This week, Oxford Writers’ House presents an interview with Edward Bell, co-host and editor of the organisation Paris Lit Up, whose literary project is touring all over Europe. From open mic nights to an exquisite magazine, Paris Lit Up has something for every art lover. Tonight - 31st March - PLU lands in Turl Street Kitchen, Oxford: read here to find out what it’s all about, and why you should clear your evening…
How did you first get involved with Paris Lit Up?
I moved to Paris after studying Latin and French at St Anne’s College, Oxford. After a few months of trying to find new friends in a foreign city with moderate success, I went on Meetup and discovered an open mic event that night and took my chances. Immediately when I arrived at the bar, the atmosphere was welcoming and the crowd enticing. That was two and a half years ago.
Your website says that 'Paris Lit Up does not exist', that it is 'the space between the independently run projects that trace its outline'. What exactly does this mean for you?
Paris Lit Up has three main outlets: our weekly open mic night, writing workshops and a small publishing house. The writers, poets and performers who get involved with the project go on to do creative work and we like to think that this is because PLU has given them the space to find their own voice and confidence. For example, one poet who first read nervously on our stage and came on the Italian tour with us went on to win the Beirut Poetry Slam competition.
There's a real emphasis on transnational collaboration: how much have recent political events which are changing the way Europe, for example, sees itself, affected the art and artists you work with? Do you think this new context is a positive or problematic challenge for the project?
It has mainly affected the content of people's writings and performances. Someone said that artists are the canaries down the mine whose passing signals the presence of pernicious gases. Really, it is the opposite; when threats to our identity present themselves, it is the artist who confronts the issue and says it clearly and loudly. It’s a double-edged sword, though. PLU aims to provide space for those whose voices might be muffled or marginalised by these new circumstances. We feel it is our duty, almost, to keep the show going.
Someone said that artists are the canaries down the mine whose passing signals the presence of pernicious gases. Really, it is the opposite; when threats to our identity present themselves, it is the artist who confronts the issue and says it clearly and loudly.
What stance on the role of the arts in our lives - relevancy, escape - do you think PLU projects tend to take?
We are not escape artists, because we fundamentally believe that writing is a social activity. The projects that have come out of this, a transgender open mic, performances in art squats, and the variety of smaller collaborations, for example, reveal a community that listens to each other and works together. The energy is electric at times, but always self- and socially aware.
Writing is a social activity.
What age group does Paris Lit Up most enthuse, in your experience?
It really does vary. The social media statistics say women between the ages of 25-35, but the audience and performers say 18-70 of all genders, backgrounds and walks of life. And that is what is incredible about a Thursday night: wayfarers meet with pillars, the young with the old, and shadows find identities.
What is the process for getting new artists on board?
We have featured readers every week, so we are always looking for people to do a 30 minute set (and we can even provide accommodation). Also, submissions for our fifth edition are now open on our website www.parislitup.com/submissions. Otherwise, your presence and support - regular, distant or online - is all that is needed. Follow us on all the medias @ParisLitUp.
Where is your favourite tour spot?
Last year we went on three tours to Holland, UK and Italy. As a group of ten performers in Italy, it was a true cultural emissary and we all had a fantastic time. However, this time in the U.K., there is a more concrete understanding of our role as poets and performers and everywhere we have been, the reception has been so welcoming and encouraging that it will certainly go down in the annals.
What kind of thing can we look forward to in the Oxford launch tonight?!
We are bringing our Paris Lit Up open mic night to Oxford. We have six performers - spoken worders, a guitarist (@rorsha) and general miscreants - who will be doing a feature, but we are officially opening sign up at 18:45 for anyone who wants to share their skills. You can also sign up at Eventbrite, or check out the Oxford Writers’ House Facebook event page, at https://www.facebook.com/events/276742539430116/ Hope to see many of you there!