The Emerald Isle will meet the Valley of the Sun at the Ennis Sister Cities Book Festival

Take a break from the heat of the desert and immerse yourself in the culture of Ireland

Are you longing to study abroad, but the summer is just too far away and your bank account is just too empty? Don’t despair: step out of the desert and take a one-day trip to Ireland this Saturday by immersing yourself in the rich history of Irish literature at the Phoenix Sister Cities Ennis Ireland Book Festival. 

The event, coming up Oct. 29 at the Downtown campus in the A.E. England building, is an all-day literary event and will last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival will feature a variety of poets, authors and speakers, two of which are current ASU professors. There will be talks, vendor tables, book signings and even music. The event is a joint project between the City of Phoenix and ASU, which aims to showcase the vibrant Irish community in Phoenix and strengthen the bond between Phoenix and its sister city, Ennis, Ireland.

The idea for a Sister Cities program was proposed by president Dwight D. Eisenhower in the post-WWII era as the world sought to rebuild international relationships. The Sister Cities project is a people-to-people effort to promote peace through intercultural understanding. 

Since its inception, more than 2,000 American cities have been linked with over 1,800 international cities to share culture with one another and cultivate global peace. Phoenix joined the Sister Cities program in 1976 with a linkage to Hermosillo, Mexico, and now has 10 unique international sisters to share the flavor of the southwest with. Phoenix was first linked to Ennis, Ireland in 1988, and will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of this bond in 2018.

Since 2007, the city of Ennis has thrown a weekend-long festival in March dedicated to the celebration of Irish literature. On a trip to Ennis in 2013, Mary Hill-Connor, the present Chair of the Phoenix Sister Cities Ennis Committee and a native of Ennis, along with Anna Martinez, present Chair of the festival, was inspired to bring the literary celebration all the way home to the Valley.

They wanted to pay homage to Ennis and the sister cities' bond all the way across the sea, and what better way than to mirror the Irish tradition here in Phoenix? With that in mind, the Sister Cities Ennis Book Festival was born last year.

Since it’s only in its second year, the festival is still rather small, lasting only one day instead of an entire weekend as the event in Ennis does. Adrienne Leavy, an Irish-born ASU graduate and the literary chair of the festival this year, said even if it’s a small event, the event is still a great way to honor the “vibrant Irish community in Phoenix” and educate people of all backgrounds about Irish literature.

“This isn’t an academic conference,” Leavy said. “This event will be fun, accessible for everyone and a great way to expose students—and everyone—to the rich field of contemporary and classic Irish literature.”

Both Martinez and Leavy expressed the desire to one day expand the festival into a larger celebration of international culture, encapsulating the other nine sister cities.

“We have to go slowly, however,” Leavy said. “We want to expand while still preserving the quality and integrity of the event.”

Though it may still be starting out, the festival boasts an exciting line-up and variety of speakers. Gregory Castle, a current professor of Irish and English literature at ASU, will be speaking on William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” to celebrate the poem’s centenary and to highlight the idea that we face many of the same struggles in 2016 as the Irish — and the world — did a century ago.

“Irish literature was the first global literature,” Castle said. “Due to immigration, there was a big Irish population all over the world, and they were confronting ideas of nationalism, politics, sexuality, gender and a whole host of other issues as they emerged out of colonialism. These are the same issues we face today.”

Castle said he believes the unique Irish perspective on what it means to be a “global citizen” — coming from one country but living in another — can teach us lessons about openness and willingness to accommodate difference.

“Reading Irish literature can teach us a little bit about all of humanity,” he said.

Michael Stanford, a lawyer and current Human Event professor at ASU, will be speaking on law and law imagery in Irish poetry. Stanford said he also believes literature underscores something important about the human condition.

“To be educated is to be aware of other nations, continents and cultures,” Stanford said. “Irish literature — world literature — is a portal into understanding the very human issues and ideas we should be focused on all of our lives.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. to get involved with the literary festival. ASU students have the opportunity to volunteer and will receive free parking and admission if they sign up here

If you just want to experience the festival and all it has to offer, it is open to everyone regardless of background.

Looking for more information about the festival, or about Phoenix Sister Cities’ other programs? Visit the Ennis Book Festival’s event page for details about the Oct. 29 event or the Phoenix Sister Cities website for other upcoming events, programs and ways to get involved.


Reach the reporter at cagoldin@asu.edu or follow @auruming on Twitter.

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