Leeds Lit Fest returns to the city for its fifth year
Launched in 2019, the festival is delivered by eight Leeds-based creative arts and literature organisations committed to celebrating and championing literature and writing in the city – and aiming to inspire people to try out their own creativity. Current partner organisations include the Leeds Library, Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds Libraries, The Leeds Big Bookend, Carriageworks Theatre, MILIM, Leeds Church Institute and Strix, supported by Leeds 2023.
The partnership team managed to deliver their second festival which ran in early March 2020 – finishing just days before the first UK Covid lockdown was announced; they kept going with a smaller online festival in 2021 and then got back up to speed with a live, in-person festival last year. Along the way they have also picked up a couple of prestigious national awards, having bagged Best Literary Festival at the Saboteur Awards two years in a row. This edition sees the festival really getting into its stride.
“We have always done well in the past but the tickets have been flying out this year,” says Fiona Gell of the Leeds Big Bookend. “We have the experience now – we have tried things out and know what works and what doesn’t work. It feels like we have reached that tipping point in terms of audience reception and peer recognition.”
The festival is also part of Leeds 2023, the city’s year-long celebration of arts and culture – it features in the programme’s first season that runs from January through to April. “Being part of Leeds 2023 has been so helpful, it catapults cultural organisations into the spotlight, so that has given us a boost,” says Gell. “And I think we bring something unique to the year of culture – it’s a big shout out for literature in the city. Overall, it does feel like the festival has gained a lot of momentum and we are all really excited about that as a team.”
Headlining the festival this year is acclaimed poet, playwright, performer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay who will be talking about and reading from his memoir My Name is Why at the Carriageworks Theatre. In the book Sissay reflects on his childhood, self-expression and identity as well as exploring the care system, race, family and the meaning of home. “We are so thrilled that he is coming,” says Gell. “Having someone like Lemn on board creates a real buzz around the festival.”
Other highlights include a day of events at the Howard Assembly Room and Carriageworks exploring the Contemporary Gothic with award-winning authors Catriona Ward, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Dan Coxon, Mark Morris and Alison Littlewood discussing all things uncanny and horror. Political broadcaster Iain Dale will be bringing a live version of his smash hit political podcast For the Many to the Carriageworks with co-host former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and guest MP David Davis.
Poetry and spoken word is once again well represented in the festival with several events taking place at the Hyde Park Book Club featuring poets such as multi-award-winning Dominic Berry, rising local star Kayleigh Campbell and spoken word brilliance with Nymphs & Thugs. “Leeds is fantastic for poetry and spoken word and open mic events – that has been so strong in the city for decades,” says Gell. “What the Lit Fest can do is to give it a platform and a cohesion.”
There is a programme of free children’s and family events during the festival, organised by Leeds Libraries and culminating in a full day of workshops, storytelling and author events at the Central Library. “All the children’s events are free and we have lots of Pay what you feel events throughout the festival,” says Gell. “We are keeping prices as low as we can to make the festival as accessible to as many people as possible.”
With a huge selection of events to choose from, the festival promises to be another successful one. “It is a really broad programme and probably our most ambitious to date – it really feels like we have raised the bar this year,” says Gell. “And the eclectic nature of the festival means that there genuinely is something for everyone.”
Leeds LitFest, February 25-March 5. leedslitfest.co.uk