In June 2016, I applied for a bursary to attend the John Hewitt International Summer School (JHISS). I did so because a friend, and past attendee, had encouraged me to. The application process was very straightforward. It was a simple one page form completed online. Bursaries are available to anyone living on the island of Ireland. A full bursary includes tickets to all the events and accommodation for 5 nights. I found out at the beginning of July that I had been successful and it felt like Christmas, or my birthday, I was so excited! Another successful applicant described it as winning the ‘literary lottery’. I began packing immediately.
The ethos of the John Hewitt Society is to promote and support culture, literature and the arts inspired by the ideals of the poet, John Hewitt. The JHISS schedule of events closely aligns to the society’s objectives. This year they celebrate their 30th anniversary and this will be the theme for the summer school, which will run from Monday 24th to Saturday 29th July 2017.
Last year’s theme was ‘A Role in History: the Rising, the Great War and a Shared Past’ and this was the focus of many of the panel discussions. There were also interviews with novelists and poets during which we were treated to readings of their recent work. My favourite events were: readings by Sinead Morrissey and Glenn Patterson, the panel discussion between Martina Devlin, Bernadette McAliskey and Dawn Purvis, the student showcase which featured drama and readings from attendees, and the one man show ‘The Man in the Woman’s Shoes’.
What made the week for me, personally, was the interaction with other students. I met people who I am still connected with in person, by email and through social media. Such interesting people who had fantastic life stories; from the man who had lived in New York but hadn’t written before and was considering putting together his memoir, to the lady with a sci-fi trilogy already published and more work in progress. There was a mix of backgrounds, ages, occupations; it was an extremely diverse group.
This year the programme of events is just as wonderful, including for example: Jean Bleakney, Jan Carson, Mark Doty, and Bernard McLaverty amongst other well-known writers. There is also evening entertainment, including music and drama, and a wide variety of creative writing workshops to choose from.
The closing date for applications is 30th June 2017. So, with a few days to go, I would encourage everyone to apply – ditch work, the family, or your other responsibilities and allow yourself a week to explore your creativity, meet new friends and have fun in a supportive environment.
For further information and to apply, go to: johnhewittsociety.org
Gaynor Kane is a graduate of the Open University, with a BA (Hons) Humanities with Literature. Mainly a writer of poetry, she has had work published in the Atrium Poetry, the Galway Review, A New Ulster and other online journals. In 2016, Gaynor was a finalist in the annual Funeral Services NI poetry competition. Recently, she had two poems published in the Community Arts Partnership’s ‘Poetry in Motion’ anthology Matter.