Words and ideas - the return of Bradford Literature Festival

Lemn Sissay.
Lemn Sissay.
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After the success of last year’s inaugural event, Bradford Literature Festival returns next week with another excellent line-up. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Bradford Literature festival, founded and curated by co-directors Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi, returns next week for ten days of bold and innovative programming celebrating the arts, words, ideas and storytelling in all its forms.

There are author interviews and readings, of course, but also theatre performances, stand-up comedy, films, music and political and cultural debates. It is an extraordinarily rich and diverse line-up. “The curation is very much a joint effort between Irna and myself,” says Aslam. “We come from different angles and look at things quite differently at times and all of that gives the programme its uniqueness. There are some things we run with individually but the vast majority of the programming we do together. All the ideas for the current affairs events, for example, are bounced around between us.”

Building on the success of 2015’s inaugural festival which attracted around 9.500 visitors, this year there are 200 events and 350 special guests. Among those appearing are Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Brontë expert Juliet Barker, poet, writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, politician Naz Shah, performance poet John Hegley and Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain. There will be panel discussions on a range of subjects including faith, art and architecture, workshops on everything from vlogging to mystic Sufi whirling, as well as a number of free family events including open air film screenings, craft and storytelling sessions.

In January this year the festival successfully secured £495,000 funding from the Arts Council under the Ambition for Excellence scheme following on from last year’s announcement of title sponsorship funding from Provident Financial, based in the city since 1880.

“We want to showcase Bradford and its rich cultural heritage,” says Aslam. “There are communities from so many different parts of the world and Bradford has long been at the forefront of cultural change. It is an international city and that’s really exciting when we are thinking about the programme because it allows us to look at what is going on in the world and discuss issues of international importance that have a special relevance to Bradford.”

There is a strong current affairs strand with academics, experts, cultural commentators and politicians involved in exchanges of local, national and international significance. “One of the things we feel is important is to create a space where people can come together and express different opinions,” says Aslam. “They might not be ones we agree with but if people can have a reasoned debate without polarisation that is a good thing. The University of Bradford is our key partner and that is something we work on very closely together.” There are certain strands, says Aslam, that will run annually such as the Brontë theme – which this year includes a discussion on Jane Eyre as a feminist manifesto and a modern retelling of Wuthering Heights by Japanese author Minae Mizumura. Another theme is the mystics and Sufi philosophy. “That was a really popular strand last year,” says Aslam. “And there was so much more we wanted to do with that – looking at Sufism, mysticism and ethics. And poetry, is also always going to run through the festival.” A new theme being introduced as a taster this year, but which will continue, is the Manga and comics strand.

The international flavour of the programming – which includes a celebration of Ireland and Irishness complete with Ceili dancing, artistic responses to events in Syria, Roma storytelling, and a look at The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel (written by a Japanese noblewoman) – is in keeping with Aslam and Qureshi’s ambitions for the festival. “The aim is to grow,” says Aslam. “The festival takes place in Bradford but it is for the entire region and ultimately we want to create a national and international destination festival.”

Bradford Literature Festival, May 20-29. For details and to book tickets visit www.bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk

Illustrator Ian Beck. Photo: Graham Miller

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