Winchester’s 1455 Literary Arts Summer Festival returns virtually this week

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 1455 Literary Summer Arts Fest (Part 1)

The 1455 Literary Arts Summer Festival kicked off in 2019 in-person in Winchester, Virginia, before pivoting to virtual panels last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, the festival is back virtually with over 70 free events Thursday to Saturday.

“We are increasingly virtual and global,” Executive Director Sean Murphy told WTOP. “We will have people participating and enjoying this festival literally from all over the world. … Last year, we quadrupled the attendance. … You have an inclusivity, you can attract a much wider variety of talent, and you can make it free to anyone from anywhere.”

What’s in a name? Why go with the year “1455?”

“The name ‘1455’ actually comes from the year the Gutenberg printing press started printing books,” Murphy said. “1455 is a paradigm shift. When books started being mass produced, it took the distribution of content out of the hands of elites and democratized it.”

The festival is broken into three tracks, including “Inspiration and Advocacy.”

“We are able to offer a bunch of free workshops,” Murphy said. “We’ve been able to get a handful of very well-known writers and lecturers who are going to give some 50-minute master classes. … ‘Inspiration Information’ focuses on Black women poets. We’re going to have a powerful 90-minute reading in conversation with prominent Black women writers.”

The second track is “Timely and Topical,” exploring a number of urgent issues.

“Conversations talking about what’s going on in the world right now,” Murphy said. “We’ve got panels that are timely looking at things like COVID, the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve got a panel ‘Connecting in the Time of Solitude.’ … Everything on this track will have some aspect of reflecting where we are in 2021.”

The third track is “Craft and Community,” featuring programs with bestselling authors.

“We have a special reading from the exiled Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji about being imprisoned over Egypt’s sketchy decency laws,” Murphy said. “We have a poet from the UK. … We’ve got a panel on food innovation with a couple of chefs. We’re featuring Deesha Philyaw and Brian Broome, both of whom have blown up and written bestsellers.”

Beyond the annual festival, Murphy has even bigger long-term goals.

“I had the opportunity in 2016 to help run a writer’s retreat in Martha’s Vineyard … and I came back to Virginia having realized that a full-time center that unites writers was really vital and necessary,” Murphy said. “Our longer-term goal is to raise the funds and get some sponsors and partners to help us open a year-round writers’ retreat.”

Until then, enjoy the free three-day festival from the comfort of your home.

“This is a great opportunity, even virtually, to see authors that are representing the best of what’s going on in the literary industry right now, see what they’re up to, see them in some candid conversations and maybe meet some community and find some new writers you haven’t heard of,” Murphy said. “I think it’ll be a very encouraging and inspiring time.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 1455 Literary Arts Summer Fest (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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