Musician-writer Kate Bush, novelist Jeanette Winterson and former boxer Frank Bruno are among those participating in the Bradford Literature Festival 2018, in association with Provident Financial Group, where over 500 speakers will feature across more than 400 sessions.
The festival, intended to celebrate the written and spoken word "in all forms", has grown from an audience of 968 in 2014 to over 50,000 attendees in 2017, according to organisers.
Other participants in this year’s programme, which takes place between Friday 29th June and Sunday 8th July 2018, include Kashmiri Nobel Peace Prize nominee Parveena Ahanger, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, actor Robin Ince, Turkish-British writer and activist Elif Shafak, poet and novelist Ben Okri, American rock star Suzi Quatro, UK rapper Akala, Scottish writer Jackie Kay, Somali social activist Nimco Ali, Labour MP Dennis Skinner, historian David Starkey, author and actor Terry Deary and Jamaican poet Kei Miller.
Some of the newly published books launching at the festival include Dr Scilla Elworthy's self-published book The Business Plan for Peace, Don’t Let My Past be Your Future (Constable) by Harry Leslie Smith, My Mother is Not Your Mother (Salts Estates) by Margaret Hockney - part of an event at Bradford Cartwright Hall’s Hockney Gallery examining the poetry that has inspired David Hockney throughout his career - and City of Sinners (Transworld) by A A Dhand - whose 2016 debut with had promised "to do for Bradford what ‘The Wire’ has done for Baltimore".
One of the festival’s special commissions this year includes a public art installation celebrating the Brontë sisters from Kate Bush, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Jeanette Winterson. The project features four new, original works of writing engraved onto stones set into different locations in "rugged" Yorkshire, the landscape of such novels as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The journey to visit all four points is approximately eight miles and believed to have been the route the sisters themselves often took between their home in Thornton and the family parsonage in Haworth.
Of the four commissioned pieces, three of the works (by Bush, Duffy and Kay) respond to one of the Brontë sisters each (Emily, Charlotte and Anne, respectively), while the fourth (by Winterson) responds to the Brontë legacy as a whole. Several other special events are also programmed at the festival in homage to Bradford’s historical connection to the Brontë sisters, this year focusing on the bicentenary of Emily Brontë.
Another commission for 2018 provides "poetic responses" to Gustav Klimt's painting in a selection of "film poems", coinciding with the 100th anniversary of his death. Participating poets are Aviva Dautch, Jo Brandon and Shazea Quraishi.
Other anniversaries marked by the festival include the centenaries of the start of women’s suffrage in Britain and of the First World War’s Armistice, Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, and 20 years since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, while diverse themes range from scientific explorations of gene therapy in the context of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to conversations between leading crime fiction writers, and the state of Jerusalem today sit alongside debates around the idea of ‘stateless’ nations such as Kashmir, Tibet, Kurdistan and Palestine.
Bradford Literature Festival has embarked on a number of partnerships this year. As well as teaming up with the National Youth Theatre, Outspoken, Speaking Volumes and the Bronte Parsonage Museum, to facilitate a pupil exchange programme, it partnered with Hay. After 10 Year 9 pupils from Bradford were able to attend Hay Festival in May, 10 Year 9 pupils from Powys and Herefordshire will now be able to attend the Bradford Literature Festival in June.
Its schools programme, which reaches upwards of 20,000 students this year, welcomes authors such as Terry Deary, creator of the Horrible Histories series, and Johnny Duddle, winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.
It also launched a new "Schools Takeover Challenge", offering a group of students aged 16-17 the chance to curate and manage their own session to feature on the official festival programme. The session this year tackles the subject of interracial marriage ("from Othello and Desdemona to Prince Harry and Megan Markle"). The young curators are responsible for all aspects of the event, from pitching the concept and identifying and inviting speakers, to marketing and logistics, in a step towards becoming the festival-makers of the future.
Syima Aslam, director of Bradford Literature Festival, said: “The festival was set up as a response to the challenges society faces, on a local and global level. At a time when imagination and empathy are crucial tools for tackling the big issues of our time, there are many who would prefer a narrower vision of life, in which increasingly smaller boxes divide and define us. The festival seeks to break down these artificial barriers, by creating a space where ideas and stories can lead to mutual understanding, reminding us that it is our shared humanity that is the common denominator.
“Writers and poets have always been our conscience – standing at the edge of society and providing the vision and clarity necessary for critical self-evaluation and growth. This year’s programme exemplifies the festival ethos of reflecting society as a whole, giving a platform to artists from an extraordinary range of backgrounds, nations, cultures, and perspectives. The festival is especially proud to bring to the fore marginalised voices who offer audiences the opportunity to understand our world in new, and unexpected, ways.
“Bradford Literature Festival offers hope, passion and excitement to our audiences and the opportunity to leave the festival challenged, inspired and uplifted.”
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