12:00 AM 3rd July 2024

Sissay, Pascoe, Yusuf and Margolyes Lead 10 year Celebrations With Sold-Out Events For BLF 2024's First Weekend

Miriam Margolyes & Peg Alexander. Image courtesy of BLF.
Miriam Margolyes & Peg Alexander. Image courtesy of BLF.
Bradford Literature Festival, Europe’s most extensive and diverse festival, returned this weekend, welcoming diverse audiences from across the country and the world with a series of sold-out events, debates and performances.

This weekend, the festival’s spirit of community and kindness was echoed throughout the headline events: Lemn Sissay spoke about the thousands acts of kindness held within families each day, and how his poetry collection Let the Light Pour In represents his way of understanding his own experience of family and the care system; the globally renowned Shaykh Hamza Yusuf explored the importance of human connection and community in the face of systemic failure from both national and local governments; and national treasure Miriam Margolyes implored the audience to “remember the humanity” in the midst of the horrors in Gaza and around the world. On Saturday, a full house were roundly entertained by comedian, wit and writer, Sara Pascoe's, 'in-conversation' dissection of her new novel Weirdo, with Kasim Ali.

Sara Pascoe. Image courtesy of BLF.
Sara Pascoe. Image courtesy of BLF.
Throughout this week, more programme headliners include comedians Ruby Wax and Shaparak Khorsandi; singer Corinne Bailey Rae; historian Mary Beard and poet Joelle Taylor. With discussions on world affairs, the myth of social mobility, homelessness, faith, the Israel-Palestine conflict, global futures and much more, the festival will continue to deliver illuminating debates from a balanced historical perspective.

Wow - what an amazing weekend we have had. It’s been an incredible start to the festival, to see so many people travelling to Bradford, from Paris to Pakistan, New York to Newcastle. Our inspirational speakers have brought sold-out audiences to venues across the city centre. Syima Aslam, Founder, CEO & Artistic Director

Syima Aslam first established the ten-day literary and cultural celebration in 2014. A Yorkshire native who grew up in Halifax, the Bradford Literature Festival was Aslam’s first foray into the arts and culture sector having had a more corporate background focused on regeneration, retails and data-led marketing strategies. Using her expertise in social regeneration, Aslam launched the Bradford Literature Festival as she believed a cultural renaissance was needed to support the economic regeneration the city was experiencing. In those ten years, the festival has gone from strength to strength, promoting intercultural fluency and providing a platform for marginalised voices. It brings together literature from all genres, and has been hailed as ‘one of the most innovative and inspirational festivals in the UK.’

Popular annual events of the festival returned this weekend, including ‘The Spirit of Togetherness’, introduced by Bradford’s Lord Mayor Bev Mullaney, who captured the vibrant celebration of culture in the city this weekend, saying:

The city of Bradford thrives on shared experience, and there’s nothing like the spirit of music to bring people together.
The popular Lyrical Mehfil, an event exploring the beauty and importance of lyrical poetry from the likes of John Siddique, Jo Bell and Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa featured. In a powerful moment, Atef Alshaer, a poet from Gaza, read through tears, as he began his performance with readings from two Gazan poets who have lost their lives in Israeli bombardments since October.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Image courtesy of BLF.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Image courtesy of BLF.
Continuing its established reputation for challenging discussions from a balanced, historical perspective, panellists including Salman Shaikh, the founder and CEO of peace-building organisation the Shaikh Group, journalist, filmmaker and writer Dr Myriam Francois, and Head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds Salman Sayyid considered the possibility of the end of liberal democracy, the future of Israel, Palestine and the viability of the United Nations. BLF’s debates series continues with a powerful student townhall event with Doha Debates, featuring Pakistani writer and journalist Fatima Bhutto, American journalist and blogger Steve Clemons, and comedian Konstantin Kisin, questioning the West’s role in promoting or obfuscating narratives of global justice.

And before UK voters hit the polls on Thursday, and against the backdrop of elections in India, the US and France, President of the U.S./Middle East Project Daniel Levy expressed concerns that the UK is “sleepwalking” into major issues including climate migration and war in Europe, which are largely absent from dominant manifestos, yet alarmingly present in the discourse of the far-right.

To find out more about the remaining Bradford Literature Festival, click here