Primadonna Festival to become Community Interest Company

Primadonna Festival to become Community Interest Company

The Primadonna Festival will return in 2020 as a Community Interest Company (CIC), with a £20,000 crowdfunder launching, and writer Catherine Riley taking on the role of full-time general manager.

The literary and music festival was held for the first time in Suffolk last August and next year’s event promises the “same mix of established and emerging literary, music and comedy talent, fulfilling Primadonna’s vision of creating ‘the world as it should be, for one weekend’,” with an accompanying prize also returning. Organisers have launched a crowdfunder with a £20,000 target to ensure the event is run as a CIC—a limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders—with plans for the event to take place in Suffolk from 31st July to 2nd August next year.

In a statement, the organisers said: "The success of the 2019 event has persuaded its organisers—18 women drawn from across the publishing and entertainment industries—to establish Primadonna as a Community Interest Company, and install a full-time general manager. Catherine Riley, one of the original volunteer "Primadonnas", took on the role earlier this month and will oversee Primadonna’s transition from a one-off event to a CIC incorporating the festival, various standalone author events, and the Primadonna Prize for unsigned authors."

The crowdfunder reads: "We were able to put on Primadonna 2019 and run the inaugural Primadonna Prize because of the generosity and courage of sponsors, funders, friends and family, who all believed in us. To do this sustainably, we need this support and more. We need your help to build the world as it should be, for one weekend, this year and into the future."

Author and Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer developed the idea of Primadonna along with Jane Dyball, who recently left the music industry. "We were overwhelmed by the feedback we had following this summer’s festival," says Mayer. "Our audience, which was 90% female, were rhapsodic about what was on offer: incredible talent, industry insight and expertise and, overarching all of this, a shared sense of community, care and plain fun. We felt duty-bound to do it again."

The Primadonna Prize, which was launched ahead of the 2019 festival, was billed as “the first literary prize to be judged blind—all first-round entries were anonymised—and without regard to spelling and grammar”.

The winner of the inaugural award will be announced on Monday 2nd March 2020 at Conway Hall in central London. The final judging panel of six—featuring authors Joanne Harris, Lemn Sissay, Irish novelist Neil Hegarty, along with event founders Lisa Milton, executive publisher of HQ, journalist and writer Monisha Rajesh and Curtis Brown agent Cathryn Summerhayes—will select one overall winner from the five shortlisted writers. The winner receives a year’s representation by Summerhayes and £500.

The festival’s 2019 line-up was 87% female, 8% male and 5% non-gender-binary, with a third of the speakers and performers being from a BAME background. This included the first black woman to win the Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo, who was joined at the festival by fellow Booker nominee Elif Shafak. Evaristo described the event as “very special”. She said: “It’s a wonderfully inclusive festival for women writers, open to everyone, based in a beautiful countryside setting.”