The inaugural Leeds Litfest will be launched by acclaimed author David Peace next month. Yvette Huddleston spoke to one of the festival organisers.
There was some exciting news for book lovers in Leeds just before Christmas when it was announced that a new literature festival would be coming to the city in March.
While there have been a number of organisations championing literature in the city and organising a variety of literary events, there has not, until now, been a citywide festival celebrating books, writing and writers. For a city the size and stature of Leeds – and with such a rich literary heritage – this was something of a gap.
“There is so much writing talent in the city, past and present, and it is crying out for a platform such as this,” says Fiona Gell of the Big Bookend and Northern Short Story Festival, one of the partners in the new venture. “The idea has been many years in the making but now feels like the right time.”
It’s been interesting to see how literature festivals over recent years have grown in popularity and relevance with new ones popping up all the time. Apart from anything else, they provide a safe space for public debate and there seems to be a real appetite for engagement with literature, words and ideas. “The positive feedback we have had since we made the announcement in December has been phenomenal,” says Gell. “We have been really encouraged by that. It feels like a really valuable thing to do.”
Partner organisations include the Leeds Library, which celebrated its 250th anniversary last year, Leeds Libraries, Carriageworks Theatre, Chapel FM, Headingley Litfest, Hyde Park Book Club, MILIM, Leeds Minster, Leeds Church Institute and #foundfiction. Coming together as a collective to collaborate on the festival means that the programme they have created together is truly wide-ranging and diverse. “It is a really rich offering,” says Gell. “We wanted to make the festival as inclusive as possible, so we have tried to include as many people as we could. We cover a lot of bases and a lot of interest groups that reflect and represent the various different communities of Leeds.”
The festival will be officially launched next month by award-winning Yorkshire-born writer David Peace, author of acclaimed novels such as The Damned United, GB84 and Red or Dead, who will be appearing in an in-conversation event at the Leeds Library as part of an evening of celebrations. “David’s literary pedigree is outstanding, it is a real coup for us,” says Gell. “He has been so supportive and we couldn’t be more delighted.”
This feels like the start of something important for the city and Gell confirms that the partners have their eye on the future.
“We are thinking big and being ambitious. We definitely want to do Leeds Litfest 2020 and, going forward, to make it a regular, sustainable feature of the cultural offer in Leeds. Looking towards 2023 and the cultural ambition for the city, we would like it to become one of the best Literature Festivals in the North but also to remain true to a Leeds identity.”
Leeds Litfest, March 6-10. David Peace will be in conversation at the Leeds Library on February 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets for all events through carriageworkstheatre.co.uk or 0113 376 0318. More details on Twitter @LeedsLit