The 2018 edition of the festival was it’s biggest and boldest yet, attracting record audiences of over 70,000. This huge growth has been recognised nationally, with Director Syima Aslam being nominated in the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, and winning at both the H100 Awards and the Yorkshire Asian Business Awards. In November, Welcome to Yorkshire’s White Rose Awards named the festival Tourism Event of the Year 2018.
Some of the most popular events this year included a hip-hop and spoken word poetry night featuring BAFTA and MOBO award winning artist Akala; the annual Yorkshire Adabee Forum Mushaira, an evening of traditional Urdu poetry; a film screening and Q&A with Labour politician Dennis Skinner; the launch of the Brontë Stones project featuring writers Jeanette Winterson, Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay; and an audience with boxing legend Frank Bruno.
Newly published books launched at the festival included: Why I am A Hindu by Shashi Tharoor; The Business Plan for Peace by Dr Scilla Elworthy; My Mother is Not Your Mother by Margaret Hockney, and City of Sinners by Bradford’s own A. A. Dhand.
Over 500 speakers in more than 400 sessions, featured in the fourth edition of Bradford Literature Festival.
The diverse thematic sessions in the 2018 programme ranged from scientific explorations of gene therapy in the context of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to conversations between leading crime fiction writers. Major political anniversaries were remembered as the festival marked the centenary of the start of women’s suffrage in Britain, and of the First World War’s Armistice; 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King; 20 years since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry; and Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. Discussions about the state of Jerusalem today, sat alongside debates around the idea of ‘stateless’ nations such as Kashmir, Tibet, Kurdistan and Palestine. The festival partnered with Speaking Volumes to mark the anniversary, and explore the legacy, of Empire Windrush through discussion, music and performance rooted in Caribbean culture.
As always, poetry was a fundamental part of the Festival. 1970s American rock star Suzi Quatro launched ‘Songbook’, a new annual event for BLF, which celebrates the lyrics and influences of a major songwriter. Poetic responses to the First World War’s Armistice were heard at an event presented in partnership with Hay Festival and the United Nations, and Festival favourites Poetry with a Punch, Sacred Poetry and Lyrical Mehfil returned for another year featuring world-renowned poets including Ben Okri, Kei Miller, Vahni Capildeo and Joanna Hoffman.
Discussions on world affairs and politics included Bradford’s involvement in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the media’s role in fuelling Islamophobia, Europe’s love affair with the far-right and a satirical exploration of Jeremy Corbyn’s superhero persona in The Corbyn Comic Book. The festival attracted politicians and activists such as Dennis Skinner, Nimco Ali and Parveena Ahanger.
Once again, several special events were programmed in homage to Bradford’s historical connection to the Brontës – this year focusing on the bicentenary of Emily Brontë. In addition, the festival’s much-anticipated Bronte Stones project was launched to international acclaim. The project sets four stones, featuring specially-commissioned texts by leading writers, into the landscape along an atmospheric route between the Brontë birthplace in Thornton, and their family Parsonage at Haworth.