Congratulations Bradford Literature Festival – Tourism Event of the Year!

Many congratulations to the Bradford Literature Festival which has just won Tourism Event of the Year!


Brainchild of Director Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi, and only in its fourth year, the Bradford Literature Festival 2018 saw record numbers of people attend over 500 events packed into venues across the city with talks, comedy, workshops, music and poetry, and children’s storytelling. The Festival has been described as the most diverse in the country with topics including superheroes, kama sutra, crime, history, religion, rap and magic. The huge tent dominated Bradford’s Centenary Square and outdoor events and films were featured in City Park and around the popular Mirror Pool. The Festival’s schools programme also held free events for children across the district aiming to ‘create a cultural and literary extravaganza celebrating the written and spoken word’.

The Festival has gone from being a two-day event in 2014 to this year’s ten-day celebration attracting over 70,000 people. In Bradford. Aren’t literature festivals the sort of thing that happen only in posh, middle class areas which only posh, middle class people are supposed to enjoy? If you’re tempted to think that a literature festival is not for you, with speakers from Jeanette Winterson, Akala, Frank Bruno, Susie Quattro, Ben Okri and Dennis Skinner, the 2018 programme had a bit of something for everyone. The aim of the Festival has always been to attract people who wouldn’t necessarily think about attending a literature festival. This mission to include is demonstrated by the Festival’s varied programme and ethical pricing policy, with over half of all tickets this year either free or discounted.

Panellists from left to right Kate Fox, Durre Shahwar and Sam Mills. Chaired by Peg Alexander

Almost by accident, the events I attended had a working class theme. The first included three contributors to Know Your Place, a collection of essays written by working class writers on everything from food, seaside trips, housing, benefits, work and feeling out of place. The three panellists discussed accent, confidence, aspiration and moving away from your roots. This was an event that really deserved to be more well attended. Buy the book. I’m doing my bit my getting all the Italians I know to learn the proper pronunciation of bath, bus and funny.

Quote of the event: hearing a northern voice ‘might make some people moan or develop irritable vowel syndrome’ from Kate Fox’s poem Northern Voices

Akala in conversation with Bidisha


I first came across rapper, poet and author Akala on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (see from 7 minutes) and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone talk more sense in a long time. His book Natives, Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire is a must read for anyone interested in the state of the country, its history and education. It is balanced, angry, backed up meticulous research and extremely readable. There was a huge audience to see his talk and it was a real celebration of ideas and understanding your subject.

Quote of the event: Nationalism isn’t in the national interest

Jeanette Winterson and her favourite books

I’ve never seen author Jeanette Winterson speak before, she was relaxed, entertaining and enthusiastic in a northern and therefore acceptable way. Discussing her reading life from Accrington library to Cambridge University and the books that inspired her from the Bible, the Moomins, Shakespeare and the Brontes, this was a treat. I even missed the first half of the England v Panama World Cup game to make the event. It was worth it.

Quote of the event: Sometimes stories need to confront what needs changing.

The Bradford Literature Festival has worked hard over the past four years to arrange events outside of the ordinary, outside of what a literature festival is supposed to be, to promote authors like you, like us. And what better place could there be for that than Bradford? A competition for school students to appear in next year’s Festival has just been announced, encouraging more involvement and developing the city’s skills and interest. This award is so well deserved. I’m looking forward to next year’s festival already.


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