NARROWSBURG, NY — Mention “George Orwell,” and your thoughts most likely lean toward a dystopian universe, with “1984” and “Animal Farm” on the tip of your …
NARROWSBURG, NY — Mention “George Orwell,” and your thoughts most likely lean toward a dystopian universe, with “1984” and “Animal Farm” on the tip of your tongue.
During Father’s Day weekend, from June 16 to 18, Narrowsburg will be filled with workshops, lectures, films and performances exploring those books and the many other facets of Orwell’s work during the fifth Deep Water Literary Festival.
“For the Deep Water Literary Festival, we’ve created lots of opportunities for performance, dance and visual arts that in some ways speak to the Orwellian theme,” said Aaron Hicklin, founder of the festival and co-directing this year’s festival with Lucy Taylor. “We, like anyone else, are fans of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm,’ and the iconic ideas that spurred from them, like the Thought Police, ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ and Big Brother.”
The festival celebrates all Orwell’s works, and explores the use and abuse of the term “Orwellian.” There are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in everything Orwell: Thirty events will feature 42 writers and 43 artists in 11 venues in the hamlet.
“During the festival, we explore who he was, why he was important and how his spirit lives on in artists,” Hicklin explained.
Admission to the panels costs $10 each, with an option to purchase festival passes (a three-pack costs $30, a five-pack costs $40 and a seven-pack costs $55). All festival passes include free entry to the festival party at 9 p.m. on June 17.
Opening day—which begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 16 at the Tusten Theatre—features a conversation between critic Liesl Schillinger and Orwell biographer D.J. Taylor about the biographer’s art, and how Taylor tackled the colossal task of capturing Orwell’s life.
The next day, at 2:30 p.m. on June 17 at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance’s Krause Recital Hall on Main Street, author Sandra Newman will discuss her upcoming book “Julia” (to be published in October). It’s a reimagining of “1984” as a feminist counterpoint seen through the eyes of the protagonist’s lover.
In addition to being an author of novels, Orwell was a prolific journalist and writer of nonfiction, doing work that has parallels today. He was the first journalist to write cultural studies, digging into and writing about such subjects as children’s comics and seaside postcards, Hicklin said. “He gave these things the same significance as class or war or equality; he was always interested in the world around him—he was constantly curious about it.”
Orwell spent time on the streets of London and Paris, working as a dishwasher and living in slums. At one event at the festival, Margin Call: On Low Lifes and Feral Cities, three authors who also explored urban life in their books will be featured: Lucy Sante (“19 Reservoirs”), Griffin Hansbury (“Vanishing New York” under the pen name of Jeremiah Moss), and Sukhdev Sandhu (“Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night”).
“The core tenet of Orwell’s work is that he felt there were truths that needed to be told, and lies that needed to be exposed,” Hicklin said. “His work was a bridge between the arts and political reporting. He was an amazing book reviewer—he wrote about serious stuff, but also about stuff he loved.”
Hicklin pointed out “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” an essay written by Orwell and published in Tribune on April 12, 1946, as an example of the author’s remarkable talent. “On the surface, it appears to be an essay about a toad, but it explores the fact that there was a war going on and yet amid all the destruction, spring returned once again.” The festival celebrates that unusual piece, too: As part of Rebecca Solnit: Orwell’s Roses, Tilda Swinton will narrate the essay in a film commissioned for Deep Water and created by G. Anthony Svatek. It will be screened at 11 a.m. on June 17 in the Narrowsburg Union’s Delaware Hall.
“All of that is the Orwell we want to celebrate—people are feeling the despair of the times we’re living in, and Orwell spoke of that, too,” said Hicklin.
For the first time, the festival is hosting a workshop series. All sessions are free to attend. Two are classes for 12- to 18-year-olds: A Dystopia Worldbuilding Workshop with festival veteran Marlon James and Isadora Alteon (11:30 a.m. on June 17), and Podcasting for Teens with Ilya Marritz and Tim Bruno in association with WJFF Radio Catskill (12:30 p.m. on June 18).
Melisse Gelula, in association with Tusten Social, hosts a Flash Memoir Writing workshop at 2 p.m. on June 18. Brad Krumholz, in association with NACL, offers tips in a practical workshop titled “Why Do Actors Train?” (1 p.m. on June 18; also see page 18).
Other events include a dance performance at the Chi Hive, where participants will be spied on—artists will follow them and draw their likenesses—exploring the ideas of surveillance and loss of privacy, as well as the rise of the totalitarian state.
Additionally the 2024 project, a series of poetic works and imagined documentation created by Seth Indigo Carnes, and co-curated as an intervention by Rodney Harder, will be embedded within the festival and on the streets of Narrowsburg. The Public Art Centerfold 2024 was printed in the June 8-14 edition of the River Reporter.
Orwell’s birth name was Eric Blair; he changed it as an author. A highlight of the festival comes at 10 a.m. on June 18, Father’s Day: Orwell’s son Richard Blair will appear on a live link from the U.K., talking with Orwell’s biographer D.J. Taylor about Orwell as a father. “ Lucy Taylor went to London last summer and met with the George Orwell Foundation and really got the ball rolling on that,” Hicklin said.
Hicklin, who is also the owner of One Grand Books on Main Street, said that Orwell’s legacy deserves celebration. “He died 73 years ago at age 46, just weeks after finishing ‘1984’,” he said. “He’d led quite an impoverished life, and ‘1984’ was much anticipated by his readers. He became a success, but was never able to enjoy it.”
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