20 Questions... Allie Esiri

To mark 20 years of Hay Festival Winter Weekend, we are asking speakers and performers to answer 20 questions. Here's how writer and editor Allie Esiri responded...

1. If you could put one question to anyone on the planet, who would you choose and what would it be?

Shakespeare. Did the ending of King Lear have to be that bleak?

2. What was the last book you read and loved?

Normal People.

3. What are you most proud of?

Professionally, making The Love Book, a poetry app. with three school computer lessons to my name. I promise you, if I can…

4. What was the best question you were ever asked in an event and how did you answer it?

I was talking to a school in Tower Hamlets, London, about The Love Book, which has several brilliant actors reading poems. I said, "Don’t think you have to ask GCSE-style questions about the poetry."  Then a hand went up and a boy asked, "What’s Emma Watson like?"

5. What one piece of advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?

Learn more poems by heart. They will build a much appreciated jukebox for the insomniac mind.

6. What's the most famous book you've never read?

Don Quixote (and I read Modern Languages)

7. What author or book do you think is most underrated? And why?

Enheduanna. She was writing poetry 4,000 years ago in Ancient Sumeria (now Iraq) which makes her the first ever writer in history. So many early female poets are unsung.

8. Which writers today will still be read 100 years from now?

I think loads will and I particularly hope that the list includes the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Maya Angelou.

9. Favourite word?

estrenar – a Spanish verb that means to wear something for the first time.

10. Least favourite word?


11. What is the first thing you wrote?

A (very ordinary) poem about Autumn, when I was nine. Like my first baking attempt, I remember being astonished by this ‘made thing’. And laminated it.

12. What one thing should each writer know before they begin?

There’s a joy in making things.

13. Where's your favourite place to write?

On a small writing table under the old glass roof of my kitchen.

14. Pen and paper, or laptop?

If I’m having trouble with a phrase, I switch.

15. Favourite book of 2019?

Lemn Sissay’s My Name is Why.

16. Favourite book to read at Christmas?

Little Women.

17. What is the best book you've ever been gifted, and who gave it to you?

The first Virago green paperback: Antonia White’s Frost in May. It was shared around the sixth form.

18. What books are you most excited about reading in 2020?

Don Quixote.

19. Best Hay Festival memory?

My editor Gaby Morgan introducing me to the illustrator Chris Riddell who then offered to live-draw my poetry event.

20. What are you working on right now?

The live Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year event that I’m putting on at the National Theatre in November and at Hay Festival Winter Weekend in December. 

Allie Esiri is editor of Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year, which will be presented live at Hay Festival Winter Weekend with support by actors Diana Quick and Paapa Essiedu. Book tickets here. And find out more about Esiri's work here