From Anita Rani to Ed Balls, we look ahead to the Ilkley Literature Festival highlights

Like many other arts events and organisations, Ilkley Literature Festival has had a busy year and a half adapting to challenging circumstances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anita Rani, who is appearing at Ilkley Literature Festival in October. (Picture: Jay Brooks).

For the October 2020 festival they moved their programme online with a small number of pre-recorded digital events on the theme of ‘justice and injustice’ and for their spring series in March this year, which also took place exclusively online, they focussed on the natural world and nature writing.

The selected themes for both the autumn and spring events were thoughtful, timely and resonant, all very much born out of the strange times we were, and are still, living through.

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The programme for this October’s festival, announced yesterday, is an impressive, wide-ranging – and ambitious – one, with the ILF team producing a hybrid offering of in-person, online and live-streamed events.

Ed Balls is also among the guests. (Picture: Nicky Johnson).

“The digital side of things has been a huge learning curve for us, as it was for many people, but the joys of finding a different way of working and the opportunities it has opened up to us as event programmers has been great,” says festival director Erica Morris.

“We have been able to invite international authors to take part and to programme panel discussions that might otherwise have been difficult to do. And it has allowed us to reach a much wider audience. That includes people who for whatever reason might not be able to physically get to an in-person event. It was wonderful being able to make those connections digitally with new audiences, so we wanted to keep that element going forward.”

Over the past 18 months, the team has been consulting with their audiences and listening to their feedback, noting their concerns about safety as well as their wish to see live events again. “People have missed being able to go out and see live performance – there is a real appetite to return to that,” says Morris.

“There is nothing quite like being able to feel the energy in a room. We are really looking forward to being able to facilitate that shared experience between readers, writers and audiences again.”

There are 70 events this time, around half the number the autumn festival usually features, structured around three strands of thought and discussion – ‘unreliable narratives’, ‘belonging’ and ‘pioneering women’.

Headliners include; 2019 Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo talking about her new book Manifesto, an account of her experiences as a writer, teacher and activist; former MP and Strictly star Ed Balls discussing his part memoir, part cookbook Appetite; festival favourite Gyles Brandreth on his autobiography Odd Boy Out and broadcaster Anita Rani will be in conversation about her bestselling memoir The Right Sort of Girl exploring growing up in 1980s Yorkshire.

“One thing the pandemic has highlighted is how culture and the arts enrich our lives,” says Morris. “So we hope the festival offers a thought-provoking, entertaining and inspiring tonic.”

October 1-17, 2021. Tickets go on sale August 31. To book and view the full programme visit ilkleylitfest.org.uk