Fifty years is a long time by any measure. When the first Ilkley Literature Festival took place in April 1973, Britain had recently joined the European Economic Community, the Sinclair pocket calculator was the cutting edge of technology, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was brand new. The guest of honour at that first festival, poet W.H. Auden, was nearing the end of his life. A future director of the festival (me) hadn’t even started theirs.
For an arts organisation to have lasted through five decades of changes in governments, cuts to funding, evolving social attitudes, a global pandemic, economic booms and busts, and the endlessly revolving kaleidoscope of fashions and fads, it must be resilient. But even more importantly, it has to be loved. Ilkley Literature Festival has endured because it is loved. It’s loved by authors and audiences. By locals and visitors. By bookworms and the book shy.
Originally, all those involved with running the festival were volunteers. These days, our small staff team is still supported by a volunteer army of more than 100 people, assisting with all kinds of tasks – from stewarding to social media. Every year the festival creates a community within our charming spa town, bringing together people with myriad interests and tastes through a shared love of brilliant books and compelling conversations.
It’s serious about the importance of great writing and big ideas, but it’s equally serious about the importance of frivolity and fun. It’s a place where poets rub shoulders with comedians, children’s authors with historians, and novelists with scientists.
The 1973 programme featured a discussion on women’s writing between novelists Margaret Drabble and Fay Weldon, as well as street theatre, poetry readings in pubs and a Puffin Books Tea Party. Fifty years later, this eclectic spirit remains. Modern renditions of the Puffin Books Tea Party and a panel on women’s literature will take place this October, and 2023 Booker Prize nominees and Strictly stars are equal draws for audiences hungry for storytelling of all kinds.
Stars of stage and screen will delight audiences, from comedian Shaparak Khorsandi to former presenters Melanie Sykes and Gavin Esler, along with journalists of all varieties including restaurant critic Grace Dent and investigative journalist Luke Harding. There will also be some of the greatest literary giants of our time, not least bestselling children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and Costa Book Award-winning novelist Stef Penney.
Whether you’re a first-timer or a committed regular, you’ll receive the same warm Yorkshire welcome. If your taste runs to politics or poetry, food or philosophy, nature writing or neurodiversity, there will be writers to intrigue and interest.
Ilkley Literature Festival is the oldest book festival in the North of England. That fact tells its own story. For 50 years now we’ve broken new ground and, thanks to a good helping of Northern grit, we intend to keep on celebrating the power and magic of words in new and innovative ways for another 50 years.
By Erica Morris, Artistic Director of the Ilkley Literature Festival
Main image: Ilkley Literature Festival at King’s Hall, Ilkley. Image courtesy of Ilkley Literature Festival.
Ilkley Literature Festival takes place October 6-22, 2023. For more information, click here.