Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
The UEA Literary Festival was first held in 1991. Since then, renown and less famous authors are invited every year at the university to talk about their new pieces. You need to book tickets to attend talks but the festival is open to everybody. Last Autumn, I went to see Stephen Fry who had just released the third part of his memoir, More Fool Me and absolutely loved it! Since then, I’ve become a big admirer and fan of his.
This year, I only found out a bit late that Richard Dawkins was coming to UEA and missed the first batch of tickets that was released. Fortunately, they released more and I managed to get one and saw him last Wednesday in Lecture Theatre 1! For those who do not know him, Richard Dawkins is an English biologist known for his work on evolutionary biology. However, he became extremely popular (and hated) in more recent years due to all his books and documentaries on atheism, religion and his criticism of creationism. In 2006, he released the best-selling God Delusion in which he totally rejects the existence of god (in Christianity and other religions) and affirms that one does to need religion to be a good or “moral” person.
It may seem a bit unusual to have a scientist at the literary festival, but the interviewer (sorry, I forgot his name) started the talk by saying that his book has great literary qualities and that science and literary shouldn’t always be separated. Dawkins came to discuss the second volume of his autobiographical memoir, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science so the focus was on his life as a scientist rather than on his controversial work on beliefs and religion. He talked about the first part of his memoir, his years in Kenya, his religious education — which he later rejected, declaring, which his usual bitterness and cynicism, that he got rid of those “childish beliefs” as he grew up — and his work on biology and evolution. He also told lots of funny anecdotes about his beginnings as a scientist and the Christmas lectures he gave. Richard Dawkins may come across as an irritating person in debates but here, he seemed really nice and he’s such an interesting person!
He also mentioned his foundation, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which was founded in 2006 after the publication of The God Delusion. They’re very active in the United States and promote secularism and the right to be an atheist, especially among politicians.
The talk lasted only for an hour but he covered a lot of ground. At the end, people from the audience were allowed to ask questions to which he answered. I was too shy to ask anything and to be honest, the young literary student that I am would probably sound ridiculous next to him. I didn’t read his memoir nor any of his books, I’m more into his debates and documentaries, but apparently the book is really fun to read! He read out loud an extract from his book about how he met his wife and that made everybody laugh a lot in the audience.
After it, there was a signing session in Waterstones so I went. It was really strange to meet a very famous person you’ve seen a lot on TV and to talk to him but once again, he seemed nice! I didn’t really dare to ask anything so I just thanked him for coming to UEA, he asked me where I come from (FRAAANNNCE!) and he signed my ticket!