Joy at return of Bradford Literature Festival featuring major names from Anita Rani to Caitlin Moran

A focus on cultural conversations and the arts is at the centre of Bradford’s Literature Festival known traditionally as the most diverse nationwide.

Bronte hills at Top Withens
Bronte hills at Top Withens

But with its launch today comes a sense of celebration and perspective, as it returns in part to in person events.

Never before have conversations on the city’s heritage meant more, director Syima Aslam has said, nor been more relevant in representing communities.

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“I feel a little like I did when the festival first started,” said Ms Aslam. “It’s really important that we have these live events, it feels especially important now.

Presenter and author Anita Rani

“I’m hoping it will be really inspiring for our audiences.”

The Bradford Literary Festival, first launched seven years ago, is often referred to as Britain’s most diverse.

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The lineup this year will include major names such as journalist Caitlin Moran, scholar Abdal Hakim Murad, children’s author Jacqueline Wilson and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen.

Bradford Literature Festival director Syima Aslam, in St Georges Hall, ahead of this year's festival launch. Image by Bruce Rollinson

Alongside this there is a major focus on local authors including crime writer AA Dhand, presenter Anita Rani, novelist Saima Mir, and author Aamnah Rahman on A Voyage from Kashmir.

Featuring more than 220 speakers in 100 sessions, this year’s festival from today until July 4 is for the first time to see half its events live and half online.

While the festival had been forced to ‘pivot’ online at a moment’s notice last year, such a digital reach, reflected Ms Aslam, is here to stay, ensuring it can extend inclusivity and access.

From exploring the walks of Bradford’s most famed literary sisters to reflections on 20 years since the Bradford riots, the scope of this year’s event reflects a significant depth.

Former children's laureate Michael Rosen

There are conversations on race and equality, reflections on the impact of the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, alongside a discussion on the romanticism on 18th century Haworth, and how life may have been in Bronte times.

Jewish community leader Rudi Leavor, now aged 95, will share his story of how he fled the Berlin Gestapo at the age of 11, finding refuge in Bradford where he helped lead the restoration of the city’s Grade ll listed Reform Synagogue.

Confidence in city and sector

“It’s a different festival to the one we would normally host but in some ways one of the most important,” said Ms Aslam. “It’s about that confidence in the sector and this city.

Crime writer AA Dhand

“What makes Bradford Literature Festival special is Bradford itself. The idea was always to reflect the city, and we have such a great cultural and literary heritage.

“It’s a microcosm of the programme we usually do, but it’s important to create these moments, and that opportunity for people to come together.”

And while a jam-packed programme in previous years is somewhat staggered to ensure guidelines can be met, it brings a sense of celebration, she said.

“It’s that special blend of putting all these voices together, from different backgrounds and stages of career,” said Ms Aslam. “It’s a lovely programme, and I hope these are voices that people will feel uplifted to hear.

“The city has such a great literary heritage,” she added. “That is the part that’s a real joy.

“To be able to get back into events, just to be in the presence of audiences again, is really special.”

Bradford Literature Festival director Syima Aslam, in St Georges Hall, ahead of this year's festival launch. Image by Bruce Rollinson

Unique venues

Bradford Literature Festival will see a mix of online and live events at venues such as St George’s Hall, Waterstones in the Wool Exchange, and the Alhambra Theatre.

Alongside literary appearances and poetry evenings are in-depth conversations to mark 50 years of the Independence of Bangladesh, 20 years since 9/11, and five years since the death of MP Jo Cox.

The Annual Brontë Heritage Weekend returns with talks and a walking tour taking in the poetic tributes carved into stones between Haworth and Thornton.

Under ethical pricing policies, tickets to online events are free, with a number of exceptions for live events.

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Rudi Leavor pictured lighting a candle to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.