Preview: Bradford Literature Festival

Poet Lemn Sissay appearing at this year's Bradford Literature Festival
Poet Lemn Sissay appearing at this year's Bradford Literature Festival
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After the success of last year’s inaugural event, Bradford Literature Festival returns with another impressive 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, 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.”

In January this year the festival successfully secured £495,000 funding from the Arts Council under the Ambition for Excellence scheme, which followed on from last year’s announcement of title sponsorship funding from Provident Financial, based in Bradford since 1880. This year, building on the success of 2015’s debut which attracted around 9.500 visitors, 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. 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. “If people can have a reasoned debate without polarisation that is a good thing.” Aslam and Qureshi work closely with key partner the University of Bradford on this.

“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.”

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 one of the things we are keen to get across is that it is for the entire region – and ultimately we want to create a national and international destination festival.”

May 20-29. www.bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk