The events director of the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris has been appointed the new artistic director of the Sydney Writers' Festival.
Jemma Birrell, 36, a former publishing assistant at Allen & Unwin in Sydney who takes up her new job at the end of this month, said she welcomed the opportunity ''to help celebrate one constancy in our lives: the magic of storytelling''.
Birrell left Sydney in 2004 to work for French publishers before joining Shakespeare and Company in 2005 where she has been a co-director of its biennial literary festival, FestivalandCo, whose participants have included Alain de Botton, Will Self, Martin Amis, Beth Orton, Jeanette Winterson and Charlotte Rampling.
''As artistic director of Sydney Writers' Festival I hope to inspire people with events that are both challenging and entertaining, feeding audience's imaginations and teaching us new things about the world and ourselves,'' Birrell said in a statement. ''Literature is a living, vibrant force: I want to celebrate the exuberance of writing in all of its diverse forms.''
Shakespeare and Company, on Paris's Left Bank, opposite Notre Dame, is a well-known literary institution named after the bookstore of the same name founded by Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses.
The Sydney Writers festival chairwoman, Deena Shiff, says she was delighted to announce Birrell's appointment. ''We're thrilled to have lured Jemma back home from Paris. Her excitement and energy are infectious and we believe that she'll bring a fresh vision to the Festival program.''
Birrell replaces Texan-born Chip Rolley, who has been appointed editor of the ABC's online opinion site The Drum.
''I always thought it would be a great love or a great job that lured me back home and it's true in both cases – literature has always been the love of my life and the role of artistic director brings together everything I am passionate about,'' Birrell said.
''Sydney is one of the world's most captivating cities. To curate events that reflect the dreams and desires of such an incredible place, along with its diverse communities, is very exciting. I look forward to bringing together today's most brilliant and compelling writers, thinkers, and artists from Australia and around the world.''