‘I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.’
(From Stanzas by Emily Brontë)
Leading female writers, poets, artists and experts are set to celebrate the great outdoors at the 12th annual Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing this weekend (September 22-24) in Haworth, Keighley. Women of the Wild will feature talks, workshops, panel discussions and participatory events and seeks to amplify the voices of women who are driving conversations in sustainability.
Festival programmer Sassy Holmes explains how everything came together and what visitors can expect from this year’s offering.
“The first place we start is the theme, which is always around our special exhibition and this year that’s The Brontës and the Wild – exploring nature, of course, but also the idea of wildness, the Brontës loving their landscape and being inspired by their environment.”
When it came to choosing the right people to bring the theme to life, Holmes says that she “wanted to find artists and creatives who could speak to what being out in nature can do for your mind, your soul, how that can kind of reset you”.
Holmes found Emma Mitchell, bestselling author of The Wild Remedy (and sometime presenter of BBC Springwatch) who will appear at the festival to talk about how nature and creativity can improve mental health. Local poet and yoga teacher Emma Connally Barklem will be guiding a mindful yoga session, interwoven with readings from her new collection Ridings. Holmes has worked with Connally Barklem before, creating online wellbeing resources that can still be accessed.
According to Holmes, this is one of the great things about running an annual festival: the ability to foster relationships and connections between artists and the Parsonage Museum.
“I like staying with the artists that we meet who speak to the Brontës really clearly, and finding ways to kind of bring them back and share their stories and really support them. I guess the festival is as much about shining a light on the Brontës as it is about promoting contemporary writing and supporting up and coming artists.”
Last year, the festival featured #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize winner Monika Radijevic, who is returning to the festival this year to deliver a workshop exploring feminism and nature. Radijevic has just been commissioned by #Merky to write an anthology of short stories about women, nature and identity, making her a perfect fit.
Genuine local connection is always crucial for the festival, says Holmes. “I really want to tap into local artists from the Yorkshire area who live and breathe and experience the landscape on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, chef and baker Katy Beskow will be running a session on “easy, simple, affordable, but really tasty plant-based food”.
“She’s based in Yorkshire,” says Holmes, “has been all her life, so it’s really nice to get that local, authentic voice coming through. Also with Katie’s event, the sustainability is really clear – thinking about how we can tackle climate change in small ways, on a daily basis.”
Another local artist at the festival is multilingual Bradford poet Nabeela Ahmed who will help workshop participants to craft poetry inspired by both the wild nature outside and the wild characters in the Brontë novels. Using multiple languages in her poetry, Ahmed will explore how to incorporate other languages and dialects into poems.
“Nabeela did the opening bid videos for Bradford 2025,” says Holmes, “so it’s really nice to have that Bradford voice coming in as well.”
Hosting in Haworth
From cooking to yoga, creative writing to stargazing and street performance, there’s a wealth of activities. Of course, hosting such a broad programme of events with the challenges that Haworth might present is a lot of work. For example, the historic house itself is beautiful but tiny, the site can struggle with Wi-Fi and reception, and the museum is still trying to secure funding for accessible toilets, to name a few potential hurdles.
However, Holmes is not daunted by this and chooses to see it as a positive – a means of making connection with local people and venues. She cites West Lane Baptist Church as an example of a local venue that didn’t appear initially much like an event space but, thanks to an army of garden volunteers, the wild has been brought inside and the church has been “literally spruced up”. The festival’s opening party will be held at local café and pottery studio Cobbles and Clay and the streets of Haworth will be full of pop-up performances, street art and craft thanks to the Words on the Street free festival strand of activities, funded by Bradford City Council.
Despite support from the local community, the Brontë Parsonage Museum is nevertheless a very small team and, as Holmes admits, she is basically her own department. So, every year, she recruits a group of volunteers who help to make the festival a success. It’s a time for “cultivating female power in heritage organisations, which I really like”, she says, “and using everyone’s skills to our advantage. One of our event volunteers is a drama graduate so this year they’ll be looking after the street theatre element of the festival and liaising with those artists. Another one is doing their PhD on Bramwell, so can be there to talk to visitors about that connection.”
If you’re thinking of heading to Haworth for the festival (and if not, why not?), a host of different festival ticketing options are available, including green passes (discounted tickets for anyone using public transport).
“We know it can be quite difficult to get to,” says Holmes. “So if anyone’s coming here on a bike or a bus or a train, big props to you. From the sustainability perspective, it’s really exciting to support that.”
What would she like to say to anyone considering coming along?
“It’s so worthwhile this year. Of course, it always is, but this year in particular, we’ve got so many fantastic events and speakers, but we’ve also got these additional things. Like, on the Friday, we’ve got the festival opening party at Cobbles and Clay, where everyone can have a drink, meet some of the guests, then have some nibbles. And this year with Words on the Street, it’s all about cultivating the festivalgoer experience. There’s so much going on, wherever they turn – there’s a street act on the cobbles, there’s a second-hand book shop to go sit in and chill out, there’s an amazing workshop all about how to write poetry.
“It’s a really worthwhile weekend if you’re interested in anything to do with literature, reading or creative writing.”
The Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing: tickets are available for in-person and online events here, with a host of free activities also available throughout the weekend.