I’ve previously written about why I love this festival – and my feelings certainly haven’t changed! This year the programme is as strong as ever, and it continues to tick all the boxes as far as my admiration is concerned. So I thought I’d present an updated version of my previous article, featuring highlights from this year’s fantastic festival offerings.
Bradford has had its fair share of bad publicity over the years, and it might not be the first place that springs to mind if you’re thinking of cultural events. But a few years ago, Bradford Literature Festival (BLF) burst onto the scene – and I love it! This year’s festival is fast approaching. Here’s why I’m looking forward to it.
1. Big names
For such a young festival, BLF attracts some notable speakers. This year there’s George the Poet, AC Grayling, Michael Rosen, John Barnes, Luke Goss and Jeanette Winterson (to name but a few). In previous years I’ve been to events featuring Jeanette Winterson (she must like it here!), Akala, Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay. And a couple of years ago I happened to fall into conversation with none other than Germaine Greer as she consumed a refreshing shandy before a panel event. The hot topic she chose? The traffic diversions and snarl-ups she’d encountered on her way home from an event the previous night. Not quite what I was expecting.
2. Professional interest
As an editor, I’ve loved being able to hear experts like linguist David Crystal and The Times columnist Oliver Kamm talking about language and usage. I’ve attended panel discussions on English as a global language, the author–editor relationship and how not to write bad sex. And at this year’s BLF there are sessions on cultural appropriation in writing, how to get published, crime writing and thrillers, how to make writing pay, and the power of podcasts. Professional development has rarely been this enjoyable.
I’m always impressed by the wide range of events at BLF. There’s classic literature and contemporary crime fiction, there’s poetry and rap, there’s magic and fairy tales, there’s feminism and religion, there’s music, comedy, film, politics, heritage tours, walks... And this year, there’s even an event devoted to tea! It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in something you love, or dip your toe into something new. Expect to laugh, cry, think, enjoy and relax, and to come away inspired, informed and challenged. What more could you ask for?
4. The local angle
Bradford has a rich literary and cultural heritage, and that plays a part in BLF. Inevitably, perhaps, the Brontës are often featured – and this year is no exception – but there’s always a real desire to explore their work in new and interesting ways. Other local talents also come under the spotlight. Once again, the work of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too) is considered, while Poet Laureate Simon Armitage – who hails from nearby Marsden – will discuss his new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There’ll be discussions on topics that resonate in the city, including The Satanic Verses, Islamophobia and Bradford City AFC, and tours of Undercliffe Cemetery, the Jewish Quarter, Bradford Police Museum and Little Germany. It’s a great way to learn about the area’s history and find out more about some of the hot topics of the day.
Say ‘literature festival’ and many people think it isn’t for them. But I’m sure at least some would reconsider if they took a look at the programme and tried out an event or two. There’s a great variety of stuff that’s designed to appeal to all age groups and to reflect Bradford’s diverse communities. Most events take place in or around the city centre, and some are free. And as well as the usual discounts for students, senior citizens and disabled people, there are special tickets for refugees, asylum seekers and benefit recipients (the cost of a ticket is refunded on attendance, which means free entry!).
6. Educational focus
Bradford has a chequered history when it comes to education, and many of its schools still struggle with literacy and educational attainment. I think BLF can only be a good thing in this respect. The programme’s chock-full of stuff for children and young people. There are plenty of free activities, including two Baby Raves, for which I’m considering borrowing a baby. And the festival has a great schools programme, which includes author events, performances, writing workshops, and author visits to schools. Oh, to be young again…
7. Celebrating what’s best about Bradford
I think the fact that Bradford can put on a festival of such quality is a demonstration of what’s best about this vibrant city and its culture. During previous festivals I’ve spent time in the Festival Hub in City Park, and it’s a great place to hang out, grab a coffee and enjoy the buzz. I’ve been interested to see the inside of some of the city’s great buildings, such as City Hall and the Midland Hotel, and I can confirm that there’s more to Bradford than dark satanic mills and sink estates. And even if only a fraction of the city’s population comes to BLF events, many more – especially children and young people – will surely benefit from its effects.
So, there it is. Once again, I can’t wait for BLF and for the chance to learn something new, be challenged and entertained, and perhaps even find out about visiting celebrities’ travel headaches. Bring it on!