Primadonna was set up in 2019 by 17 women from publishing and entertainment worlds – the Primadonnas – who wanted to give a platform to bestselling as well as emerging writers of all kinds and from all backgrounds, and open up the festival experience to new audiences. Their aim was to create "the world as it should be, for one weekend", and they achieved this during the first festival weekend in August 2019.
Bernardine Evaristo, the first black female winner of the Booker Prize and a Primadonna guest, was one of the many brilliant talents that attended: "It’s a wonderfully inclusive festival for writers, open to everyone, based in a beautiful countryside setting. Very special."
Primadonna is passionate about democratising access to publishing and also set up the Primadonna prize, for unsigned and unrepresented new talent. The prize has been judged by three fantastic writer-judges and three Primadonnas:
- Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and many other bestsellers
- Lemn Sissay, #1 best-selling author of My Name is Why, official poet of the London Olympics and winner of the Pinter Pen Prize
- Irish novelist Neil Hegarty whose novel Inch Levels won Kerry Group Novel of the Year in 2017
- Cathryn Summerhayes, current British Book Agent of the Year (Cathryn is in fact also the "prize": the winner gets a year’s representation with her, a money-can’t-buy prize. They also get money: £500).
- Lisa Milton, Harlequin executive publisher and HarperCollins board member
- Monisha Rajesh, author and journalist, whose book Around the World in 80 Trains is the winner of the National Geographic Traveller award for Best Travel Book and is shortlisted for The Stanford Dolman Travel Book Of The Year Award
The prize is judged fully anonymised without reference to the entrants’ names or gender, and without any information on them being passed onto the judges. Furthermore, judges were instructed to disregard any spelling or grammatical errors.
There were hundreds of entries, which were whittled down first to a longlist of 30, then to a shortlist of five. The entries were incredibly diverse and the standard very high.
The Primadonnas are very excited to find out which of the five shortlisted women will eventually be crowned winner, live at Conway Hall on 2nd March, in a very special event compered by Sandi Toksvig. All have always dreamed of being a writer, none ever thought they'd get there. The prize will establish them in their careers as authors.
Also on the programme for the event at Conway Hall are three very special performances of brand new work that celebrates the stories of forgotten or mis-remembered women:
- Catherine Mayer on journalist, performance artist and brightest spark Paula Yates
- Athena Stevens on "the woman who would not mind"
- Winsome Pinnock on poet, dramatist and the first black woman to work for the BBC, Una Marson
These stories were commissioned by the Globe to honour and celebrate history’s forgotten and mis-remembered women and non-binary people. They were inspired by the ongoing campaign begun by Sandi Toksvig – also a Primadonna – to redress the gender imbalance of Wikipedia: at last count, out of the 1.5 million biographies in English on the site, only 17% are of women. The 20 stories were curated by another Primadonna, Athena Stevens, who co-directed them, and were first performed in January and February in the biggest ever festival of new writing in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
They’re being reprised at Conway Hall as part of Primadonna’s commitment to create space for new writing – especially by and about women – that challenges and questions and reveals.
For more information, see www.primadonnafestival.com.