Brian’s last StAndza

June 9, 2010

After a decade at the helm, Brian Johnstone, Festival Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, officially stepped down on 31 May. He has handed over to the new Festival Director, Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza’s Artistic Director.

Brian Johnstone is a co-founder of StAnza, which started life in 1998 as a fairly small annual gathering of poets and poetry lovers in the Fife town of St Andrews. During his time as Festival Director, he has overseen StAnza’s astonishing growth both in audience numbers and in reputation. The festival is now a highlight of the busy arts calendar in Scotland and the UK, and regularly draws audiences from the rest of Europe and America. Last year, StAnza was short-listed for a VisitScotland Scottish Thistle Award, in recognition of its impact during Homecoming Year.

In previous years, Brian has brought a range of major American poets to the festival, commissioned art works from leading Scottish artists, featured both past and present Poet Laureates, and has brought to StAnza poets from over 40 countries. The last five years have seen sustained increases in attendances – 11,000 at this year’s festival – and StAnza has become a byword for excellence and hospitality.

Brian Johnstone said: ‘While I’m looking forward to having more time to pursue my own creative interests, I will also enjoy seeing how StAnza develops and grows, as I’m sure it will, under its new Festival Director. It’s been a privilege to develop such a major event and I’m delighted to be able to hand it on to such a dedicated successor. It’s going to be great – just you wait and see!’

On taking up her new role, Eleanor said: ‘During the last five years, working with Brian and our wonderful team has been a rewarding experience, and I’m looking forward with enthusiasm to the challenge of leading StAnza into the future. With so much great poetry available, so many exciting possibilities for future festivals and new types of poetry encounters and engagements, I’m sure StAnza can continue to expand and develop with our focus firmly on creativity and excellence.’

‘It’s been a privilege to develop such a major event and I am happy to hand over a festival of which we can all be justly proud,’ added Brian Johnstone. ‘Without the immense commitment and support of all our members and volunteers, StAnza could simply not have functioned.  And without their sharing my vision for StAnza I would not have been able to achieve what I – in truth we – have achieved in making StAnza all that it is today.’

I’m not the only staffer here at the library to have had my first sip from the cup of poetry at StAnza while a student at St Andrews and some of us SPL folk make an annual pilgrimage for the festival – you can read our StAnza blogs here and listen to the StAnza podcasts here. We’d like to take this opportunity to wish Brian all the very best with the next adventure – which includes readings from his own collection The Book of Belongings (Arc), upcoming at the Borders Book Festival and beyond – and Eleanor continued success in her new role. Here’s to 2011!