Open Book - Book Week Scotland 2020

Rebecca Raeburn
Communications, Edinburgh
City of Literature Trust

16 Nov 2020

This Book Week Scotland (16-22 November), Open Book founders Marjorie Lotfi Gill and Claire Urquhart will be hosting an open-mic event, featuring work produced by Open Book groups in Spring and new work created during Jen Hadfield's Open Book workshops.

To give you an insight into the organisation, Development Director and Founder Marjorie Lofti Gill wrote about Open Book and all of the fantastic work they've been doing to support reading and writing in Edinburgh and Scotland.

'At Open Book, we use literature as a tool for combating social isolation, connecting communities and amplifying marginalised voices. We do this through a wide programme of ‘shared reading’ groups, groups that meet to read a new text out loud together and then discuss it in the manner of a ordinary book group. This model means that if you’re coming along, there’s nothing to read or prepare before the session, and anyone (including those with vision issues, literacy concerns or those with English as a second language) can listen in and take part in the ensuing discussion. It also means that our participants come together to discuss something that isn’t personal, which sets it apart from a coffee morning or other social group.

In about a third of our sessions, we add creative writing into the mix. Often, we write as a group in these sessions, which means our Open Book Lead Reader will create a group poem from the ideas of those participating, so that they can just relax and enjoy. In general, the writing is just another way of exploring our own responses to the text. We then take writing from some of our underrepresented groups and help to amplify their voices by publishing it whenever possible: in Scottish literary journals, online, in our own Open Book pamphlet, and reading it on the radio or on stage whenever possible!

Open Book works with a wide variety of people, from the most vulnerable participants to those attending public groups who express a sense of isolation or just want to connect with new people. This year, we plan to run almost 1400 sessions in our 2020/2021 Community Project. Broadly, we’re working in eight sectors: in prisons, in healthcare settings, in residential settings for the elderly, in community projects, with multi cultural groups (including refugee and migrant groups), in libraries, on the islands and in groups for the public. Geographically, we work right across Scotland, from the islands off of Shetland, to Eyemouth to Stranraer and many of the places in between. This year, we’re including specialist groups for BAME and LGBTQ+ participants, and those wanting to read in Scots or Gaelic.

Since lockdown, all of our groups have been meeting on online on the Zoom platform. We’ve developed the Open Book Unbound programme, a newsletter that includes newly commissioned work for our groups to read and discuss, podcasts of Claire and me running a mini-shared reading session around some of those next texts, regular new writing from our (second) Writer in Residence, listings of and sign up links for our public groups, and lots of other interesting tidbits to keep our readers connected during these strange times.

A recent survey of our online participants revealed that 100% of respondents felt that the Open Book sessions left them feeling more confident and more connected to their communities. Individual feedback from reader after reader confirms that our Open Book groups are serving as a “lifeline” just now, helping us all through this strange time.

We hope you’ll visit our website to find out more about what we do, sign up for our Unbound newsletter and join us!'

- Marjorie Lofti Gill

In September this year, we also spoke to Director and Founder of Open Book, Claire Urquhart, as part of the innovative practice sharing sessions during our annual UNESCO City of Literature online conference. You can watch our conversation below:

Book Week Scotland 2020 runs from 16-22 November and is supported by Creative Scotland and SLIC. If you're interested in finding out more about this year's programme, head over to their website here.

Book Week Scotland

Book Week Scotland is an annual celebration of books and reading that takes place across Scotland. During Book Week, people of all ages and walks of life come together in libraries, schools, community venues and workplaces to share and enjoy books and reading. They are joined in this celebration by Scotland’s authors, poets, playwrights, storytellers and illustrators to bring a packed programme of events and projects to life.

Scottish Book Trust

Scottish Book Trust are a national charity based in Edinburgh in the Netherbow, who have been bringing the benefits of reading and writing to everyone in Scotland since 1998. Every year, they deliver their world-class programmes and annual awards to well over two million people. From introducing books and storytelling to pre-school children to inspiring and empowering adult readers and writers, they believe it's never too early – or too late – to begin a magical journey with words.