Words by Helen Knott
Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival is a weekend-long partner to the full ten day festival, running mainly at REP from Friday 27th to Sunday 29th April. Further events are also being held at the High Street branch of Waterstones, Birmingham & Midland Institute, and the Curzon Building by Millennium Point.
Tickets prices vary for all events, with some already sold out. For direct information on the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival, including full programme details and links to online ticket sales, click here.
Organised and run by Writing West Midlands, Birmingham Literature Festival celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. And whilst the festival may have reached young adulthood, it continues to gather momentum each year with 2017’s edition featuring some of its biggest ever events – including Brummie comedian Joe Lycett and Jess Phillips MP (Yardley) in conversation at Town Hall.
2018 is a particularly interesting time for Birmingham Literature Festival, as the recent appointment of Antonia Beck as Festival Director marks the start of a new chapter (pun intended). It will be interesting to see what impact Beck, an award-winning theatre maker, has on the programming and direction of the festival in the coming years.
We’ll know more when the full October programme is announced, but on first sight the spring programme isn’t a massive departure from previous years – featuring a line-up of writer events, screenings and workshops, with a mix of star names (Alexei Sayle, Jenni Murray) and local authors.
There is, however, a particular focus on celebrating and championing female writers within the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival programme. In the centenary year of women in the UK over 30 being guaranteed the right to vote, and with the #MeToo movement continuing to highlight the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, it’s a fitting theme for the festival. Discussions will include the gender bias in publishing, women’s place in history, and the #MeToo phenomenon itself.
Here are some of my picks of the events to watch out for this spring, all designed, as Beck puts it, to create, “a space to learn, challenge and be inspired”.
Black Country writer Sathnam Sanghera’s critically-acclaimed memoir about a second-generation Indian man growing up in Britain, The Boy with the Topknot, was turned into a BBC drama in 2017. Here you can watch a screening of the adaptation, then join a Q&A with some of the key people involved – including director Lynsey Miller, screenwriter Mick Ford, and Sanghera himself. Sanghera is Guest Curator for the full festival in October, so watch out for hints of what he might have in store.
For more on The Boy with the Topknot, as featured in the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival programme, click here.
Fair Acre Press has published an anthology of new poetry featuring 80 female poets’ response to the #MeToo movement. The anthology, tilted #MeToo: A Movement in Poetry, includes work by Jill Abram, Helen Mort, Pascale Petit and Jacqueline Saphra, and includes a forward by Jess Phillips MP. At this event, poems from the anthology will be read by some of the poets themselves and by audience members in a thoughtful, and no doubt hard-hitting, response to an extraordinary movement.
For more on #MeToo: A Movement in Poetry, as featured in the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival programme, click here.
Back in 2015, the novelist Kamila Shamsie made a provocative suggestion – to counteract the gender bias in publishing and literary awards towards male authors, Shamsie suggested that 2018 should be the Year of Publishing Women with no new titles written by men.
Shamsie’s article has sparked much discussion and publicity, but only one publisher (And Other Stories) has taken up the challenge. In this panel discussion, the debate will be continued by Catherine Mayer (writer and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party), Tara Tobler (Fiction Editor at And Other Stories) and Sian Norris (writer, founder and director of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival).
For more on 2018: The Year of Publishing Women, as featured in the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival programme, click here.
In her 2016 book, A History of Britain in 21 Women, Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray tells the stories of 21 British women who have shaped the country and indeed, her own life. Each chapter focuses on a different woman, some of whom are well-known and others less so. For this event Murray will be in conversation with television journalist and presenter Sue Beardsmore. Expect plenty of anecdotes from Murray’s life, full of her trademark wit and warmth.
For more on A History of Britain in 21 Women, as featured in the Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival programme, click here.
For more on Spring at Birmingham Literature Festival, visit www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org
For more on Writing West Midlands, visit www.writingwestmidlands.org
For more from Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk