to interact with those at the top of their respective professions. As I come to graduate this July, the big scary industry now feels much less intimidating.

The ‘pinnacle’ of the program was the planning and execution of an event at the Durham Book Festival. I am extremely grateful to the New Writing North team for allowing us to create a program of our choosing – letting the diverse hopes and voices of us all to be realised. Not without its uncertainties and re-thinks, our wish to create a panel dedicated to the phenomenal talent of Black British female writers emerged through the reading of More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetry. Very exciting stuff…

Agreeing to chair an event when you are sat in your uni bedroom on zoom at 6pm one Tuesday in September is very different from actually getting up there and doing it. When it came to the Festival, I had not spoken publicly since my Year 9 speaking assessment. It is safe to say I was secretly terrified. Nevertheless, (in a reoccurring theme throughout the program) I surprised myself. It was such a privilege to speak to the talents of Rommi Smith, Selina Nwulu, and Warda Yassin. As poets, they are magnificent, as people, even more so. To be a young woman of colour, co-chairing an entirely Black panel of artists is an experience I will never forget.

Overall, the experience of Turn Up for the Books has been something I hope to hold dear both professionally and personally. The New Writing North team have been so supportive at every turn as we each begin to build networks of interests and opportunities beyond the program. For the first time, I felt like my voice really mattered and was respected in a professional setting. I think that is a confidence which I hope I can draw on in the future.

To those just briefly thinking about applying in future – do it. I couldn’t recommend it any more.