Books and ideas: Bradford Literature Festival preview

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Bradford Literature Festival opens tomorrow with a unique programme that reflects the city’s rich cultural heritage. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Following on from its hugely successful launch weekend in September 2014, Bradford Literature Festival, which opens on May 15 and runs for ten days, is set to make its name on the literary festival circuit with a unique – and packed – programme of events.

“We wanted to celebrate Bradford’s cultural, faith and literary heritage,” says festival co-director Irna Qureshi who with co-director Syima Aslam first came up with the idea last year. “We felt that there are so many festivals around at the moment – we wanted to put Bradford on the map for something really positive and long-term; the plan is for the festival to take place annually every May from now on. It is part of the cultural regeneration of Bradford which is supporting the economic regeneration of the city.

“The idea is to bring people into the city and particularly people who are used to going elsewhere for their cultural offer. And we are offering the kind of topics that Bradford is perfect for – it is a great place to talk about faith and tolerance.”

With over 150 events featuring more than 250 writers, thinkers, artists and experts from all over the world it is a truly international and inclusive festival. The wide range of talks, panel discussions, family events, readings and performances exploring topics including gender politics, current affairs, faith, literature and social history means that there really is something for everyone. And what makes it different from other festivals is the depth and breadth of the debate which is a reflection of the extraordinary diversity of Bradford’s cultural heritage and identity.

“I know this city inside out,” says Qureshi. “I was born here and went school here and have worked here and there is so much richness in the city. That came into our discussions whenever we started talking about a theme we wanted to programme.

“We wanted to be able to focus on different topics but look at them in an in-depth way and from different perspectives, across communities and faiths.” It means it is as much a festival of ideas as of books and that difficult topics can be addressed in an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance, allowing a constructive conversation to develop. One of the flagship poetry events is Sacred Poetry which will take place in Bradford cathedral, the oldest building in the city. “This event is very well suited to a place like Bradford,” says Qureshi. “It is a celebration of faith-based poetry and music from across the religious spectrum. Last year we held it in the synagogue and it was incredibly moving.” Big names appearing include bestselling author Sophie Hannah who will be talking about her first Hercule Poirot mystery, Boyd Tonkin, former literary editor of The Independent will be discussing Freedom of Speech, poets Brian Patten and Lemn Sissay will be reading some of their work, journalist and commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown joins former Minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, writer Hassan Mahamdallie and Professor Peter Morey to discuss issues of trust affecting the Muslim community in the UK today. Professor Paul Rogers examines ISIS and ‘No More Page 3’ campaigner Lucy Ann Holmes considers the impact of Female Tabloid Euphemisms, while the Brontë Heritage Tour takes participants on a tour of all the significant Yorkshire places in the Brontës lives ending in Haworth.

Funding has come from Bradford Council and Arts Council England with a number of sponsors on board as well. Partners include the University of Bradford and Bradford College, NHS Bradford’s Healthy Hearts and Incommunities.

“There is support from all the key institutions in Bradford,” says Qureshi. “They all wanted this to happen and they can all see the value of it – the festival will bring economic benefit, a cultural vibrancy and positive headlines.”

* Bradford Literature Festival, May 15-24. For the full programme visit where you can also book tickets online or call the box office on 01274 238283.