There have been four or five times this year when I’ve paused, looked around the room and thought, ‘this is really special’. I’ve sat with fifty minority writers, a pile of admirable authors and staff at Penguin Random House discussing how to improve diversity in publishing. I’ve scribbled away in a workshop of LGBTQ+ writers who have the most incredible stories to tell. I’ve read books that have allowed me to see through new eyes; met people who are able to articulate my own experiences better than I can; and admittedly, found so many excuses to wear glitter and shiny shoes.
The first ever DIVA Literary Festival has been one such special moment. Or – to be more precise – an entire weekend of special moments. I don’t think an hour passed me by when I didn’t look around the room and think, ‘this is flipping special’. I’ve never been around so many LGBTQ+ women before: heard panels that were relevant, raw, inspirational; spoken to people who were both accommodating and inspiring. I have about ten pages of notes, the best of which includes the annotation, ‘holy SHIT’.
The DIVA Literary Festival is special because it brought together women who have fought for LGBTQ+ rights. Who have stories to tell – whether that’s through the written word, or sitting next to you over a brew and having a chat. A literary festival for LGBTQ+ women. How cool is that? It was actually a tiny bit overwhelming and I did end up sat outside with my pal and a bar of chocolate at one point.
As a writer I was once again reminded of the importance of sharing LGBTQ+ stories. Of writing characters I wish I could have read a decade ago, who would have given me a clearer understanding of my own journey. I learnt of the correlation between writing, politics and social change – something I’ve been sub-consciously aware of, but have never proactively tackled.
Three years ago I would have been too scared to attend DIVA Literary Festival. Before then I probably would have been too scared to open their website for fear of being found out. I remember distinctively watching Lucy Sutcliffe’s coming out story on YouTube in the dead of night and being terrified at the thought of having that conversation with my family. This year’s festival helped me to take another step in being out and figuring out who I am, the kind of voice I want to have, the impact I want to have. Poignantly, I sat in a room as Lucy did a talk and heard women share stories that were so much like my own. It was beautiful. Having the opportunity to see Stella Duffy (and admittedly, have my socks blown off by her) has utterly empowered me to work harder, to make life better – to be my best self.
By creating the DIVA Literary Festival, the team (who are all amazing) has created a safe space where I felt as though I could venture into the unknown. Like I could begin a conversation with a stranger and be supported. Every person I spoke to put in the time and effort to make me feel valued. This platform is something amazing. I heard voices in literature that had so much impact, and were so unique. It makes me want to stand up and shout.
I left this weekend feeling a bit teary. I reckon I actually have a lot to process. It’s amazing being in a room full of people who have fought so hard for LGBTQ+ rights, who have paved the way for my generation; of new talent that is pushing boundaries and beginning to paint the a bright, bold, beautiful future. I’ll definitely be attending next year- and I implore others to as well. It’s pretty special.